After a roller-coaster road trip, losing four games by about 20 points and players to injuries, the New York Knicks will head back east with a much-needed 90-83 victory over the Utah Jazz on Monday night.
With the win, the Knicks, playing without Carmelo Anthony (right hamstring) and Tyson Chandler, finally won in Utah after eight years of futility. They also maintained a one-game lead over the Nets in the Atlantic Division race.
They were led by J.R. Smith's attack (game-high 20 points and nine free throws), Raymond Felton's play at starting shooting guard (19 points), Chris Copeland's offensive versatility (14 points) and defense from the NBA's oldest player, 40-year-old Kurt Thomas.
DIFFERENCE MAKER: In the first half, Smith had only three points on 1-for-7 shooting, and then he made it an emphasis to get to the foul line. In the third quarter alone, he scored 10 points, including 5-for-5 from the line. He helped contribute to the Knicks' 12 fast-break points, about three more than their season average. The Jazz, on the other hand, entered Monday night averaging 14.7 fast-break points, but they had only five.
Smith hit the biggest shot of the evening, a step-back jumper with 2:35 remaining to give the Knicks a 86-81 lead.
OLDIES BUT GOODIES: Thomas, Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby, with an average age of 37.7, pushed around the Jazz's young frontline. The Knicks' veteran big men finished with a combined five blocks. Thomas had three of them, including one on Al Jefferson late in the third quarter, which led to Felton getting a jump on the defense in the open court and throwing an alley-oop pass to Smith for a big dunk.
Thomas, Martin and Camby's toughness were coupled well with aggressive defensive help from Felton, Smith and Jason Kidd, who contributed to the team's nine steals. In the first half alone, the Knicks scored 21 points off of 14 turnovers. Their double-team coverages, balanced with well-timed perimeter rotations, were spot on.
Thomas deserves the most credit for his play on both ends of the floor. He entered the game after receiving news that he had a bone spur in his right foot, but he ended up playing 27 minutes off the bench, collecting six points, three rebounds and two assists.
WHAT'S NEXT: The Knicks return home on Wednesday night to face the Orlando Magic for the fourth and final time this season. The Knicks have had their way with the Magic, winning the three previous matchups by an average margin of 11.3 points.
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