Note: I am a game-time decision today with flu-like symptoms, so excuse the short preview.
The Lakers’ seven game trip comes to a close today against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. A game like this is where Kobe would typically try to bring an even greater effort, playing in front of the fans in New York in that historically great arena. Instead, Kobe is relegated to wearing that familiar black suit on the sideline and marketing his newest iteration of his signature shoe (which is releasing two limited edition colorways in New York today before the national release).
The Lakers are 2-4 on their trip so far, starting off strong and fading as the length of the trip and tired legs due to a lack of bodies has caught up with them. In a way, then, this venture away from Los Angeles has been a nice metaphor for the Lakers’ season to this point. They are still playing hard, but as the great John Wooden used to say, don’t mistake activity for achievement. The Lakers are not making winning plays and after a loss to a pretty bad Magic team, both Pau Gasol and Nick Young spoke about how this iteration of the Lakers has zero margin for error and can’t take struggling teams for granted thinking they will win simply by showing up.
(As an aside, assuming Pau and Nick’s comments have merit, how this team would ever think that is mind-boggling. Two of the rotation players were in the D-league at the start of the season. Another key rotation player was widely considered a lottery bust before having a semi-resurgent year this season. Another rotation player was the final pick in the draft the year he was selected. This is not a team of high profile, overly talented players. They will win by playing hard and smart for a full 48 minutes and on many nights even that won’t be enough. Anything less will almost surely result in a loss.)
Today they face a team who has struggled about as much (and maybe even more) than they have. The Knicks are one game better than the Lakers in the loss column (27 to the Lakers’ 28) and have the same amount of wins. They have lost 5 of their last 6 games. Their last game was a W, and it was a special one with Carmelo Anthony scoring a franchise and Madison Square Garden record 62 points against the Bobcats. Melo had 56 points through 3 quarters in that game, scoring from all over the floor and bombing away from deep. It was one of the better moments in what has been a fairly dreadful Knicks’ campaign that has seen players throw their coach under the bus and the coach fiddle with rotations and not play the types of lineups the team had success with last season.
So much for the big market, high profile teams, huh?
In any event, winning this game will likely come down to which team buries the most outside shots most efficiently. Both teams are over-reliant on the three ball this year and both have inconsistent players up and down their rosters attempting those shots. If Meeks, Young, Johnson, Kelly, and Marshall can hit from deep at a better clip than Felton, Smith, Carmelo, Hardaway Jr., and Shumpert the Lakers will probably win. If the opposite is true, the Knicks will likely celebrate their second consecutive victory.
On the individual match ups, I’m very much interested in seeing how Pau does against Tyson Chandler on the block. Chandler doesn’t have a lot of weight in his base to uproot Pau, but is a skilled and long defender who is active in the paint. Pau has been on a bit of a tear lately and Chandler represents a nice defensive challenge. If Pau can put up his typical line of late (20 points on 50% shooting with double digit boards) it will be further evidence that he is pretty much all the way back as one of the better low post practitioners in the league.
Where you can watch: 12:30pm start time out west on ABC. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.