During my last game recap, I noted that of the eight remaining games on the New York Knicks' slate, seven of them would be coming against playoff-bound teams. On Monday night, the Knicks faced the lone non-playoff bound team, the Utah Jazz, and handled their opponent easily to keep pace with the Atlanta Hawks. After dispatching the Jazz 92-83, the Knicks will still be able to picture themselves as a playoff team, provided the Hawks oblige them by losing a couple more games before the season concludes.
Not only were the Knicks facing a team in that Jazz that has been mathematically eliminated from the postseason, the Knicks also had an opportunity to benefit from getting to ply their trade against one of the worst NBA teams, a team that is a cellar dweller in almost every statistical category one could think of. Therefore, all the Knicks had to do was play up to their usual mediocre level of competence, content in the knowledge that being middling would be good enough to notch a victory over the Jazz.
With such a simple winning strategy, all the Knicks had to do was implement the plan, and although they took their precious time with fending off the challenges by the Jazz, they eventually seized the lead for good in the third quarter after a pair of Carmelo Anthony free throws gave them a 69-67 advantage. From that point, the Knicks used the next 5:43 to build up a 15-point lead from which the Jazz had no hopes of coming back, although the Jazz did give it a try by decreasing their deficit to single digits for a grand total of 1:51 over the rest of the game.
Even on the second night of a back-to-back, the Jazz proved to be an incredibly obliging opponent for the Knicks as they were kind enough to let the Knicks score at about their season rate while being sure to play stagnant, inefficient offense themselves so as not to overtax the Knicks' well-known defensive deficiencies. The result of such benevolence in doing their part to increase the probability of the Knicks making the playoffs is that the Jazz were outscored by 10.6 points per 100 possessions.
For the Knicks, facing the Jazz on Monday was akin to eating just enough of an appetizer to give yourself the enjoyment of eating, but not gorging yourself to the point that you cannot then tackle your main course. Defeating the Jazz required minimal effort, and the Knicks should have enough energy left to take on the meatier portion of their remaining schedule, though they might have to do the digesting of the opponents without the services of Tim Hardaway, Jr., who suffered an ankle injury late in the contest.
As an important cog in the Knicks machine, losing Hardaway is quite the blow to the team's chances of running the table, but with or without him, the Knicks are facing one of the toughest challenges of the season as they are running out of chances to overtake the Hawks, making each of their remaining seven games a crucial one so even a victory over the Jazz cannot be enjoyed for too long.