The Los Angeles Lakers have been fighting to catch up from their 2-10 start to the 2022-23 season. And after an 8-3 stretch since the trade deadline, they are finally just one win away from achieving their first .500 record of the campaign. But they must defeat the playoff-bound New York Knicks to do it.
At nine games above .500 and in a tie for the Eastern Conference’s No. 5 seed, the Knicks have been one of the league’s best teams in the second half of the season. They are 14-7 since Jan. 24, including a nine-game win streak.
Much of their success has been built around their trio of former Laker Julius Randle, top draft pick R.J. Barrett and 2022 free agent acquisition Jalen Brunson. The latter of the three had been particularly excellent before suffering a foot injury.
Brunson was ruled out for Sunday night’s L.A. bout — the second night of a back-to-back for New York.
Meanwhile, the Lakers are without LeBron James and Mo Bamba, who both continue to recover from lower-leg injuries. But they’ll have D’Angelo Russell in the lineup for the second straight game after an emphatic return to the court against the Toronto Raptors on Friday.
Russell finished with 28 points and nine assists on 10-for-17 from the field in a comeback win over the Raptors. And it was an Anthony Davis-less lineup of Russell, Dennis Schroder, Austin Reaves, Jarred Vanderbilt and Wenyen Gabriel that helped to solidify the victory.
The Knicks are one of the few remaining matchups where the Lakers may struggle significantly without Bamba in the lineup. New York has two quality centers in Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein, and Davis is the only true center on L.A.’s active roster.
Where the Lakers will need to make up the gap is with speed, as the more methodical play of Robinson and Randle — as well as not having Brunson in the lineup — could slow down New York’s attack. The Knicks already play at the league’s fourth-slowest pace while the Lakers are the league’s second-fastest team on the season and the fastest in their last 11 games.
Vanderbilt is the most likely to get the assignment of guarding Randle, who is having a massive bounce-back year. Not only is Randle averaging career-highs in points and rebounds, but he is averaging 27.8 points per game since Feb. 24.
The Lakers have their work cut out for them if they want to get to .500 and climb even higher in the Western Conference standings. But if they’ve proven anything since the trade deadline, it’s that every single game is winnable.
Los Angeles Lakers (33-34) vs. New York Knicks (39-30)
6:00 p.m. PT, March 12, 2023
Crypto.com Arena, Los Angeles, California
TV: ESPN, Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Malik Beasley
SF: Troy Brown Jr.
PF: Jarred Vanderbilt
C: Anthony Davis
Key Reserves: Dennis Schroder, Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, Wenyen Gabriel, Lonnie Walker IV
Projected Knicks Starting Lineup:
PG: Immanuel Quickley
SG: Quentin Grimes
SF: R.J. Barrett
PF: Julius Randle
C: Mitchell Robinson
Key Reserves: Josh Hart, Isaiah Hartenstein, Obi Toppin
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