Despite being the only team in the NBA that have yet to lose at home and being a game and a half in front of the defending champions for the top spot in the east, the New York Knicks (16-5) will not be the subject of conversation for tonight's first matchup with the Lakers (9-13).
Nothing against the Knicks, but that's how it goes when the team that's been synonymous with titles for the past 12 years and features a roster that has Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash is still figuring out how to win as a team after 22 games of the season.
Defense, turnovers, effort and patience have been the common keywords from the purple and gold in every single losses. But you have to wonder, how many more Ls will it take before they resolve their deficiencies?
The Lakers are currently 3 games below the .500 mark, have dropped their last 3 games and sitting 3 games behind the 8th spot (Dallas) in the west.
That may not look too alarming to most people, especially when you consider that they have yet to get back Nash, Gasol and Steve Blake, at this point of the season. But they will need some of the teams in front of them to drop some games while they string together wins to catchup.
Of course, the question in the back of every Laker fan right now is: when is that going to happen?
It may sound silly or in the realm of "you're out of your mind", but the Lakers have a great opportunity to get that boulder off of their backs tonight.
For one, Kobe loves playing at Madison Square Garden and is currently the record-holder for most points scored in this famed building with 61 points back Feb. 2, 2009. For those who like to blame Bryant's number of shot attempts as a major reason for the losses, this is probably a game you won't mind seeing him go off.
The Knicks own the 10th overall best defense in the league allowing 102.6 points per game (45.5% from the field/37.5% from distance). The Lakers average 101.5 points for the season but shoot just 44.3% from the field and 39.1% from behind the arc away from home.
Kobe averages 32.3 points on 48.2% shooting from the field and 39% in long balls on the road. But more importantly, he'll probably need to score a lot just to make up for what Carmelo Anthony can bring to the table.
Melo has surpassed Kevin Durant behind Kobe as the 2nd highest scorer around right now at 27.7 points per outing but is putting out 28.9 per game at MGS on 44.2 % shooting from the field and 41.7% from 3-point land. The potential big problem for the Lakers there is the small forward position (Metta World Peace, Devin Ebanks and even Kobe) for them gives up 15 points per game on 51.4% shooting on average, according to 82games.com.
(I did say boulder off of their back, not monkey.)
But whatever the Lakers do as a team, they can't forget to also rely on Howard. Yes, Tyson Chandler has been playing tremendously on both sides of the floor averaging 12.4 points and 9.9 boards. He's only getting .76 blocks per game this season but leads the league in shooting percentage at 69.8%. That's mainly due to the excellent lob passes he's been getting from both Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd. We'll see how much of those he can get against Dwight.
Despite his lighter frame to Howard, Chandler is probably the best center around when it comes to using his length on the opposition defensively. Giving Howard fits isn't new to Chandler. Last season, Tyson held Dwight to just 10 points per game in 2 meetings. Then again, it's probably because Howard's back was giving more trouble than anybody.
Some think the pressure is on the Knicks to win the game to keep themselves in front of Miami and because of the old sports mythology that winning tends make a team complacent.
I will have to disagree simply because the Lakers have more to prove than the Knicks because of their expectations this season is greater than the sum of New York's success now or later. That and the fact that the Lakers badly need a victory.
Matchup of the Game
Dwight Howard vs. Tyson Chandler: It's no secret the Lakers are going to need Dwight dominate the paint tonight to keep the Knicks from focusing in on Kobe and the rest of the shooters for the Lakers. Early foul-trouble for either big could prove monumental to the outcome of the game.
Keys to the Game
> Perimeter Defense: Melo starts the game at the 4 position these days, so Mike D'Antoni might have to change his lineup tonight putting MWP in that position while replacing Jordan Hill with Antawn Jamison at the 3. But whoever is defending Anthony better match his aggression defensively.
> Turnovers: So far, these keys aren't surprising anyone. If the Lakers are having trouble getting back on defense, one way to alleviate that problem is not to turn the ball over. The Knicks aren't the fastest team in the league but you don't have to be, it seems, against the Lakers.
> Bench: With all of the defensive and turnover problems the Lakers are having, the bench's production has been ignored a bit. The second unit is still the second-worse scoring bench in all of the NBA averaging just 23.5 points per. They've been getting their fair share of open looks but struggle in converting them. They have to make those tonight if the Lakers want an upset in the Big Apple.
Watch Out For
LAKERS: Dwight Howard: I just have this feeling that D12 is gonna come out angry. He knows what's at stake and remembers how Chandler made him look silly last year.
KNICKS: Carmelo Anthony: The Knicks go as Melo goes. Besides, he's probably waiting for this game to show former coach D'Antoni that scoring is what he's paid to do.
Tonight @ New York Knicks
Tip-off at 5:00 p.m. (PST)
Madison Square Garden
TV: TWC SportsNet (Southern California)/TNT (national)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW
LAKERS: Pau Gasol (tendinitis – no timetable for return), Steve Nash (leg – possible late Dec. return), and Steve Blake (abdomen – possible Jan. return)
KNICKS: Marcus Camby (foot – questionnable), Iman Shumpert (ACL and meniscus – out), and Amar'e Stoudemire (knee – out)