By, Kenneth Teape – Knickswag Contributor
Pre-Game News and Notes
Knicks vs. Jazz: ESPN, MSG 10:30PM
This west coast road trip has gone as bad as a stretch of games could possible go as the Knicks have been blown out of basically every game. They have had good stretches of play, staying in a few of the games for the most part but never being able to put together four strong quarters and running out of gas towards the end. It is hard to say that is surprising though as any team without their three best players and key rotation players like the Knicks are currently would struggle, especially when two of those players were All-Stars this year. Tonight the Knicks will take on the Jazz in the last game of this road trip before heading back home for a game against the Magic Wednesday night. Will they be able to come together and end the road trip on a high note or will they get hammered again? Here are some things to look for in the game tonight, as the Knicks are in danger of falling out of first place in the Atlantic Division if they lose and the Nets beat the Pistons tonight.
-What Will the Rotation Look Like?
The Knicks injury list is continuing to grow as this road trip goes on as losing games were not enough punishment for this team. In addition to Carmelo Anthony, who finally had his knee drained, Tyson Chandler was lost on this road trip after banging knees with Corey Brewer in Denver. With Amar’e Stoudemire already sidelined thanks to another surgery on his knee, the Knicks were dangerously thin in the front line.
Well that front line became thinner after it was announced Kurt Thomas will miss the game tonight with a knee problem of his own, getting hurt last night in Los Angeles against the Clippers. That leaves Mike Woodson with Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby as the only healthy big men on the roster to go up against Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. It will be a long night in the paint for the Knicks as it would not be surprising to see the Jazz approach 50-plus points in the paint.
This also leaves Woodson with yet another change to be made to his starting rotation. Martin had already been added to replace Chandler, but now he will have to replace Anthony’s replacement in Thomas with another body. With Chris Copeland drawing the start yesterday afternoon it would seem he is in line for another start, but who will replace Thomas? It is anyone’s guess as the Knicks last healthy big man is Camby, but he is not able to give productive minutes over long stretches of the game yet and he needs to backup Martin. It will be interesting to see what direction Woodson takes it tonight.
-J.R. Needs to Step Up
Without Anthony and Stoudemire the onus to score falls upon the shoulders of J.R. Smith. That is not always a bad thing, as he showed he is capable of carrying a team with his performance against the Thunder, but at the same time shows that it is too much of a burden sometimes, resulting in his performance Sunday against the Clippers when he went 4 of 20 from the field.
Without many other scoring options he will have to step up tonight alongside Raymond Felton, who has been one of the only effective players on this trip for the Knicks. Felton and Smith’s arms will be falling off after the game tonight most likely, but the Knicks need them to perform well with not many other people to turn to on the roster.
The Knicks will get a break of sorts tonight as the Jazz do not possess a point guard like the Knicks have faced throughout this trip (Stephen Curry in Golden State, Ty Lawson in Denver, Damian Lillard in Portland, and Chris Paul in Los Angeles). This should give the Knicks an opportunity to control the tempo of the game at a pace they can work at.
Felton as well as Jason Kidd will be responsible for this, as the only way the Knicks will be successful tonight is if they can keep the Jazz out of transition. The Knicks are not built to play an up-tempo style of game and would prefer to play in half-court sets and take their time.
The defense has been there for most of the trip for the Knicks, their defense has just fallen behind without a true go-to scorer since Anthony and Stoudemire were both sidelined. If they can control the tempo on the defensive end and get some timely hoops they can pick up the win tonight in Utah.