Preview and Chat: The New York Knickerbockers

Darius Soriano —  January 9, 2011
Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Records: Lakers 26-11 (3rd in West), Knicks 21-14 (6th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.5 (2nd in NBA), Knicks 110.8 (4th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.0 (11th in NBA), Knicks 108.9 (22nd in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Knicks: Raymond Felton, Landry Fields, Wilson Chandler, Amar’e Stoudemire, Ronny Turiaf
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes (out), Theo Ratliff (out); Knicks: Danilo Gallinari (out), Kelenna Azubuike (out), Eddy Curry (out)

What Ails You Part II:  Before the Hornets game we discussed how the Lakers had put together a couple consecutive wins, but where starting to show some wear and tear for their efforts with Odom nursing a sore shoulder and reports that Kobe’s right knee was “almost bone on bone”.  However, in that game both Odom and Kobe played up to their typical levels with neither showing anything that would suggest they were actually hurt.

Tonight’s game offers a different scenario in that Matt Barnes is actually out with a knee injury suffered against the Hornets and Blake, while probable to play tonight, also left that game early rolling his ankle (and will likely be slowed for a couple of days as he recovers).  The Lakers have the depth and options to cover for Barnes being out, but the team will need to adjust to injuries with changes in rotations and new players having to step up to fill in.  Obviously no one is going to shed a tear for the Lakers as every team must deal with injuries.  But with the Lakers banged up, the entire team must circle the wagons to ensure that their level of play doesn’t drop off right as they’re staring to build some momentum.

The Knicks Coming in: The promise of what was supposed to be the Mike D’Antoni era is finally starting to show itself with the Knicks.  After years of mismatched parts and only having partial ingredients, the Knicks now have a nearly stocked cupboard of players for D’Antoni to deploy . Pulling in Amar’e and Felton in free agency, the continued development of Gallinari (though out tonight) and Wilson Chandler, and finding a gem in the 2nd round of the draft in Landry Fields has sparked an hoops renaissance in NY.

It’s to the point that the Knicks now look like a sure playoff team and one that could put a scare into one of the top 2 teams in the East if they continue on their current trajectory.  They’ve played the Celtics close and kept up with the Heat for a half and have recently dispatched the Spurs.  They’ve won 3 in a row and 5 of 7, playing good basketball almost every night.  Their bread and butter is still their offense as they’ve consistently been in the top 5 most of the year (currently 4th) and they’ve found ways to outscore opponents down the stretch countless times to pull out victories.

Obviously there’s still work to do as they still sport a defense in the bottom third of the league and they’ve allowed players to have career nights against them all season (Kevin Love’s 31/31 game and Blake Griffin’s 44/15 game to name just two).  But the progress they’ve shown this season is a big step forward.  Basketball matters again in New York and if you watch this team on TV you see Madison Square Garden rocking again.  The league is more fun when this team is good and as they continue to play with confidence, I don’t think their status as a tough out is going to change anytime soon.

Knicks Blogs:  Knickerblogger is one of the OG hoops sites and I visit it daily for it’s content and for it’s stats page.  Really, you should too.  Mike Kurylo and crew just continue to do excellent work covering this team.

Keys to game: I’ve listed Turiaf as a starter, but that may not be the case.  Similar to the Suns (a phrase you’re sure to hear a lot today), the Knicks often run with a small lineup and could easily deploy a group that tries to stretch the floor and pull one of the Lakers’ bigs away from the basket to open up lanes to the hoop.   So, don’t expect the Knicks to go in any given direction with their front court just to try and match up with the Lakers big men.  Remember, D’Antoni isn’t a guy that tries to match up with you but rather someone that tries to dictate the match ups and thus the flow of the game.

That said, regardless of who the Knicks throw out there the Lakers need to attack inside.  Neither Turiaf or Amar’e are true impediments to the Lakers’ inside play and the goal should be to punish them inside at every opportunity.  (Turiaf will try hard – and we love him for that – but he’s undersized for a Center.  Amar’e will also try, but he’s not a defensive player; he just doens’t have the mindset of a stopper and would rather just get you back on the other end.)  So, throw the ball inside to Pau and Drew and let them go to work.  Both players had excellent games against a similar front-line on Friday so both should again be able to impose their wills and control the offensive paint.

Kobe should also be able to attack the interior both with post-ups and off the bounce.  The Knicks allow the third most shots at the rim in the league and that should be music to the ears of the attacking Kobe we’ve seen of late.  He’ll likely be facing standout rookie Landry Fields, a guy whose length and quickness could present an issue but in the end I still expect Kobe to use the rook’s inexperience and slight-ish frame against him by showing off his full arsenal of moves while attacking the rim.  One area the team needs to be concerned about when attacking the rim is the fact that the Knicks lead the leagues in blocks and block % (percentage of blocks per 100 possessions), but I think that if the Lakers are cognizant of where the help is coming from they can actually capitalize on the Knicks aggressiveness by making the extra pass to cutting big men.

But this game won’t really be about offense but rather which team can get the stops they need.  The Knicks finally have the pieces in place to run D’Antoni’s P&R heavy sets and the Lakers’ defense of this play will be severely tested on nearly every possession.  Raymond Felton has finally found his comfort level with this play, making the correct read more often, and setting up himself or his mates with quality looks all over the floor.  The key to all of this is obviously the roll work of Amar’e and his uncanny ability to catch the ball on the move while still finishing at the basket.  His ability means that the Knicks always have a paint threat that requires the three second are to be protected and puts teams in the unenviable position of having to help on the middle dive while also worrying about shooters on the wings.  That in a nutshell is how the Knicks (and the Suns) hurt you each night as defenses can’t be everywhere at once.

So the Lakers will need to make hard choices on each possession and work their tails off when rotating both to the paint and back out to shooters whenever the P&R is run.  Luckily the Lakers have good interior defenders (regardless of what you think about Gasol and Odom as rim protectors, their length his very helpful) and that will at least offer an obstacle or two for Amar’e to work around on his dives.  So where I’m most concerned is with the Lakers’ wings getting sucked into the paint and leaving shooters open in the short corner and when circling back to the top of the key.  This has been an issue all year (and in other years) so it’s something to look for tonight.

More than any other game since the Spurs game, this will be test for the Lakers.  The Knicks offer a unique style and are an explosive team that has a knack for closing out games and playing well on the road (11-7 away from the Garden).  This would be a quality win for the Lakers and would only add to the momentum they’ve been building in their current 3 game win streak.  So, here’s hoping the Lakers can take a page from their manual of beating the Suns and apply that to the Knicks tonight to make it 4 in a row.

Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on Fox Sports West. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710am.

Darius Soriano

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