The Los Angeles Lakers (10-15) are in the midst of a five-game losing streak, their latest being a 119-115 loss against the Phoenix Suns on Friday night. The Lakers allowed Suns point guard, Eric Bledsoe, to score 30 points and dish out nine assists. On the bright side, however, Lou Williams continued his scoring barrage by dropping 35 points. He now has the most points (137) by any bench player in a four-game span in league history.
During the losing streak, the Lakers have sorely missed the playmaking of D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young. The offense at times has become stagnant and motionless. Tonight they hope to turn things around against the visiting New York Knicks.
The Knicks (13-10) are coming off a 103-100 win against the Sacramento Kings. Carmelo Anthony scored a game-high 33 points and grabbed seven rebounds, and Kristaps Porzingis finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds. The Knicks are currently enjoying their best season since 2012-13 NBA season where they won 54 games.
After missing the last two games, Derrick Rose will return tonight to face the Lakers. He has enjoyed a resurgence in the Big Apple after a few bumpy seasons with the Chicago Bulls. He is averaging 16.7 points and 4.8 assists per game this season. Even though he clearly isn’t the MVP-type player he was earlier in his career, he has shown glimpses that prove he can still be an All-Star on the court. Rose was brought in to take some of the scoring pressure off of Anthony, and so far it seems it is starting to pay off.
Joining Rose is Courtney Lee, also in his first season with the Knicks. He currently averages 9.7 points and three rebounds per game. He gives the Knicks an extremely versatile presence, as he can defend both guard positions and is capable of running the offense. He has been deadly from the three-point line this season, shooting 46.2 percent. When either Rose or other Knicks point guards drives in the paint, whoever is defending Lee must stay disciplined and not move away from him as he will most likely make them pay.
Brandon Jennings, Justin Holiday, and Sasha Vujacic provide the Knicks with depth off the bench. Jennings, who could probably start on most teams, can be a handful to deal with. He is capable of exploding offensively on any night. Even though he is only averaging 7.7 points per game this season, all he needs is to see is his first couple of shots go in, and that could spark a long night for the Lakers. Holiday and Vujacic are good floor spacers who can knock down open jumpers and are active on the defensive end.
The Lakers backcourt has been beaten up the last few weeks. Injuries to Russell, Young, and Jose Calderon has forced Luke Walton to mix-and-match lineups. With Russell expected to play tonight and Young listed as questionable, via Lakers Nation Ryan Ward, they give the Lakers much needed playmaking and scoring punch in the starting lineup. For much of the past couple of weeks, the team has often begun games sluggish and disoriented on the offensive end. That has led them to big deficits early in games and forces them scratch and crawl their way back.
The return of Russell and Young, hopefully, will give the Lakers familiarity. Walton tried hard not to disrupt the chemistry of the bench, but with the offense struggling, he inserted Jordan Clarkson in the starting lineup on Friday hoping to ignite some sort of firepower.
Clarkson, Williams, and Brandon Ingram now revert to their accustomed roles, as spark plugs of the bench, where they have flourished this season. It is unknown how effective either Russell or Young will be tonight, but at least they give the team much-needed scoring ability.
The frontcourt of Anthony, Porzingis, and Joakim Noah is very talented. Anthony is one the best scorers the game has ever seen. He can score anywhere on the court. He is averaging 22.8 points and six rebounds per game this season. His decrease in points, compared to seasons’ past, is a result of him finally having capable help around him. The combination of his size and strength is almost unfair for any defender to deal with on a nightly basis. He will be a handful for Luol Deng tonight, so the Lakers must communicate effectively on the defensive end to know where Anthony is at all times.
Porzingis has turned into one the best players from the 2015 NBA Draft. After many Knicks fans booed at the selection, he has quieted them by averaging 19.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. His versatility to be able to play close to the basket and knock down a three-pointer makes him an tough matchup. Julius Randle will need to use his strength to disrupt him on the offensive end.
Noah hasn’t quite lived up to his four-year $72 million contract he signed with the team over the summer. He currently averages 4.3 points and eight rebounds per game. Even though he doesn’t provide much offensively, he is still a strong defensive presence. He uses his quickness to his advantage to beat opposing players to their spots on the court. The Lakers must be aware of his passing ability, as he is one the better passing big men in the game.
Kyle O’Quinn and Lance Thomas are big-bodied players who use their size and strength to make their impact on games. They both average five points per game, so they don’t do very much offensively. Still, the Lakers must account for them because they do not need either of them to have a good offensive outing. Willy Hernangomez is also an option for Knicks head coach, Jeff Hornacek, off the bench. Hernangomez can set hard screens and rebound well.
The frontcourt of the Lakers played well in Friday’s loss to the Suns. Randel had 14 points, nine rebounds, and five assists. Mozgov finished with 10 points, and four rebounds and Deng had six points and 11 rebounds. All three will have their work cut out for them against the Knicks tonight.
With Russell and Young (questionable) potentially returning tonight, hopefully, they will be able to find the Lakers big men in easier positions to score the ball. By getting easier baskets, it would allow for Lakers to set up defensively, which will be needed against the likes of Anthony, Porzingis, and Rose. If they allow the Knicks to start running the floor, it could be a long night for the Lakers.
Ingram, Larry Nance Jr., and Thomas Robinson will have to bring energy off the bench. By being active and hustling, they give the Lakers the best chance to be victorious. Ingram, presumably, will be asked to guard Anthony at times, so it will be good to see where his defense stands against an elite scorer.
3 Keys to Victory
1. Limit Turnovers
Turnovers have absolutely killed the Lakers this season. They are averaging 15.7 per game. If they start turning the ball over and New York is able to run up and down the court, the Lakers will dig themselves in another hole early in the game. Hopefully, the pending returns of Russell and Young will help alleviate those.
2. Push the Pace
Three-fifths of the Knicks starting lineup is over 30 years old, so it might be helpful if the Lakers can play up-tempo, but also efficient at the same time. Being one of the youngest teams in the league, they must use that to their advantage.
3. Make Someone Other than Carmelo Anthony Beat Them
As stated beforehand, Carmelo is one of the best pure scorers the league has seen. Even though he will most likely get his points tonight, the Lakers must pay attention to the role players of the Knicks. The last thing the Lakers want is for Brandon Jennings or Lance Thomas to have a big scoring night.
Los Angeles Lakers (10-15) Vs. New York Knicks (13-10)
6:30 P.M. PST, December 11, 2016
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
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, and Lance Thomas
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Nick Young (Questionable)
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Julius Randle
C: Timofey Mozgov
Key Reserves: Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Larry Nance Jr., Lou Williams, and Thomas Robinson