Leon Rose's first day as the president of the New York Knicks ended late Monday night with his new employer earning one of its most impressive victories of the season and impacting the Western Conference playoff race in the process. The Knicks will look to repeat recent history Wednesday night, when they host the Utah Jazz at Madison Square Garden.
Both teams were off Tuesday following their wins on Monday. The Knicks raced out to a 21-point, second-quarter lead and staved off a furious rally by the visiting Houston Rockets to hang on for a 125-123 upset. The Jazz embarked upon a four-game Eastern Conference road trip by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers, 126-113.
The win over the Rockets was just the eighth this season for the Knicks over a team currently occupying a playoff spot and came hours after Rose, the former head basketball agent at Creative Artists Agency, met with players shortly after officially taking over as New York's president.
Second-year player Kevin Knox II said the Knicks were invigorated by Rose's speech, during which he said he planned to travel to all road games and that he sympathized with the difficulties that players have endured this season. Three players have endured the deaths of loved ones: Reggie Bullock's sister died, Julius Randle's grandmother passed away and Dennis Smith Jr. lost his stepmother.
In addition, head coach David Fizdale was fired Dec. 6 while previous president Steve Mills was dismissed Feb. 4 as the Knicks (19-42) head towards missing the playoffs for the seventh straight season.
"He's going to work as hard as possible to make the team better," Knox told reporters before the victory over the Rockets. "As a player, that's what you want to hear. He's just here to make us better and the team better. We've been through a lot of ups and downs this year -- coaching changes, president changes, family tragedies. He wants to stick with us, make sure we get better as a team. Obviously, we're tired of losing. I think he's going in the right direction."
The Knicks' victory helped out the Jazz (38-22), who moved within a game of the Rockets (39-21) in the race for the fourth seed in the Western Conference and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
New York's upset of the Rockets might also serve as an additional wakeup call to the Jazz, whose defensive issues continued against the Cavaliers. Utah has allowed at least 113 points in six straight games and nine of the last 10 overall, a span in which it has gone 6-4.
"We gave up 113 points, in the last game (a 129-119 victory over the Washington Wizards on Friday), they had 119, so we still have work to do," Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell told reporters afterward. "Obviously, we're happy with the wins, but for us to really get over that hump and (get) where we really want to be, we've got to hold teams a little lower than that."
Mitchell's run of four straight 30-point efforts reached an end as he had 19 against Cleveland.
Forward Bojan Bogdanovic recorded 28 points, seven rebounds and six assists. He made five 3-pointers and is 9 of 19 from behind the arc over the past two games.
--Field Level Media