Preview: Knicks vs. Lakers

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.

Game Info

Where: Staples Center
When: Tonight at 7:30 p.m. (PST)
Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN


Injury Notes

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.

Preview: Knicks vs. Lakers

It’s Gotham vs. Tinseltown tonight! The Lakers (26-11) will get their first chance to see the new and improved New York Knicks (21-14) as they host the NBA’s top-scoring offense at Staples Center. After a shaky start and suffering a 6-game losing streak early this season, the Knicks have won 18 of their last 24 games, including an impressive 128-115 victory against the Spurs at home last Tuesday.

It’s no secret that New York’s success this season comes from the inspired play of their biggest catch of the summer, Amare Stoudamire. Most people, including myself, expected him to have a difficult time adjusting his game without Steve Nash. I guess Stoudamire heard enough of that and decided to prove everybody wrong. He’s become the second-leading scorer in the league at 26.3 PPG and leads the Knicks in rebounding (9.0 RPG) and in block shots (2.3 BPG). With those numbers and his quickness and agility advantage over Andrew Bynum, there’s no question he poses a big problem for the Lakers. But if you remember last year’s Western Conference Finals bout against the Suns, Bynum defended Amare on occasion and gave him fits on defense with his size and strength advantage. No doubt this matchup will be something to look out for tonight. But, Stoudamire is just one problem for the 2-time defending champs.

Former Bobcat Raymond Felton is also having the best season of his career. After averaging 13.3 points, 5.34 assists and 35 minutes per game in 5 seasons with Charlotte, Felton’s stats in his first year with the Knicks go on a tune of 18.3 points, 8.7 assists and 39 minutes per outing. So, there’s no doubt he’s found a home at the “Big Apple”. Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari are two forwards who add another dimension to this Knick offense. Chandler is an athletic slasher who has a decent touch from outside and attacks the boards regularly. He’s also the primary defender for Kobe Bryant because he happens to be a solid perimeter defender. Chandler is averaging 17.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG and 1.4 BPG. Gallinari is their designated 3-point bomber. This guy doesn’t need much heat to catch on fire. He’s already attempted 165 3-pointers this season converting 61. But, he’s averaging 15.3 PPG and 41.6% overall from the field. He’s the number one reason why Stoudamire gets plenty of room to operate in the paint because of his ability to stretch the defense with his outside shooting.

This is the first game where the Lakers will have to adjust playing without Matt Barnes, who was diagnosed with a torn cartilage in his right knee on Saturday. Barnes was injured after landing awkwardly on a rebound attempt in the 3rd quarter against the Hornets on Friday. Backup point guard Steve Blake was also hurt in that game but his sprained right ankle seemed to have healed enough overnight showing no considerable effects during practice on Saturday. No official word yet on when Barnes is expected to return. To help prepare for his absence, the Lakers recalled rookie Devin Ebanks from the Developmental League. But, it also means that Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant will also find some extended minutes at small forward. Could this help Artest become a better and more consistent contributor on offense? Laker fans certainly hope so.

The Knicks are an offensive-minded group. So if the Lakers ever put on a strong defensive effort and handle their business offensively tonight, they should be looking at their 4th win in a row.

The Lakers have taken the last 6 meetings versus the Knicks. New York haven’t won at Staples Center since Feb. 13, 2007 when they handed the purple and gold a heartbreaking 107-106 loss thanks to a go-ahead alley-oop dunk by Eddy Curry. The Knicks are 11-7 on the road this season but have lost 3 of their last 5 away from the Madison Square Garden. After losing 5 straight against teams from the West, they’ve won their last 9 straight games against opponents from the West. Meanwhile, the Lakers 13-5 at home and have won their last 3 games at Staples Center. Both teams are putting their 3-game winning streak on the line tonight.


TP&G Blog’s Matchup of the Game

Amare Stoudamire vs. Andrew Bynum: Quickness and athleticism versus size and strength. But it doesn’t matter who wins this matchup. It’s all about what the Lakers can do with the rest of the Knicks.

