For the benefit of those living out in the provinces, the New York Knicks are touring the West this week, hoping to dispel some rumors that have been making the rounds. For instance, the one that Patrick Ewing isn't necessarily the best center in the world. There has been a lot of talk about Nigerian soccer players and Naval officers being better, but he'd like to respectfully disagree. Would 71 points and 27 rebounds in the past two games change anybody's mind? Perhaps. Then there's the one about Mark Jackson's career as a young phenom being in remission. He, too, isn't anxious to take things lying down.
The first night of the Knicks' five-game trip through the wild, wild West didn't leave much to the imagination. They came, they saw, they left tread marks on the Jazz. Wednesday night in the Salt Palace, the Knicks shot an phenomenal 77 percent in the second period, building a 20-point lead en route to a 109-94 victory.Which brings us to the trivia section of today's story: What NBA team came into Wednesday's contest a solid 12 games out of first place in the Atlantic Division? What famous NBA team lost so many games early, it fired its coach eight weeks ago? Which team decided a shake-up was necessary three games ago, and subsequently benched two proven starters and replaced them with two second-year players? Which team had lost six in a row and seven of eight in the Salt Palace before Wednesday? And finally, which NBA team is looking like a monster of late, yet lost by 21 points to Miami as recently as five days ago?
The New York Knicks, of course.
That the Knicks are hungry for respect dawned with sudden force to the Jazz, who have now lost two in a row. The Knicks may not be the Portland Trail Blazers yet, but they're not Purina Dog Chow, either. "If you look at a team's record and assume you're going to win, you're in trouble," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. "That's the way it's always been and I doubt it will ever change."
"Maybe we did think they were just going to come in and lay down," said the Jazz's Karl Malone.
With few exceptions, everyone on the Knicks answered the roll call Wednesday night. Ewing reported in with 34 points, 11 rebounds and nine blocked shots. Jackson contributed 17 points and 12 assists in only 26 minutes. Gerald Wilkins scored 19 points off the bench. Reserve Trent Tucker had 10 points, including back-to-back three-pointers. Charles Oakley muscled down 16 rebounds.Much of New York's success came compliments of the strong bench effort. Three games ago, in an effort to improve the chemistry, theKnicks benched Gerald Wilkins and Kiki Vandeweghe in favor of second-year men Brian Quinnett and John Starks. The results have been impressive. Since then, the Knicks have beaten Philadelphia twice and the Jazz. All totaled Wednesday, the Knicks' bench scored 52 points; the Jazz's scored 23.
The Jazz's undoing boiled down to a stunning second quarter, in which the Knicks made 10 of their first 12 shots and finished with 17 of 22. After building a 41-36 lead, they went on a 22-6 run that boosted New York's lead to 21 points and prompting a smattering of catcalls from the crowd.
Ewing, who had been held to six first-quarter points, scored 12 in the second, as did Jackson. "We tried the trap in the second quarter; we couldn't stop that and we couldn't match them straight up," said Sloan. "They were on a roll and it seemed there was nothing we could do about it."
The second quarter began reasonably enough for the Jazz, as they had stayed within a point. But soon the Knicks were rolling. Jackson made a 13-footer followed by two straight three-pointers by Tucker. The big run came to a close on two straight Jackson baskets and a layup by Ewing for a 63-42 lead.
"They shot the hell out of the ball and combined with that, our being complacent, puts you down 20 points at half," said the Jazz's Darrell Griffith.
"It was kind of frustrating," said Malone, who led the Jazz with a 28-point, 13-rebound night. "Nobody played great. Nobody. It was just one of those games."
Other than Malone's performance, it was generally a dismal effort. Although John Stockton produced 18 points and 17 assists, he made just seven of 20 field goal attempts. Jeff Malone went 4-for-14 from the field. As a team, the Jazz shot an unimpressive 45 percent.
The second half did produce its moments of intrigue. Although New York remained solidly ahead throughout - the Jazz never got closer than 13 points behind in the third period - the rhythm was broken by a brief skirmish between Karl Malone and Ewing. They exchanged shoves before a double-technical was called. "He gave me an elbow in the stomach and I just let him know I didn't appreciate it," said Ewing.
Utah's trapping defense finally began to take effect in the fourth quarter, as the Jazz cut the Knicks' lead to nine points with 3:35 to go on Karl Malone's fallaway jumper. But Stockton missed a layup, and Karl Malone missed a 20-footer that could have brought the Jazz back into the game. The Knicks then went low to Ewing, who drove inside for a layup. Stockton then missed a three-pointer and New York rode out the final two minutes without undue concern.
The loss dropped the Jazz to 26-14 on the year, three games behind last year's pace. The Knicks, who have now won three straight, are 18-21. Utah moves on to host Sacramento on Friday, while the Knicks continue their road swing with games at Denver, Phoenix, Golden State and the L.A. Clippers.
"We were tuned in to each other tonight," said Knicks Coach John MacLeod, "and when we get tuned in to each other, we play very well." Now, it's just a matter of tuning in the rest of the country to what they've been saying in New York all along.