I’ll be honest, I’m not quite sure what to write about this game. The Lakers play the Knicks in an important game for both teams. The Lakers are still trying to get into the 6th seed and, even though they’ll need the Blazers help, can put themselves in position to get there by winning their final 4 games. The Knicks, meanwhile, are currently 4th in the East, but the Heat and Hawks are hard-charging and if NY wants to stay where they are they need to keep winning. The stakes, then, are pretty high for both teams and I expect the effort from everyone to reflect that.
That said, the Lakers are still in a bit of a rough spot. It was thought LeBron could return this game, but ESPN is reporting he’ll wait one more day, returning on Wednesday night instead. This makes sense considering he was unlikely to play in a back to back anyway, so why jump into the lineup only to then miss a game the next night. With Bron still out and Dennis still not out of health and safety protocols, the Lakers are still looking at Alex Caruso and THT as their main ball handlers and Anthony Davis as the primary fulcrum of the team’s entire offensive attack. This has gone well enough the last few games (wins vs. the Nuggets and Suns, a strong performance vs. the Blazers in a loss), but it’s still a heavy lift for all involved.
Versus a very good Knicks defense, one has to wonder to what degree this will continue tonight. AD should be able to do well vs. any and every defender Thibs throws at him, but both AC and THT will need to be sharp and disciplined, things that bring some, but not all, of the time (particularly THT). So, can the Lakers generate good shots on most of their possessions? Can they avoid turning the ball over? Can they hit 3’s when AD gets doubled or swarmed? The answer to these questions very well could determine the game.
On the other end of the floor, I’m very interested in how the Randle vs. AD matchup goes. Randle has a strong case to make an All-NBA team this year and has become a supreme shotmaker on jumpshots from all over the floor. He’s hitting pull up mid-range J’s and step back 3’s and fading baseline shots that, honestly, are so developed you wonder where it all came from.1Though, I’d argue, if you watch his high school tape, you’d know exactly where this came from, but as a longtime resident of Julius Randle island, I digress. If AD can shut off Randle’s faucet, the Knicks will have issues scoring. And if Caruso or THT or KCP or whatever other guard Vogel throws on him can slow down Derrick Rose, the Knicks struggles to score will only be exacerbated.
In saying that, though, the biggest thing about this game will be “who plays harder?” When these teams played in New York, the answer was very clearly the Knicks. And they won. The demeanor of this Lakers team has changed since then, though, so I’m encouraged heading into tonight. The stakes and stage of the season have clearly awoken something in AD and the rest of the team is following suit. And if the shots fall, the Lakers could be well positioned to keep some of this momentum going. We’ll see.
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and TNT.