So, there’s a lot that happened in this game and whenever (or at least pretty often when) that’s the case I’m going to go to a bullet point recap. Sorry, I’m a blogger so I love bullet points. If you want the pure numbers, though, the Lakers beat the Knicks 121-117 and snapped a 12 game road losing streak in the process. They also got their 1st win of this five game roadie and with two games left they could actually have a winning record on the trip. I know, I’m getting ahead of myself.
On to the bullets…
- Luke Walton switched up his starting lineup, removing Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng in favor of Tarik Black and Brandon Ingram. Walton noted that with only so much season left to play, the emphasis was going to shift more towards the younger players and seeing what they could provide in different roles/heavier loads.
- For the Ingram/Deng switch, this played out as expected. Ingram’s minutes rose to 32 against the Knicks and he took full advantage of that extra time by scoring 14 points and grabbing 7 rebounds. Ingram’s rebounding was especially important in helping the Lakers not only finish defensive possessions, but transition into offense quickly. Ingram, unlike Deng, has real grab and go ability and it’s clear Luke encourages Ingram to take the ball up himself rather than look for an outlet. After the game Walton commented that the Lakers’ offense can really benefit from Ingram pushing the ball with the starting group, noting that having D’Angelo and Young fill the lanes is a real threat.
- Deng still played 24 minutes which is only 3 fewer than his season average. So, yes, Deng went to the bench but this move didn’t much affect his overall run, only who he played with and when he played with them.
- Mozgov’s removal was not quite the same. Timo was a DNP-CD while Black, Zubac, and Nance got all the minutes at C in this game. After the contest Mozgov was very politic about the change and was careful to not rock the boat. I greatly respect how he handed things, knowing full well going from starter to not playing at all is as drastic a shift as could happen. It is not at all comparable to what Deng dealt with.
- Julius Randle returned to the starting lineup as well and looked good after a poor, short showing against the Celtics. Randle said after the game it is the best he’s felt after dealing with pneumonia and it showed on the court. He was active offensively and did a very good job of attacking Porzingis’ length by getting into his body and then using his shoulder to create some space for little runners and jumpers across the lane. Porzingis still blocked a couple of Randle’s shots, but it wasn’t the rejection fest from when they matched up in Los Angeles earlier in the year.
- Russell only played 19.5 minutes and there’s really no explanation for the short run. Russell didn’t shoot well (1-4, 2 points), but did have 6 assists and zero turnovers. After he sat down for rest in the 3rd, I thought he might get back in, but in all honesty the team kept the lead up enough where getting him back out there only would have served the purpose of padding his minutes count/stats. Coming off his knee/calf, is that really necessary?
- Also, over the past 4 games (including vs. the Knicks), no Laker has played more than Russell’s 117 minutes. So, I’m not really concerned about a game where the team was up by 20 most of the night and D’Angelo didn’t even play 20.
- Watching Tarik Black get into his defensive stance when the ball handler comes off a pick is fantastic. I am a junkie for a big who knows how to engage a ball handler trying to attack him and Black does this as well or better than any big on the team. Seriously, the coaches should show tape of him to the other bigs (I’m looking at you Randle) as an example of how to drop your hips and be ready for the guard coming off a pick.
- Speaking of Black, the Lakers were +34 and had a defensive rating of 71.0 in the 20 minutes with him on the court Monday night. That will get it done.
- Another good scoring night from Lou. His 22 led the team and he was his normal efficient self, hitting 6 of his 11 shots and all 7 of his FT’s. That said, he had some horrid turnovers due to over-penetrating and there was a moment near the start of the 4th quarter I would not have minded him getting subbed out. His play leveled out, though, and it was much ado about nothing.
- Jordan Clarkson had a fantastic hustle play that deserves mention. A 50/50 ball sailed into the backcourt and Clarkson was able to win the footrace over his Knicks counterpart, then threw a great pass upcourt to take advantage of the team’s numbers advantage which then turned into an easy basket. That was an easy 4 point switch all because he busted his ass back defensively and did not give up on the play.
- 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 blocks for Zubac in 17 minutes. Again, the kid can play. I feel bad for Mozzie, but both Zu and Black need minutes; both impact the game in tangible ways and I can understand the coaches wanting to see more of them. I want to see more of them.
- Metta made an appearance late, hit a stepback jumper, and got MVP chants in the Garden. It was a real feel good moment.
This was a really good team win. Everyone who played contributed in a real way to getting the win. Be it Lou’s scoring, Young’s combination of outside shooting and solid defense, Black’s rebounding, or Randle’s general assertiveness, every guy brought at least a little something to the table which was positive. It was a nice recall to earlier in the season when the team was playing its best ball. Let’s see if they can carry it over into these last couple of road games.