The Los Angeles Lakers are rolling to start their road trip, with back-to-back victories giving them a two-game winning streak entering Lonzo Ball’s first time taking the stage at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks.
The Knicks would’ve looked like more of a walkover entering the season, but a breakout season from Kristaps Porzingis has New York on the cusp of the playoff race.
Porzingis has averaged 25.5 points on 19.7 shots per game this season while leading the Knicks to a .500 record so far in their first year of the post-Carmelo Anthony era.
Their 13-13 record leaves the Knicks in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, but given that they’re nipping at the heels of the Miami Heat to make the postseason for the first time since 2013, the Knicks will likely be just as hungry for a win and a solid performance as the Lakers are to extend their winning streak.
Ball is one of the NBA’s most famous players, but it’s not because of his play (at least so far). The rookie point guard has been solid at passing and rebounding while remaining passable on defense, but he’ll continue to look to heat up his shooting (currently at a team-worst 32.1 percent) against the Knicks.
Ball’s backcourtmate Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, on the other hand, will look to maintain his hot shooting. The offseason acquistion has been on fire from deep in the Lakers’ last five games, hitting 39.3 percent of his triples on 5.6 attempts per game.
They’ll try to do so against a two-pronged Knicks backcourt attack that includes Courtney Lee and rookie point guard Frank Nitilikina will look to make the team’s life difficult on offense for the Lakers.
Lee will likely start on whoever the Knicks deem as the biggest threat offensively, while Ntilikina has posted a defensive rating (points opponents score per 100 possession when he’s on the floor) of 103.7, the second-best of any guard playing consistent minutes on the Knicks behind Willy Hernangomez (103.4).
Ntilikina will probably see time on Jordan Clarkson, who has been on a tear over the Lakers’ last two games, averaging 19 points per game while shooting 45.5 percent behind the arc. If Clarkson can continue his recent dominance in pick and rolls off the bench, it could swing the game for L.A.
Porzingis is the sizzle for the Knicks offensively, but Kyle O’Quinn has been huge for the team as a reserve. Among their consistent contributors, the Knicks are never than when O’Quinn is on the floor, outscoring teams by 4 points per 100 possessions.
O’Quinn gobbles up defensive rebounds, snaring 30.8 percent of available defensive boards while on the floor, ending possessions after one shot and allowing the Knicks to rise to average defensively, ranking 15th in the league in defensive efficiency while allowing 105.3 points per 100 possessions.
He’ll have his work cut out for him against the Lakers, who rank 12th in the league in offesnive rebound percentage, snatching 22.4 percent of their own misses.
Larry Nance Jr. has been key for the Lakers in that department, grabbing a team-high 10.7 percent of the Lakers’ misses while on the floor.
Likely joining him in the team’s starting frontcourt will be Brook Lopez, who has struggled to space the floor in the Lakers’ last five games, shooting 30 percent from 3-point range, a trend he’ll look to reverse against New York.
Brandon Ingram, who rounds out the Lakers frontcourt trio, will just look to keep tearing it up. Ingram has averaged 19.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in the Lakers’ last two wins, and if he can keep up the same heat L.A. will look a lot better off offensively than their
Three Keys To Victory:
Battle of Rookie Guards
Ball and Ntilikina won’t start the game on each other, and the two lottery picks are very different players playing very different roles, but either having a big performance could swing the game for either side.
If Ntilikina can force Ball into a worse game than usual offensively, the Lakers’ offense could stagnate, especially late if head coach Luke Walton opts to leave Ball in in the fourth quarter for developmental minutes.
But if Ball can rise under the lights of the Garden and light up French Frank to force him off the floor, the game could flip in the Lakers’ favor.
Turning Weakness Into Strength
The Lakers have been one of the worst teams in the NBA on offense, but are rolling in their last two games. They have lit teams up for 105.4 points per 100 possessions in those contests, which ranks 17th in the league over that time frame.
That might not sound very good, but it’s a whole lot better than 28th, which is where the Lakers rank on the season. If they can keep up their hot shooting early against the Knicks’ average defense, then it could tilt the momentum of the game early.
The Ball Finds Energy
The above was a favorite pet phrase of former Knicks and Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni, and its shown that he’s not coaching either anymore.
Both the Lakers and the Knicks rank in the bottom half of the league in their percentage of assisted baskets, with the Knicks assisting on 57.7 percent of their field goals (16th in the NBA) while the Lakers rank 23rd with 56.1 percent.
The Lakers are the worst 3-point shooting team in the NBA this season (31.9 percent) while the Knicks are still below average at 35.3 percent. And if either team can get the ball moving early and get some easy triples it could create a deficit the other side can’t overcome.
Los Angeles Lakers (9-15) Vs. New York Knicks (13-13):
4:00 P.M. PST, December 12, 2017
Madison Square Garden, New York, New York
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Larry Nance Jr.
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Kyle Kuzma
Projected Knicks Starting Lineup:
PG: Jarrett Jack
SG: Courtney Lee
SF: Tim Hardaway
PF: Enes Kanter
C: Kristaps Porzingis
Key Reserves: Doug McDermott, Frank Ntilikina, Kyle O’Quinn
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