NEW YORK — Before Friday’s game, Latvian Andris Biedrins was in the Madison Square Garden visitors' locker room talking to reporters about basketball in his country when Turkish teammate Enes Kanter interrupted the conversation.
“They’re not good at basketball,” a smiling Kanter said.
He was jokingly referring to Latvia.
The same could be said of the Utah Jazz right now.
In its latest display of bad basketball — really bad basketball — Utah’s NBA team was on the very short end of a 108-81 rout against a New York Knicks squad that had lost seven of its last eight games.
“I can't speak for everybody else,” Jazz co-captain Derrick Favors said, “but as for me, I'm just really (ticked) off right now about the performance and losing the way we've been losing.”
The Jazz’s way of losing of late summed up: a lot and by a lot.
The Knicks improved to 23-40, although they looked like a potential playoff contender while dropping the Jazz to 21-41. OK, let’s not go crazy here. Sparked by Carmelo Anthony’s 29 points, New York resembled a team willing to fight for the eighth seed in the top-heavy Eastern Conference.
And the Jazz?
They looked like April 16, the final day of the 2013-14 season, can’t get here soon enough.
Utah trailed 39-22 after the first quarter and was down by 32 points at one point. The Jazz have now lost five straight games on this road trip, which mercifully ends Saturday night, by a combined 89 points.
This rebuilding team’s struggles have been so extreme while losing to the Cavs, Bucks and Knicks by 20 or more points the past week, flat-out tanking Philadelphia’s management might be scared to death that the Sixers, losers of 15 straight, could lose to the Jazz in a watch-at-your-own-peril matchup.
“We can’t go back in the past,” Jazz rookie point guard Trey Burke said after his four-point, 2-for-12 shooting night. “We’ve just got to move forward, learn from the losses and just keep playing hard.”
Shooting better than 41 percent, something the Jazz did, would help, too.
Scoring more than 22 points in a quarter, something the Jazz didn’t do, would also be helpful.
And then there was that wretched first quarter during which Utah watched Anthony score 18 points and the Knicks hit 70 percent of their shots while taking a soul-zapping 17-point lead.
“To give up 39 points in the first quarter on the road is difficult to overcome,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said.
It was enough to change the conversation back to Latvian basketball instead of Utah hoops.
Speaking of which, Biedrins explained that only one other Latvia athlete has ever played in the NBA. That was Gundars Vetra, a 6-6 swingman who appeared in 13 games for the Minnesota Timberwolves back in the 1992-93 season.
Biedrins also pointed out that a Latvian was drafted last June in the second round. However, 6-7 swingman Janis Timma was later cut by Memphis after being the 60th pick of the 2013 draft.
“That’s it,” Biedrins said. “I don’t have any other Latvians. I’m here alone.”
What’s that have to do with Friday’s game?
Consider it some free did-you-know? trivia to drop at your next dinner party. Beats having to talk to your friends or family about the Jazz’s unwatchable performance at The World’s Most Famous Arena, right?
If there was a positive takeaway, Jazz guards Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks both hit 6 of 8 shots and scored 18 points.
Unfortunately for the Jazz, the Knicks countered with 49.4 percent shooting and six more 3-pointers (12-6), forced Utah into 19 turnovers, got a 17-point lift from JR Smith and a Tyson Chandler double-double (16 points, 11 rebounds) to eclipse Favors’ third straight meek outing.
“It's just a combination of a lot of things right now. We've just got to come out there and play with a little more energy, including myself,” said Favors, who only had eight points and seven rebounds. “By me being one of the leaders, I’ve got to start the game off with a lot of energy and set the tone early.”
Which brings us to another fun Latvian fact: Biedrins’ compatriot, Vetra, the former Timberwolf, is now coaching a professional Russian team called BC Spartak St. Petersburg.
By the way, the good-natured Biedrins said that basketball is growing in his country, but he made this honest admission: “Hockey’s the No. 1 sport.”
Biedrins was on the inactive list and didn’t play Friday, but his teammates might’ve fared better at hockey than they did at basketball on this night.
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