Records: Lakers 34-9, Knicks 12-32
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.9 (4th), Knicks 104.3 (28th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.5 (4th-Tied), Knicks 112.3 (25th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Avery Bradley, Danny Green, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee
Knicks: Elfrid Payton, Reggie Bullock, Marcus Morris, Taj Gibson, Julius Randle
Injuries: Lakers: AD and Rondo are probable; Knicks: RJ Barrett (out), Marcus Morris (questionable), Dennis Smith Jr. (questionable)
The Lakers coming in: You might have noticed I didn’t write a recap to the Lakers game in Boston. That was intentional. Beyond having no desire to write a recap for a blowout loss to the most significant historical rival the Lakers have, I figured if the Lakers were going to no-show I could too. So, there you go. Don’t blame me, blame them.
Beyond that, everyone seems healthy enough to play right now, which is good. The Lakers have not had injuries derail them like in recent seasons, but it’s been pretty rare for them to have their entire team available on the same night. Be it Kuz, Rondo, Bradley, or Davis’ most recent stint on the injured list, there have been a lot of player X is out 5 games and this group simply hasn’t gotten as much run as a full squad as you’d think considering their overall record. So, I’m hopeful they can stay this way for a while and find even better on-court chemistry and refinement of roles as they push towards the all-star break.
The Knicks coming in: The Knicks are 2-3 in their last 5 games, but just demolished the Cavs on Monday. On the injury front, Marcus Morris is questionable with an ankle isue, but he played vs. the Cavs so I’m penciling him into the lineup. Rookie RJ Barrett is out, however and with Dennis Smith Jr. also questionable, the Knicks could be a bit shallow at the point guard spot this game if the latter sits out.
Outside of that, I honestly don’t have much to say about the Knicks. They’re one of the East’s worst teams record-wise and the poorly constructed roster this front office assembled is bearing the exact type of fruit you’d expect it to at this point. They did get a bit of a dead cat bounce after firing David Fizdale earlier this season, but they’re still only 8-14 under interim coach Mike Miller and even if their plan is better on most nights they’re still just not a very good team.
So, the Knicks are what they are. I do wonder if they’ll look to be sellers at the trade deadline as they have a handful of players who could probably end up being useful pieces on a better team. Marcus Morris headlines that group, but Reggile Bullock and Wayne Ellington could be backup shooters on a lot of teams around the league and Taj Gibson/Bobby Portis could be 3rd big men for a team that needs quality depth at the PF/C slot. We’ll see what direction this front office goes, but if they could add a young piece or a couple of late 1sts/early 2nds for some of these guys it would be in their best interests to build for the future a bit more.
Keys to the game: I’m not going to talk X’s and O’s here because, honestly, the Lakers simply need to get back to playing hard. Their effort against the Celtics was substandard and it mirrored what they brought to the table against the Magic for long stretches. Their win against the Rockets also featured some of this, but they fine tuned their gameplan commitment in that one and turned the game on its head in the 3rd quarter.
The Knicks are not as good as the Lakers, but they do play a physical brand of basketball — as the Lakers saw the last time these teams matched up a couple of weeks ago. That game saw Portis damn near decapitate KCP and Bullock hog-tie JaVale for flagrant foul calls. Add to it AD getting hurt on a hard drive by Randle and you know the Knicks are going to play a rough brand of ball and the Lakers will need to match that physicality and intensity.
If they do that, they’ll be fine because their talent is just superior. But, they’ll need to commit to this, especially early in order to set a tone that there will not be any hanging around or keeping it close. If the Lakers decide they’re not going to play hard, though, this game could be interesting well into the 2nd half. This isn’t to say the Knicks won’t have a say in the outcome of this one, but I’m putting the results of this game squarely on the Lakers shoulders. They have the ability to dictate things here.
If there’s one thing I’m hoping for this game, it’s for AD to find more of a rhythm and get his timing back. Against the Celtics he was a step slow defensively and on the backboards while also looking a bit sloppy offensively. A lot of mishandled dribbles and off-timed shot attempts. This will clean up with more reps, but considering he’s not really practiced since his injury, it will take a little bit of time. That makes game minutes the best chance for him to find his stride and this is the next opportunity for him to get closer. Here’s hoping he has some positive steps.
Where you can watch: 4:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet
*All stats via stats.nba.com