Records: Lakers 15-11 (5th in West), Knicks 11-15 (9th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 103.5 (14th in NBA), Knicks 101.2 (22nd in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 101.1 (11th in NBA), Knicks 100.6 (9th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Knick:s Jeremy Lin, Landry Fields, Bill Walker, Jared Jeffries, Tyson Chadler
Injuries: Lakers: None (!!); Knicks: Carmelo Anthony (out), Amar’e Stoudemire (out), Josh Harrellson (out), Baron Davis (out)
The Lakers coming in: Two-thirds of the Grammy Trip is in the books, and thanks to last night’s nip-tuck overtime victory over the Celtics – just the Lakers’ fourth in 13 road games and their first in five tries away from Staples against an Eastern foe – the Lakers still have a shot (with a tonight at MSG and on Sunday in Toronto) at returning to Los Angeles from the six-game journey with a winning record.
From a Lakers perspective, the big story coming out of Boston is Pau Gasol. In just under 41 minutes of action, Gasol scored 25 (on 12-20 FG), grabbed 14 rebounds and made a variety of brilliant plays at both ends of the floor that helped to both force overtime and secure the win.
And now, having already bested the Knicks in Los Angeles, the Lakers take Manhattan, victorious in their last four visits to Madison Square Garden. With the Knicks short-handed on the front due to injury (Carmelo Anthony) and tragedy (Amar’e Stoudemire) and the Lakers at full strength for one of the first times all season, look for them to emerge victorious from Gotham for the fifth straight year.
The Knicks coming in: Linsanity. Lincredible. Lingenius. Linovative. Lincandescent. The Linferno.
In case you’ve not yet heard, the Knicks are back, and a Harvard man – one sporting Adidas rather than Hermes – is the toast of the town. As recently as a week ago, the Knicks (mainly Carmelo Anthony) had alienated a chunk of the fan base by not only losing (they dropped 11 of 13 between January 12 and February 3), sapping the fun out of the game in the process (Meloball). Both the team, seemingly in disarray and in danger of being engulfed by toxicity, and the fans, increasingly fearful of an unexpected Isiah-esque debacle, were in desperate need of fresh air.
Enter the ShaoLin. (Last one. I promise.)
The Jeremy Lin phenomenon has gained support more quickly and comprehensively than any that’s swept through Manhattan in the last seven years. Between the novelty of his background (an undrafted Chinese Ivy Leaguer), his circuitous route to the Big Apple (waived after ~17 months with the Golden State Warriors and 12 days with the Houston Rockets) and (my favorite, by far) his current living arrangement (he’s been crashing with either his brother or Landry Fields, though it’s rumored that he will be living in David Lee’s old apartment), Lin has brought a likeability and relatability to the Knicks that’s been sorely lacking.
The fact is, however, in addition to emerging as the season’s feel-good story, this guy can really play. An emotional catalyst to be sure, Lin has provided the Knicks with much more over the past week, averaging 25.3 points (on 58% FG), 8.3 assists and 1.7 steals and leading the Knicks to three straight wins. Beyond the numbers, Lin has an NBA build (6’3”-200), is seldom (if ever) out of control, and is an extremely intelligent player, particularly when using a screen to set up a defender. Far be it for me to predict that Jeremy Lin will sustain his All-Star-caliber play in the long run, but he is more than a mere novelty.
Knicks blogs: There are a number of excellent Knicks blogs on the web. The head of this class includes Posting and Toasting (where Seth Rosenthal does some fantastic work), Knickerblogger and The LoHud Knicks Blog. Additionally, if you are on Twitter and will be in arms reach of a computer while taking this one in, give Twitter superstar @netw3rk and Charlie Zegers (of MSG.com and and About.com) a follow.
Keys to the game: Let’s quickly get a Lin-related prediction out of the way. On the defensive end, look for Mike Brown to task Kobe Bryant with slowing down Lin, as a) it’ll probably work (I’d expect an inefficient ~15-6) and b) doing so will take much of the life out of the MSG crowd and consequently deflate the Knicks, regardless of whatever havoc Landry Fields wreaks against Derek Fisher.
As we exchanged emails earlier in the afternoon, Darius touched on another (and perhaps the most important) effect that Lin has had on the floor – the elevation of Tyson Chandler’s offensive game, primarily in the pick-and-roll. As I previously mentioned, Lin is an intelligent playmaker, and in the pick-and-roll has shown an ability to both get to the rim and score and connect with Chandler (who’s done a great job slipping the screens) on the lob. The Lakers’ weak side big (I’m guessing Gasol) must be aware of this and provide help in order to slow Chandler’s roll to the hoop. As Darius suggested (and I agree), it would not be surprising to see the Lakers play Lin similarly to the way they play Rondo – going under some screens and cutting off his angles, both on the drive or when looking to hit a cutter.
As one of the league’s better defensive squads – and one looking to close out this road trip on a positive note and build momentum as the season’s halfway point approaches – it will be interesting to see if the Lakers make the adjustments necessary to slow down the Knicks’ primary offensive set, while exploiting an obvious advantage in the paint when on offense.
The bottom line is this: in the season’s opening week, the Bynum-less Lakers blew out a Knicks team that boasted its full complement of talent. Lin or no Lin, should anything different go down with the Lakers’ massive (and massively talented) front line intact and healthy and the Knicks without Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Josh Harrellson, with only Jared Jeffries to offer support to Tyson Chandler against Gasol and Bynum, it will be a huge surprise.
Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time on ESPN. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.