Playing on Christmas has become a yearly tradition for the Lakers and Kobe Bryant who is playing in his 15th Christmas day game. Kobe just needs 29 points to pass Oscar Robertson for the most points scored on Christmas day, ever. Robertson holds the record with 377 points while Kobe sits at 349.
The Lakers are riding a season best four game winning streak into today’s Christmas day game. Coincidentally the Lakers last loss was to the Knicks on Dec 13th; surely the Lakers will seek to avenge that blowout. The Knicks have had a surprisingly strong season due to their league leading three point shooting (11.5 threes per game on 39.5% shooting) and solid defense which has limited teams to 96.5 points per contest. It’s been a long time since there was a legit LA/NYC rivalry mostly due to the fact that the Knicks haven’t been very good in the past few years. However this year the tables are turned and the Knicks are looking like one of the best teams in the east while the Lakers have not lived up to expectations.
The two biggest markets in the league face off tonight in what is shaping up to be a Christmas day classic. To mark the special occasion the Lakers and Knicks will be wearing special Christmas day jerseys. Without further adieu let’s see how these two teams stack up.
Frontcourt: Carmelo Anthony is playing like an MVP candidate this year. He’s averaging 28.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and a career high 2.6 three pointers per game. Melo is the league’s number two scorer behind Kobe Bryant who is averaging 29.7 points. Neither player is shy about getting his shot off and we can be assured of an entertaining shoot off today. It will be tough to fully contain Melo, especially if Gasol is guarding him at the four, but perhaps the Lakers will opt to go small and use MWP to guard him. Tyson Chandler is one of the league’s premier big man defenders. He is converting an astounding 70% of his field goals and essentially averages a double-double with 12.8 points and 9.9 rebounds. Ronnie Brewer starts at the small forward position and his main role is to defend the opposing team’s best player. Brewer has struggled to find his shot this season (38.9% shooting) but he doesn’t have to score since the Knicks have so many offensive weapons. Speaking of offense, key bench player Steve Novak is automatic from beyond the arc with 2.2 treys per game on 42.7% shooting. Novak spreads the floor with his shooting and allows Melo room to operate in the post.
Backcourt: The trio of Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and J.R. Smith split minutes in the backcourt for the Knicks. Felton has been solid at the point with averages of 16.3 points and 6.3 assists. He has played through bone bruises in both hands and has been an efficient facilitator. Jason Kidd has fully embraced the shooting guard position and is knocking down two threes per game. Kidd also gives the Knicks another ball handler who has excellent court vision. Despite not starting, J.R. Smith plays more than starters Jason Kidd and Ronnie Brewer. Smith is instant offense off the bench and is probably one of the leading contenders for the sixth man of the year award.
Keys to Lakers’ Victory:
Run Knicks off of the Three Point Line – The Lakers cannot afford to leave any of the Knick’s sharpshooters alone. Three players on the Knicks roster average more than two treys a game. Since the Knicks are such a great three point shooting team, the Lakers will not be able to double-team Melo in the post since they will need to patrol the perimeter. If the Lakers slack on defense, then they will probably face a similar fate as they did on December 13th when the Knicks netted 12 threes en route to a blowout.
Appropriate Personnel Usage – The Knicks present two key matchup issues for the Lakers at the power forward position: Carmelo and Novak. It will be tough for the Lakers to defend both players especially when they’re on the court at the same time surrounded by superb three point shooters. Gasol simply does not have the quickness to defend Melo at the four and he will also have trouble guarding Novak along the perimeter. On the other hand, MWP has the brute strength to deal with Melo in the post. However D’Antoni chooses to defend the Knicks four could decide the outcome of today’s game.
Rebounding – While the Knicks lead the league in three point shooting, they are one of the worst in the league at rebounding with only 39.5 boards per game. Dwight Howard, Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol should crash the boards on offense and look for easy put-backs. Plain and simple: the Lakers need to exploit their offensive rebounding edge over the Knicks.
New York Knicks (20-7) at Los Angeles Lakers (13-14)
12:00 PM PST, December 25, 2012
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Knicks Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Raymond Felton
SG: Jason Kidd
SF: Ronnie Brewer
PF: Carmelo Anthony
C: Tyson Chandler
Key Reserves: SG: J.R. Smith PF: Steve Novak