This road trip couldn't have been any worse for the short-handed Knicks, who have lost four games by an average margin of 20 points. The journey ends tonight in Utah.
Carmelo Anthony (leg injury) will miss the game, Tyson Chandler is questionable with a neck strain, and Kurt Thomas, who has been starting in place of Chandler, is questionable with a sprained right foot.
The Jazz are the last team to lose to New York, on March 9 before the Knicks went west -- and that was without Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire.
Here are three things the Knicks need to avoid a winless trip, starting at 10:30 p.m. (ESPN):
1. J.R. Smith's shooting and playmaking. Against Utah the last time, Smith finished 10-for-18 from the field (4-for-8 from 3-point range). But if he shoots 4-for-20, as he did Sunday afternoon in a 13-point loss to the Clippers, the Knicks will be at a major disadvantage.
Smith and the team did make adjustments to make the offense easier on their sixth man, who is currently the team's main scoring threat with the depleted roster.
After starting 0-for-5 from the field on Sunday, Smith attacked stronger in half-court sets and pushed the ball faster in transition, drawing fouls. He finished 8-for-9 from the line. In addition, his teammates, notably Thomas, set solid screens for him to get him open for quick jump shots. Sometimes, when Smith holds the ball too long, he doesn't make great decisions. He tends to excel more on the move with less time to think.
Mike Woodson also needs to use Smith more as a pick-and-roll facilitator. Smith is explosive off screens and a good passer while driving to the hole. Overall, the Knicks need more penetration from the perimeter to create easier scoring opportunities.
2. Controlling tempo. When the short-handed Knicks were trailing the Clippers by only seven points at halftime, Chris Paul was asked why the game was so close. He said the Knicks were doing a good job of slowing his team down, and the Clippers needed to pick things up in the second half. Why was that the case to begin with? Because the Knicks knew they had to get after it defensively against the fast-paced Clippers, which is how the Jazz like to play as well.
While Thomas, Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby anchored things down low (they each had a steal or a block), Smith and Jason Kidd combined for three steals in the backcourt. That defensive effort has been there lately, and it will need to continue tonight. The question is: Can the Knicks put the ball in the basket? Even shooting 46.2 percent from downtown won't overcome an overall 35.8 field goal percentage, which was the case on Sunday.
3. Chandler needs to play, period. While Anthony is the Knicks' best scorer, Chandler is arguably their MVP. He does so many little things on the court, on both ends of the floor, that contribute to Knicks wins. Without him down the stretch in any kind of game, it will always be a dogfight for the Knicks.
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