by Jonah Ballow
NYKnicks.com
@jonahballow

3:30 PM ET | Staples Center
TV:  MSG
Radio: ESPN 98.7 FM

1.  In a back-and-forth game that featured 16 lead changes, the Knicks caught fire in the third frame to create enough separation for the eventual 117-115 win over Utah.  New York outscored Utah in the third period 36-23 as Courtney Lee and Tim Hardaway Jr. combined for 24 points.  Hardaway Jr. continued to apply pressure to the home team in the fourth quarter when he completed a 4-point play to extend the Knicks lead to seven points.  New York secured the important road win after three errant shots from the Jazz in the final seconds of play.  In the win, the Knicks shot an efficient 49.4 percent from the floor and 55 percent behind the arc.     

2.  On Friday night in Utah, Hardaway Jr. was the offensive catalyst for New York.  Head coach Jeff Hornacek placed Hardaway Jr. back in the starting lineup and he delivered a stirring 31-point performance in just 27 minutes of action.  The 25-year old has returned to form since the injury that sidelined him for 20 games.  He’s averaging 22 points, 4.3 boards, 2.3 assists, and 1.3 steals in his last four outings.  Additionally, Hardaway Jr. has provided a big boost from the perimeter by knocking down an average of 3.5 three-pointers.

3.  Kristaps Porzingis has become an elite rim protector this season.  Over his last five appearances, the 7-3 power forward has tallied 15 total blocked shots for an average of 3.2 per game.  Porzingis leads the league in swats at 2.38, ahead of Myles Turner, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, and Joel Embiid.

4.  The Lakers enter Sunday’s rematch with some injury issues to key players in the lineup.  Lonzo Ball will miss his fourth straight contest, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is questionable with a right Achilles tendon strain, and Brandon Ingram is questionable (mild left ankle sprain).

5.  New York is seeking the season series sweep today in Los Angeles after topping the Lakers 113-109 in overtime on December 12.  In the first meeting, Porzingis was spectacular with 37 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks, and five three-pointers.  He became the first player in NBA history to have at least 35 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks, and five made three-pointers in a game.  Heading into the second and final meeting, the Knicks are 2-1 on their current seven-game road trip.  On the other side of the floor, the Lakers 1-2 in their last three following a win over the Pacers on Friday behind Jordan Clarkson’s 33 points.