Wednesday, March 22, 2023
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NBA Preview: Utah Jazz (28-29) at New York Knicks (30-27)

New York is likely to get better on Saturday night, which is a necessity — according to point guard and team leader Jalen Brunson — for the Knicks to compete with the elite teams of the Eastern Conference.

Trade-deadline acquisition Josh Hart is expected to debut for the Knicks against the visiting Utah Jazz on Saturday.

Whether Russell Westbrook makes the Jazz better following his acquisition by them may not be determined for some time.

A pair of retooled teams are slated to complete back-to-back sets Saturday night.

Hart was in Philadelphia with the Knicks but didn’t play Friday night, when New York squandered a 12-point, third-quarter lead in a 119-108 loss to the 76ers.

The visiting Jazz overcame a 13-point deficit in the final six minutes to beat the Toronto Raptors 122-116.

Hart’s absence was felt before he even put on a uniform for the undermanned Knicks, who led by double digits in each of the first three quarters but were outscored 45-22 over the final 18:05.

Hart, whom the Knicks acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers in a four-team trade on Thursday, should provide some much-needed versatility for New York, which played just nine players on Friday and will be without center Mitchell Robinson (broken right thumb) until at least the end of the month.

Hart is averaging 9.5 points, a career-high 8.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists this season. The latter figure is just shy of the career-best 4.1 assists he averaged in 2021-22.

There are few playmakers better than Westbrook, the NBA’s all-time leader in triple-doubles with 198. Yet Westbrook was immediately viewed as a buyout candidate when he was acquired by the rebuilding Jazz from the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday as part of a three-way trade in which the Lakers got Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt from the Jazz and D’Angelo Russell from the Minnesota Timberwolves.

However, the Jazz and Westbrook have had multiple conversations in which he reportedly has expressed an interest in playing for Utah.

The Jazz, who appeared headed for the NBA lottery after trading starters Royce O’Neale, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell last summer, continued their resilient season by ending Friday’s game on a 22-4 run.

Utah (28-29) is in a virtual tie with the Oklahoma City Thunder (27-28) for 10th place in the Western Conference and the final spot in the play-in tournament.

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