If the Utah Jazz wasn’t exactly a tough challenge for the Lakers, the visiting New York Knicks (1-1) should fit that bill tonight. Defense is what the Lakers have been aiming for as their identity since the season began, but they are facing last year’s 2nd highest-scoring team behind Oklahoma City Thunder. With Andrew Bynum serving his final game of suspension, Pau Gasol has to step it up again if the Lakers want any hope of beating the Knicks.
Carmelo Anthony is currently the 5th highest-scorer averaging 25 points per game while Amare Stoudemire is putting up 18.5 per contest. But even with a dynamic scoring duo as their center pieces, defense has been the achilles heel for the Knicks. They finished as the 3rd worst defensive team last season, and it doesn’t look like the signing of Tyson Chandler (who is averaging 3 blocks per game) is enough to elevate their status so far. New York is giving up 98 points per game so far this new season which is dead-last in the NBA, as of the moment. So yes, the Knicks aren’t exactly coming into this game without any pressure.
They have to, at least, slow down Kobe Bryant who is averaging 34.1 points per game against The Big Apple their last 8 meetings. Bryant is the league’s 3rd-best scorer with a 27.7 points per outing average, and Gasol is at 17 points per game. Not as good as Stoudemire but Pau has played well against Amare. If he comes out aggressive again, Amare has a big problem to deal with tonight. Speaking of the number 8, that’s the Knicks’ losing streak right now against the purple and gold.
New York erased a 10-point deficit against the Boston Celtics to win by 2 points in their season opener. But when they faced the run-and-gun offense of the Golden State Warriors the following game, they got blown out 92-78 despite the combined 58 points Anthony and Stoudemire scored. The Lakers doesn’t need to outrun the Knicks, but they have to take advantage of their own dynamic duo and cannot shy away from taking good or open shots as a team.
Letting go of Chauncey Billups in order to have the financials to sign Chandler will haunt the Knicks. Toney Douglas is a solid point guard but he doesn’t have the leadership or ability to keep the team fighting in the playoffs. Yes, they are experimenting with Anthony being the point-forward. But running the offense doesn’t exactly teach leadership or toughness. If it did, there wouldn’t be a shortage of point guards in the league who can lead their team through the playoffs. But it’s an interesting angle for Mike D’Antoni to work with nonetheless.
As for Mike Brown, he’s just being patient with his team. The Lakers showed a lot of what he likes to see on both sides of the floor versus the Jazz last Tuesday, so he’ll see if any of that progress sticks tonight. If he sees a bad trend developing early, look for him to call a few timeouts to make adjustments and show them where they’re coming short as a group. That’s one of his best traits as a coach. Nothing against Phil, but if a veteran team hasn’t figured it out for the past 3 or 5 minutes, maybe it’s time to step in?
The Knicks may not be as tough of an opponent as the Chicago Bulls, but make no mistake, they’ll challenge the Lakers. For starters, Devin Ebanks will be defending Melo, and Josh McRoberts is on Amare. Brown might put Pau on him but we’ll have to wait and see. Ebanks is a solid and long defender, but he’s going up against one of the league’s purest scorers. We know what happens if Anthony gets going early. Then again, Devin is a smart kid who has no problem doing what he’s told to do. It’s going to be an interesting matchup alright.
McRoberts doesn’t have the size, quickness or athleticism to deal with Stoudemire straight up. What he could do early is keep Amare from getting to a spot that he likes and body him up without over-playing him. If he does, he’s setting himself up for a backdoor play with either Amare or Chandler since Gasol will need to drive his attention in helping Josh out. He’ll also need to fight Amare under the boards and just stay active at all times. That also goes for Troy Murphy and possibly Metta World Peace.
If the Lakers can slow down either Melo or Amare, they have a great chance of winning. It would also be a bonus if the entire Lakers, as a team, have a good scoring night. Brown has yet to implore the same defensive scheme each game. Let’s see what he has up his sleeves against the Knicks.
Should be a good one.
Matchup of the Game
Tyson Chandler vs. Pau Gasol: Interior defense and rebounding are going to be very important for either team tonight. The Knicks have Amare and Tyson in the paint while the Lakers have Pau and Josh. No question who has the upper hand there. But as I alluded to earlier, Gasol will need to be focused and active tonight to negate some of what the frontcourt for New York could bring.
Keys for the Lakers
Defense: Without Bynum and with Metta now taking on the 6th man role, the Knicks have an immediate edge on the offensive side at the start of the game. That means that both Melo and Stoudemire would be more inclined to ask for isolations and for Chandler to tell his teammates to look for him to throw some lobs. The Lakers need to be aware of what the Knicks are trying to entice them into doing defensively.
Rebounding: An offensive-minded team like the Knicks are never worried about chucking shots from the perimeter. The Lakers have to coral most of the missed shots if they want to control the pace of the game and limit New York’s chances of making up for those missed field goals.
Role Players: The Lakers as a squad need to contribute because the Knicks’ own role players will do what they’re supposed to do. The good thing is the players not named Kobe or Pau have been doing their job so far this season. But whichever team does more should win tonight.
Where: Staples Center
When: Tonight at 7:30 p.m. (PST)
Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN
KNICKS: Baron Davis (Herniated Disc) is out. Jared Jeffries (Sore Right Calf) is out. Iman Shumpert (Sprained Right MCL) is out.
LAKERS: Kobe Bryant (torn lunotriquetral ligament, right wrist) is day-to-day. Matt Barnes (bursitis, left hip) is probable. Derrick Caracter (torn lateral meniscus, left knee) is out. Pau Gasol (sprained right shoulder) is day-to-day. Josh McRoberts (sprained left big toe and left thumb) is day-to-day.