The Los Angeles Lakers continue their five-game Grammy road trip on Monday, as they travel to the Empire State for a showdown against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. The contest between two of the historic franchises in the NBA will be an exciting game, although both teams’ seasons haven’t gone exactly as planned.
Luke Walton and his squad attempt to rebound from a thrilling comeback try on Friday, as they came six points short of forcing overtime in their 113-107 loss to the Boston Celtics. The Lakers received a jolt of good news entering Monday, as forward Julius Randle has been cleared to return (pneumonia) and will start against the Knicks.
Both teams have some familiarity with one another, as the Knicks were able to secure 118-112 victory over the Lakers at Staples Center in early December. The 17-36 Lakers and the 22-30 Knicks are both outside of playoff contention, as both teams remain hopeful in a prosperous second half.
In their earlier showdown, Kristaps Porzingis and Derrick Rose combined for 51 points, while the Lakers were able to hold Carmelo Anthony to 13 points on 4-for-16 shooting. On the other side of the ball, Luol Deng had one of his best games as a Laker (22 points on 8-for-13 shooting), while Lou Williams tacked on 24 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Although Rose was able to torch the Lakers during their previous meeting, Monday’s contest will be a little different health wise. Rose has missed the past four games with an ankle injury, but he returned to practice on Sunday. In fact, head coach Jeff Hornacek stated he is confident that his point guard will return against the Lakers.
Shooting guard Courtney Lee is the backcourt mate for Rose, brought in as the last piece for the starting lineup that had high expectations. Lee is a streaky shooter that can get rolling, as he surely requires attention on the defensive end. He also has a knack for finding crevices to attack, as a slashing guard that isn’t afraid of taking it to the basket.
Monday’s contest is a bit of a clash between opposing benches, as both bench units are in opposite directions. The Lakers still hold a large lead in terms of bench points per game, holding down the No. 1 spot while averaging 50.4 bench points per game. On the other hand, the Knicks are ranked 19th in the NBA, with a bench that only contributes 33.7 points per game. With a team so reliant upon their starters’ scoring production, the Knicks have a relatively thin bench.
Point guard Brandon Jennings, who encompasses the sixth man role, is their stealthy shooter off the bench, as a player who is never afraid of his opposition. While no shot is out of his range, he has also taken on a playmaking role, averaging 5.0 assists per game. Justin Holiday has also turned into a productive bench piece for Hornacek, with six double-digit scoring games off the bench over their last 12 games.
While D’Angelo Russell continues to evolve on the offensive end as the season progresses, the Lakers need a strong defensive effort from the second-year guard. Russell has been dominating the stat sheet of late, averaging 19.7 points, 9.0 assists and 6.7 assists over the last three contests. The Knicks aren’t shy in their offensive production from their guards, so Walton should demand an increased defensive attention.
Shooting guard Nick Young rebounded from an awful 1-for-8 shooting performance against the Washington Wizards with 17 points against the Celtics, including 5-for-10 shooting from three-point range. Now slated to compete in the JBL Three-Point Contest at All-Star Weekend, Young has continued his hot shooting, as he spaces out the floor for the Lakers.
Lou Williams leads the bench mob for coach Walton, as the steady production that doesn’t fold with pressure. Williams had a phenomenal performance against the Knicks in their first matchup, as he can exploit their sub-par defense. While Lakers aren’t exactly the shining example of a defense (27th – 110.3 opponent PPG), the Knicks are only two spots ahead (25th – 108.6 opponent PPG).
Jordan Clarkson is another burst of offense for the top-scoring bench, with his athletic bursts and ability to find lanes to the basket. Although his offensive production is a constant, the Lakers need a more focused approach on defense in order to prosper. Clarkson is usually placed on the opposing team’s top scoring guard, but he can be exploited with his decision making on gambling defensive situations.
Anthony continues to headline the Knicks roster, although no NBA fan is sure of his status in New York. During the Knicks’ previous contest against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Anthony was greeted by disgruntled fans with a series of negative cheers from the crowd. Although he was competing intensely against LeBron James, the fans still seem upset with his situation and no-trade clause moving forward.
