It's game four of the Utah Jazz ' early season Eastern Conference road trip. In Trey Burke's return to Michigan the Jazz beat the Detroit Pistons. In Gordon Hayward's return to his home land the Indiana Pacers prevailed. In Derrick Favors' return to HOT-Lanta the Atlanta Hawks (powered by former Jazz players Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver) came back to win it from 13 down. Tonight? It's Steve Novak returning to New Amsterdam to face the New York Knicks. (Former Knick Toure' Murry will not be joining him as he has been assigned to the NBA-DL affiliate of the Jazz, the Idaho Stampede.)
Well, it's not really like Steve Novak is the straw that stirs the Utah Jazz drink. But he could be useful tonight against dastardly Derek Fisher and his New York Knicks. The Knicks are 2-7 and have been facing persistent injury trouble to two of their most "vet" guys, Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon. They will not play tonight either, which means, well, lots of opportunities for the Knicks to go small.
New York is on a six game losing streak (with losses to the Pistons, Nets, Hawks twice, and two nights ago to the lowly Magic). They need to change things up. They have been, as bigmen Amar'e Stoudemire, Quincy Acy, and Jason Smith have all started at least two games. They haven't been getting the Knicks the results that they want -- and according to the Knicks it is likely that they will just go ahead and start high scoring Carmelo Anthony at power forward tonight. No, I mean it. That's what they are saying.
That's fantastic for the Jazz' guards and wings, because that means Quin Snyder will have to match-up to that and as a result, we could see Gordon Hayward playing some "To Big, Yo" basketball as a stretch four. That's less of a happy news story for Enes Kanter and Trevor Booker -- those guys will have to play a different kind of game because of match-ups.
So this could go either really well for the Jazz, or really poorly. The Knicks are Tyrone Corbin -ing it by trying to go small (if the news in their own media notes is accurate) while playing at the absolute slowest pace in the league -- 88.6 possessions (30th). I don't know if that's the problem here, but their team is a mess, being 29th in PPG, and 15th in opp PPG; and being 21st and 25th in Off RTG and Def RTG respectively.
On the floor they foul a lot on defense, and are pretty middle of the pack elsewhere (but still below average in eFG%, TOV% and DRB%). On offense they don't get to the line much with respect to how many shots they take. They do take a bunch of shots (82.9 FGA per game) because they do hit the glass. They average 11.9 ORB per game (4th best in the NBA), and are collect 27.5 ORB% (10th best). It seems like the Jazz play this team every night, as this is exactly how the Pistons, Pacers, and Hawks played. Stoudemire, Acy, Dalembert, Aldrich, and even Carmelo Anthony have been hitting the offensive glass this year.
But like most things New York, they are lesser than the sum of their parts. Melo is still a fantastic scorer. J.R. Smith will come off the bench and do crazy things that help and hurt his team. And they do have a bunch of young players who will do whatever they can to force the hand of Fisher to play them more, in Iman Shumpert, Shane Larkin, Tim Hardaway, and rookie Cleanthony Early.
If you look at the numbers, well, it's clear there are big holes where Calderon or Bargnani would fit in.
The bad news is that Jason Smith is on their squad now, and he is known for having big games against Utah. No, he's not Linas Kleiza, thankfully. But he seems to put up good shooting stats against our defense. *shrug* Maybe he's just an actually solid NBA player? (Nawww....) The Knicks do have talent, but they just don't know how best to use it. But that's just my opinion. Tonight they will be going small, and that could be good for them.
Utah, on the other hand, is full of different types of problems. For one, the offense is still cooking. They are 13th best in the NBA in Off RTG. Sure, they stalled in their last game against the Hawks, and should have been able to overpower the Pacers. But it's a learning process. I'm not worried about the offense, especially not when we get Rodney Hood back. What I am more worried about is the defense.
Sorry Will Smith, I mean the efense. (Yes, I know he's not Will Smith. I'm being edgy.) (Can a Jazz blog not named "Malone's Elbows" by edgy?) The Jazz can't seem to get the stops when they need to. And against a bunch of great one-on-one scorers tonight could be really good or really bad for the Jazz.
Of course, it could be bad for the Knicks too, just because it is an open game at this point. We don't have someone who can guard Melo. But can ANYONE guard Gordon Hayward right now? The rest of the starters aren't awful either. No stars, sure, but team play matters.
For one, I like the depth the Jazz have, especially inside. But bench scoring is going to be a problem until Hood comes back. We don't have anyone to match up with J.R. Smith now. Or really, ever since Kyle Korver left for the Chicago Bulls.
The Knicks are desperate for a win. The Jazz may feel like they let two winnable games slip away. But the real storyline here is the return of Steve Novak. Just read this bromance / fan fiction from the SB Nation Knicks blog Posting and Toasting. Amazing.
It is late in the evening following the Knicks' Wednesday night loss to the Orlando Magic. J.R. Smith is leading his good buddy Jason Smith to a hidden room deep within the bowels of Madison Square Garden...
Jason: "Man, that was a tough loss. I really played like crap in the second half...the crowd was booing me and everything. How can I get them to like me?"
J.R.: "Don't worry, Jason. You're a special cat, and some day all those people out there are going to know it. Here, I want to show you J.R.'s secret garden."
J.R. opens the door to his special MSG man cave -- a room decked out with cashmere Victorian fainting couches shaped like basketball sneakers, a Golden Tee arcade game, an X-Box One and this ultra-classy still life oil painting by William Michael Harnett.
J.R.: "This is where I come after games to unwind the traditional J.R. Smith way...with a glass of warm milk and some smooth jazz records."
Jason: "I love it, Earl! How come I've never heard of this place before?"
J.R.: "Nobody knows about it...I only bring my best friend here."
Jason: "So...so does this mean we're best friends now?"
J.R.: "Of course, buddy...the very best of friends. There's no one else."
A tall, pasty figure emerges from the shadows..."No one else, huh?"
J.R.: "Steve! What are you doing here? Didn't you have a game in Atlanta tonight?"
Steve Novak: "I'm quicker than people think."
This game could be awful for both teams. But it's a game between a team with 2 wins at home against a team with 3 wins. It's going to be fun to watch just because it's MSG . . . . and someone always puts on a show there. (Wouldn't it be fun for Trey Burke to bust out and drop 20+ on Shane Larkin?)
I don't know what's going to happen tonight, but I do know that the Jazz should be feeling cumulative effects of all the games in a week. Tonight is game 4, tomorrow night will be the 5th game in 7 nights. Yeesh.