Utah Jazz vs. New York Knicks: Preview, Analysis and Predictions
The Utah Jazz (32-30) will face off against the New York Knicks (37-22) for the first time this season on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in the Big Apple.
Mike Woodson's Knicks have won five of their last seven games overall coming in, but have dropped two in a row at home. But it might not matter this weekend, as Utah has lost three straight road games and six of seven overall.
With tipoff on the horizon, here we'll get you set with everything you need to know for Saturday's showdown at MSG.
Where: Madison Square Garden in New York
When: Saturday, March 9 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Live Streaming: NBA League Pass (paid subscription required)
Injuries (according to USA Today):
Utah: No significant injuries.
Jazz Player to Watch: Al Jefferson
Jazz center Al Jefferson missed three straight games with a sprained ankle before returning to the lineup in Chicago on Friday night.
The 6'10" Jefferson is Utah's leading scorer and rebounder this season, posting 17.7 points and 9.4 rebounds per game on 49 percent shooting from the floor. Assuming Jefferson is healthy enough to play on Saturday night in New York, fans should keep an eye out to see how he moves on his left ankle and how effective he is on the interior going up against one of the league's top centers in Tyson Chandler.
Jefferson scored 22 points to go along with four rebounds and three assists in his last appearance against the Knicks. He'll need a similar stat line on Saturday if the Jazz are going to end their disappointing skid before heading back to Salt Lake City.
Knicks Player to Watch: J.R. Smith
New York's up-and-down sixth man, J.R. Smith, will be the player to watch on Saturday night. Smith set the scoreboard inside MSG on fire on Thursday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, recording a career-high 36 points off the bench in the Knicks' heartbreaking 95-94 loss.
To put Smith's performance in proper perspective, there's this from ESPN Stats & Info:
J.R. Smith has season-high 31 points at end of 3rd quarter. Last time Smith scored 30+ points was March 12, 2011— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 8, 2013
Smith, who hit six 3-pointers in the win, is averaging 16.5 points per game this season on 40 percent shooting from the field and 35 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
In addition to posing a huge threat as an outside shooter, Smith is a solid rebounder and an underrated creator. He's averaging five boards per night this season and is dishing out close to three assists per game as well.
The 27-year-old proved in his last outing that he's much more than just an x-factor, he's a star.
Key Matchup: Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap vs. Tyson Chandler
Saturday's matchup will hinge on the front court battle between New York's Tyson Chandler and Utah's big man tandem of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. Jefferson and Millsap are the Jazz's top two leading scorers this season and are combining for roughly 33 points and 17 rebounds per game.
On the other end, Chandler is leading the way for the Knicks with 11.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game.
Although the seven-foot veteran is leading the NBA in field goal shooting (65 percent), he'll need to be at his best on the defensive end, reeling in boards and swatting shots. Unlike Jefferson and Millsap, Chandler won't have a whole lot of help in the paint. Amar'e Stoudemire possesses intimidating size, but his effort on the defensive end is anything but guaranteed.
Which team will come out on top at MSG on Saturday?
As already mentioned, Saturday signals the first meeting of the Knicks and Jazz this season, and with that in mind, the edge has to go to New York, even if Anthony can't play. After all, the Knicks are 21-10 at home this year while the Jazz are a dismal 10-22 away from Utah.
The two squads are trending in opposite directions right now, and Utah is at an obvious disadvantage playing back-to-back games less than 24 hours after losing in bitter fashion to the Bulls on Friday night. Expect Tyrone Corbin's team to play hard for 48 minutes, regardless of the result.
I look for the Knicks to make a few more plays than a tired Jazz team that's playing on the road for the second straight night on Saturday.
Knicks 103, Jazz 94
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