Knicks, Jazz hope to stay on fringe of playoffs
SALT LAKE CITY -- Staying on the fringes of the playoff picture is becoming harder for both the New York Knicks and the Utah Jazz.
When the two teams clash in Salt Lake City on Friday night, both will be searching to build some critical momentum to reverse recent struggles. New York has dropped 11 of its last 14 games. Utah has lost 15 of its last 20 contests.
Frustrations came to a head for the Knicks (20-25) in a 105-99 loss to Memphis on Wednesday. The Grizzlies led by as many 18 points in the third quarter before New York rallied within a basket in the final minute.
Memphis held on after Courtney Lee was whistled for a technical foul and the Grizzlies won a critical jump ball in the closing seconds. This latest loss came against a Memphis team that had key starters Marc Gasol and Mike Conley both sidelined because of injury and illness.
"Of course, we're all frustrated," Knicks center Kristaps Porzingis told the New York Daily News after the game. "We all want to win. We need to understand the things we need to do throughout the game to be able to be in position to win late in the game."
Porous defense has been a major obstacle for New York in turning things around. The Knicks have held just two opponents under 100 points over their last 14 games. They rank 20th among NBA teams with a 108.2 defensive rating in January.
Opponents are especially dominating New York in turning offensive rebounds into baskets. The Knicks have given up 15.0 second-chance points per game in January, which ranks 28th in the league.
Utah (18-26) has experienced its own share of defensive struggles without center Rudy Gobert in the lineup. The Jazz rank just behind the Knicks with a 108.5 defensive rating in January. Utah has led the NBA this month with 10.1 steals per game. But the Jazz have struggled to get rebounds, grabbing just 32.6 per contest and have allowed opponents to get too many extra possessions and comfortable looks.
"The biggest thing with us is we've always had a next man up thing," guard Donovan Mitchell said after Monday's 109-94 loss to Indiana. "It's obviously tough with all the injuries we have, but we just got to bring the energy a little bit more."
Utah took some steps in the right direction -- on offense -- in Wednesday's 120-105 win over Sacramento. Mitchell paced the Jazz with 34 points on 14-of-19 shooting. His field goal percentage (.737) was the highest for a rookie guard in a 30-point game in nearly eight years.
Mitchell got help from Rodney Hood in sparking Utah. Hood totaled 25 points and eight rebounds after being booed by some fans during the loss to the Pacers after repeatedly missing 3-pointers in the first half.
Throughout Utah's struggles, Jazz coach Quin Snyder has pointed to execution as the critical factor between success and failure.
"I don't think effort is anything with our group," Snyder said. "I know them well enough to know they're competing. Part of it is it's not enough to just compete. You have to play well, and it's how you're competing."
The Knicks earned a 106-101 victory over the Jazz on Nov. 15. Rodney Hood scored 30 points to lead Utah, but New York pulled away behind 26 points from Tim Hardaway, Jr. after limiting the Jazz to 19 fourth-quarter points.
Updated January 18, 2018