Keys for the Lakers

1. Control the Pace/Transition Defense: A Mike D’Antoni-coached team will always put the metal to the pedal on offense, especially against a bigger team like the Lakers. The champs can’t get baited into rushing their offense, but getting back on defense will be crucial for them as well. This is the end of the floor where the Lakers have to really work to have a chance at beating the Knicks.
2. Contain Stoudamire: Bynum (or whoever ends up defending Amare) cannot let Stoudamire get going early. Andrew has to play smart on defense as well in order to keep himself out of foul trouble and to prevent Amare from getting into rhythm offensively.
3. Size in the Paint: Punishing the Knicks down-low will force D’Antoni to go with his options on defense. Then again, it sounds silly to even say that Mike has a plan on defense to begin with.

Game Info

Tip-off is at 6:30 p.m. (PST). TV: FoxSports West (regional)  Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN

Preview: Knicks vs. Lakers

Los Angeles Lakers vs New York Knicks in Los Angeles

It’s Hollywood vs. Gotham tonight when the lowly New York Knicks (3-10) go toe-to-toe with the re-surging Lakers (10-3). The Lakers will try to make it four wins in a row against a team that is putting up almost the same number of points per game as them (101) but is giving up more to their opponents at 108 points — second worse in the NBA.

Last time these two teams met New York last February, Kobe Bryant set a new record for most points in a game at the Madison Square Garden with 61. The Lakers won 127-116 in front of a sell-out crowd that chanted M-V-P for Bryant.

Tonight, they’ll face Nate Robinson who has been doing anything he wants to do against the Lakers. The guy is quick and was a former slam dunk champion. The Laker guards will have to put some extra work against this guy. He’s currently averaging 8 points a game, but he steps it up a notch whenever he sees the purple and gold.

Journeyman Al Harrington leads the Knicks in points at 20 per game and is shooting at 50% from the field. He loves to face-up and operate away from the basket, but is also capable of taking it to the rim. But he’s a hacker on D preferring to slap the ball away from post players rather than with positioning and brains.

New York has another guy who’s been giving the Laker bigs problems with his rebounding. David Lee lacks the size against the Lakers, but he’s one of the most persistent and naturally skilled rebounder in the league. Last year, he was third best in the entire league (13th currently).

The key for the Lakers tonight is simple — continue to play lock-down defense. This is a Mike D’Antoni coached team that loves to run. The Knicks have five guys averaging in double-figure scoring but none a post player. They only average 38 points in the paint per game, but that’s mainly on layups and putbacks. That means they’ll try to spread the floor by luring both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum as far from the basket as possible to open up the paint for their guards to score. Bynum will have to be extra smart on defense tonight because the Knicks will hope that the twin towers won’t be on the floor together much to give them a better chance at scoring inside.

I, for one, don’t think the Knicks pose much threat for the Laker defense that is currently #2 on field goal defense at .424, #2 in 3pt. field goal percentage (29%), #4 in forced turnovers (16.2) and #5 in steals at 8.6 spg. The Lakers are playing with renewed focus on this end of the floor since Pau’s return two games ago.

Offensively, the Laker have a number of mismatches that they should take advantage of the entire game. They’ll face a Knick defense that has no size or strength which is why they’re ninth in the league in fouls per game. Their defense is based on reach-ins, block attempts, and hard fouls around the basket. With Pau, Andrew, Kobe, and Ron Artest, the Laker offense will give this Knick defense more than they usually can handle.

I see the Lakers jumping on the Knicks early and should have a different look on defense. That’s been the trend for this team lately because the defensive strategies have been divided between the assistant coaches, and I like it. Having that many minds on defense will keep the Lakers focused every game on defense, and they’ve been responding successfully so far.

Tip-off is at 7:30. TV: FoxSports West  Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN.


Other Notes: Kobe Bryant has been named the Western Conference “Player of the Week” by the NBA from Nov. 16th through Nov. 22nd. LeBron James is POW for the East.

The Lakers will petition by web to get Shannon Brown into this year’s Slam Dunk Contest. It’s been a very long time since “The Black Mamba” represented the Lakers in this contest. If Brown does get in this year, Laker fans have another reason to watch All-Star weekend.

But Brown explains that being selected as a contestant for the Slam Dunk Contest is nice but means very little to what he’s trying to accomplish as a player and with the Lakers this season. Here’s the video clip on that:

Here is an interview of Kobe talking about the Lakers’ new focus, execution, and the Knicks: