The Lakers came to New York winless, but look to leave the state with their first two wins of the year. After beating the Nets in Brooklyn on Friday night, they get the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon. The start time leaves something to be desired — we’ll see how many players have that dragging look that comes from a Saturday night out on the town.
Friday’s game against the Nets offered the first look at what a real road game looks like in what could be Kobe’s last season. At Yahoo!, Adrian Wojnarowski captured the moment and atmosphere very well:
Over and over, they chanted Bryant’s name at the Barclays Center. He let the love wash over him, waving to everyone on his way out, disappearing into the tunnel with his hands raised to the rafters. The Lakers won’t win a lot of road games this year, and that kind of response won’t always feel appropriate. It did on Friday, though. Truth be told, it felt perfect.
“The crowds, the chanting, people wanting to see me play – I’m extremely, extremely appreciative of that,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports. “I understand what that means. Listen, my personality isn’t the rocking chair kind of thing, but the chanting of my name means enough to me.”
Bryant is sure to get another taste of that this afternoon. There are few, if any, opposing arenas which Kobe is more beloved than Madison Square Garden. The Knicks crowd has loved Kobe over the years and he has loved them right back, giving them some great moments and memories. He has always said he loves to play there and it has shown in his efforts. Today, with the understanding it could be the last time he plays there, I expect there to be much of the same appreciation he was shown in Brooklyn two days ago.
With that, it would be nice to see Kobe have a good game. After the Nets game I noted that, while his numbers were not good, their were some subtle differences to his game. He was looking to get into the paint more, was working more from below the FT line area, and did more work off screens curling into this shot rather than the pure catch and shoot chances he’s settled for so many times this season.
It will be interesting to see if he looks for the same types of shots he got in Brooklyn or if he can even get them off in his match up with Carmelo Anthony. Anthony is not the best defender, but he offers size and strength advantages which will limit the types of looks Kobe can realistically get. Working in the post will be more difficult and creating off the dribble will also be harder since Melo is likely to give Kobe room for his jumper until he proves he can make them. If he does knock some shots down it changes the calculus of the match up, but until it happens the Knicks are likely going to be okay with Kobe taking long jumpers against a defender contesting.
The flip side of the match up is, of course, that Kobe is going to have to defend Anthony on the other end. Melo has not started off the season shooting well (36.6% from the field, 32.1% from behind the arc), but he is still more than capable of putting up a big number on efficient shooting in this game. The fact that it could be Kobe’s last visit to the Garden is a two way street and I would not be surprised to see Melo try to give it to Kobe in a real way — it would, after all, represent the type of attitude Kobe most respects.
This game, though, will be about much more than Kobe vs. Carmelo. In fact, the match up I might be most looking forward to is Julius Randle against Kristaps Porzingis. The Knicks’ rookie big man has performed well after being thrown into the starting lineup earlier than expected, putting up solid numbers and earning praise from around the league (including from Lakers’ coach Byron Scott). Randle, then, will have his hands full chasing a taller player with shooting touch who can also do work off the dribble and in the post.
Randle will try to counter Porzingis’ strengths with, well, strength. Randle will try to muscle Porzingis, both in the post and off the dribble to get to his spots on the floor. Randle will need to use this advantage to create the space he needs to get his shot off cleanly against a player who has great height and length advantages.
The battle of the backcourts will also be key. Against the Nets, D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson had their best game as a pair and will look to carry that over against the Knicks pairing of Jose Calderon and Sasha Vujacic (the Machine!). Russell will likely be doing his work against Calderon and it would be nice if he could turn up some of his attack moves off the dribble to get to his spots and get his shots off. As for Clarkson, Sasha will try to pester him with ball pressure, but Clarkson should be able to counter that with his quickness off the dribble and strength once into the lane.
Where you can watch: 12:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.