The nine-time All-Star is still the leader of this franchise, as Porzingis came to his side by stating he wants Anthony to remain with the Knicks and that he still has to learn a lot from the 14-year veteran. Porzingis has shown immense growth this season, with a progressing jump shot and increased defensive presence.
Joakim Noah has been a bit of a mystery this season, as he hasn’t lived up to his four-year, $72 million contract. His production has dropped tremendously, averaging just 5.0 points on 4.3 shots per game. The center is limited on the offensive end, as his horrid jump shot limits him to situations around the rim.
Kyle O’Quinn and Guillermo Hernangomez are energetic bigs off the bench, fighting for every rebound and lose ball. In similar fashion to that of Tarik Black and Ivica Zubac, the Knicks big men also crash the rim for plenty of offensive and defensive rebounds.
Luke Walton has decided to make some major changes in the front court as both Brandon Ingram and Tarik Black have been inserted into the starting lineup in place of Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov. It seems safe to say that the youth movement is officially underway for the Lakers.
It will be exciting to see how Ingram matches up against Anthony, as the NBA rookie leader in minutes per game should benefit from the expected minutes increase and a match-up against one of the best pure scorers in the NBA today.
Julius Randle also returns to the starting lineup on Monday, after battling a case of pneumonia over the past week. He has missed three of the last four games, as the Lakers have clearly missed his offensive production. This season, he is averaging 12.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 28.7 minutes per game.
Black has an interesting match-up against Noah who is not an offensive threat. The Lakers will be dependent on his help-side defense against Anthony, Rose, and Porzingis, but Noah averages 3.5 offensive rebounds per game so Black can’t lose track of him on the glass as he can give the Knicks plenty of extra opportunities.
With the increased focus on youth, rookie Ivica Zubac will likely see an increased role as well and his offensive repertoire will be on full display.
Larry Nance Jr. broke out from his recent injury with a huge game against the Celtics, as he finally resembles the hard working, all-hustle player from earlier this season. His high basketball IQ is a luxury for the second unit, as he continually makes the correct play.
Three Keys To Victory:
Contest Everything And Don’t Allow Any Easy Shots
The Knicks already possess one of the worst scoring benches in the NBA, while featuring a starting lineup with four scorers. If the Lakers can make a consistent effort to not allow open shots, it can progress to an easier situation later in the game. If they can keep the bench of the Knicks limited, it will allow them keep the game in a favorable situation.
Don’t Be Afraid To Shoot
The Knicks and Lakers are extremely similar in their three-point shooting preferences, as they like to get their shots up. Entering Monday, the Lakers average 9.3 made three-point field goals per game (on .353 shooting), while the Knicks average 9.2 (on .356 shooting). Both teams will certainly not hesitate with their shot selection, so the Lakers need to make a concentrated effort on taking the correct shots and finding their open teammates.
Play For One Another
Hornacek and the Knicks will certainly attempt to exploit the Anthony-Ingram and Porzingis-Randle match-ups, especially with Randle on an expected minutes restriction. The Lakers need to make the correct defensive rotations, with Mozgov staying close to the rim. Also, the Lakers need to understand which player to sag off of, as Rose isn’t as great a shooter as Jennings or Lee.
Los Angeles Lakers (17-36) Vs. New York Knicks (22-30)
4:00 P.M. PST, February 6th, 2017
Madison Square Garden, New York, New York
TV: Spectrum Sportsnet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/ 1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Knicks Starting Lineup:
PG: Derrick Rose
SG: Courtney Lee
SF: Carmelo Anthony
PF: Kristaps Porzingis
C: Joakim Noah
Key Reserves: Brandon Jennings, Justin Holiday, Kyle O’Quinn, Willy Hernangomez
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Nick Young
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Julius Randle
C: Tarik Black
Key Reserves: Lou Williams, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Ivica Zubac