Mike Brown wanted to instill a defensive mentality in his players, but his offensive system is creating problems for the opposition as well. Everything is starting to come together for the Lakers (2-2), and it’s never been this obvious this season until they faced the New York Knicks (1-2) at Staples Center. The task at hand coming in to the game for them is to slow down or stop explosive scorer Carmelo Anthony and one of the quickest and most athletic big in all of the NBA in Amar’e Stoudemire. Well, they didn’t exactly stop Melo from putting up points but they took care of everybody else in blue and orange jerseys.
The Knicks are a team that usually score 92 points per game on 43.8% shooting in their previous 2 games. The Lakers held them to 82 points on 31.3% shooting resulting in their 2nd straight win, 99-82.
Melo scored a team-high 27 points on 8-for-14 shooting (57.1%), but all of that didn’t matter much for his team. Stoudemire was only 3 points shy of his season average with 15 points but had a miserable shooting night making only 23.5% (4-17) of his shots against the physical and unrelenting defense of Josh McRoberts and Pau Gasol.
Despite his speed and athletic advantages over both Laker big men, Amar’e didn’t see much space to operate or get a decent look at the basket the entire night. That’s because both McRoberts and Gasol moved their feet, bodied him up and challenged his shots on defense. In fact, this game showed just how limited Amar’e’s offense is and how ineffective he is on the defensive end when faced with quality competition.
As for Melo, he saw 3 different defenders but no one suffocated him more than Matt Barnes (his first appearance since the season opener). Barnes has always been known as a tenacious defender who isn’t afraid of guarding anybody. Anthony got a rude reminder of that. Matt matched his moves step-by-step and put a hand in his face each time he went up for a shot almost the entire game. Barnes even blocked Melo’s attempt at a baseline jumper in the 2nd half. Matt had 7 points.
The Lakers were lead by none other than Kobe Bryant with his game-high 28 points and 6 assists. Kobe continues to be efficient on offense despite his injured shooting wrist. You can thank his healthy right knee for that which he said is close to being 100%. That was evident when he put on his classic spinning fadeaway jumper over Renaldo Balkman. But Bryant is getting better looks at the basket and more space to work with because the team is improving the way they’re moving the ball around the halfcourt. A stagnant offense is that one thing Brown is trying to eliminate, and it’s looking like the Lakers are seeing why.
Gasol didn’t score as much as he did against the Utah Jazz last Tuesday, but he did put on a better effort on the glass by grabbing 10 boards. He finished with 16 points, including 2 blocks and 5 assists. Again, Pau has held the fort down very well for Andrew Bynum even when he was disinterested a few times during the game.
McRoberts and Steve Blake lead the bench with 21 points combined. Josh got 10 points and Blake with 11. Steve made 3 of his 5 attempts from long distance and is also doing his job well on defense by keeping his man from getting to the hoop easily and helping out in shutting down open lanes around the perimeter.
Metta World Peace didn’t have to be as aggressive on offense because the Lakers had control of the game from the get-go. But he still played the game the way Brown wants him to and is really having fun out on the floor. I don’t want to jump ahead but his new role under this new system seems to be reviving the Ron Artest who used to wreak havoc on the other team on both sides of the floor. If that happens, the Lakers are going to be tough to deal with later on in the season.
Overall, it was watching how the Lakers are progressing against another playoff-bound team that was important to see in this game. The Lakers are no longer that team that excites the crowd on offense but they’re becoming a team that we haven’t seen this good and this consistent on the defensive end. It’s still early but it’s clear they’ve embraced Brown’s defensive mantra as well as his offensive scheme. With all the hard work the team is putting on to get everything right, I doubt they’ll ruin all of that by going backwards. Not when winning a title is still their top goal.
Player of the Game
Kobe Bryant: There’s something about facing the Knicks that gets his offensive juice flowing. He may not have scored in the 30s as he almost always do against them but Kobe still ran circles around and had fun doing it.
KNICKS: 31.3% (21-67) FG | 27.3% (6-22) 3Pt. FG | 82.9% (34-41) FT | 32 Reb. | 11 Stl. | 6 Blk. | 12 TO | 6 FB Pt. | 26 Pts. in Paint | Biggest Lead: 6 Pts.
LAKERS: 52.1% (38-73) FG | 56.2% (9-16) 3Pt. FG | 63.6% (14-22) FT | 40 Reb. | 6 Stl. | 7 Blk. | 14 TO | 7 FB Pt. | 44 Pts. in Paint | Biggest Lead: 22 Pts.
Home: Saturday, Dec. 31st vs. Denver Nuggets at 12:30 p.m. (PST)
Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN