After a fun game on Thursday (though in a losing effort) that brought us one last Kobe vs. LeBron duel, the Lakers are back in action against the Knicks on Sunday. This game offers a much more winnable contest — especially with how the Lakers are playing lately. And while we should always be weary of actually projecting a victory, if you look at the trajectory of both teams for the past month or so, it’s not farfetched to think the Lakers come out on top tonight.
This game, at least for me, isn’t so much about the game between these two teams, but rather the games within game stemming from individual match ups and storylines between the two rosters. Kobe Bryant will play tonight, so his battle with Carmelo Anthony will take center stage. Kobe and Melo have long been close, so this last match up between the two before Kobe’s retirement is likely to mean something to both players. If we could get a similar show to the one Kobe and LeBron put on Thursday, we’d all be appreciative.
But this isn’t just about the veteran stars. In the Knicks’ rookie big man Kristaps Porzingis, D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle both have a target to aim at this game. For Russell, the challenge of facing another top rookie — especially one who was getting major press early in the year and being hailed as a future star at a time when Russell was not playing as well as he is now — is real. Russell has been playing better than Porzingis has recently, but that’s not matter. Seeing who can come out on top when they face off is one of the stories of this game and one I will be watching closely.
It is Randle, however, who will have the challenge of actually facing off against this year’s #4 overall pick. Porzingis has length, shooting range, and very good offensive skill overall. Randle has strength, quickness, and an unyielding motor when going to the glass. Both guys will have their hands full, but the contrast in these player’s games and how their individual strengths seem to go directly against each other’s weaknesses is what makes this match up intriguing. Randle would do well to try and get Porzingis into foul trouble by bullying him off the dribble, but cannot get impatient and force the action. Taking it too often into the length of the 7’2″ Latvian will lead in some of his shots getting sent away.
The last thing I’ll be watching for is whether Jordan Clarkson can have a bounce-back game after the poor showing he had against the Cavs. Clarkson has, arguably, been the Lakers’ steadiest and best player this year. He doesn’t have too many bad games in general and rarely will he string them together. The Knicks are likely to start our old fried Sasha Vujacic at SG with Arron Afflalo ailing, and we all know how Sasha likes to try and get into the head of his opponent with pressure ball defense and a fearlessness on offense. Clarkson, though, is a much superior player to the Machine and should be able to use Sasha’s aggressiveness against him with strong drives and by baiting him into bad shots on the other end.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.