The Lakers continue their four game road trip tonight as they face the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden. The Lakers are searching for any answer to their current struggles, as they consistently under-perform and fail to play to their strengths. The Lakers continued to be embarrassed from losses, as they did Tuesday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Tonight will be a difficult challenge for the struggling Lakers since New York has been firing on all cylinders throughout the season thus far.
Despite being without Amar’e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert, the Knicks have proved that simple, balanced basketball pays off. It doesn’t hurt that Carmelo Anthony is playing arguably his best season yet. The Garden and the Knicks will be rocking with energy and emotions as Mike D’Anoni makes his return to New York in what is sure to be an entertaining game. The Lakers have an all-time record of 163-112 against the Knicks with a 60-65 road record against New York. Will the Lakers show signs of life and hope in tonight’s matchup in the Big Apple?
Frontcourt: Carmelo Anthony is having a very impressive year thus far for the Knicks. His 27.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game averages are putting him in the front of the pack in the early regular season MVP race. Anthony is shooting 46.5 percent from the field on 20.4 shots per game. He continues to prove that he is one of the most prolific scorers in the NBA today and of all-time. He is coming off a 45-point game, where he shot 5-7 from the three-point line. The combination of Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison and Jordan Hill must up their defensive focus to limit Melo from having a big game.
The battle inside between Dwight Howard and Tyson Chandler will be the one to watch in my opinion. The two have four Defensive Player of the Year awards between them. While Dwight has the advantage on the offensive end, the real battle will be who wins on the defensive end. Howard needs to keep Chandler off the boards, especially on the offensive glass for easy put backs.
Ronnie Brewer is a bit streaky when it comes to offense, as one night he puts up double digits than puts up a goose egg the next. The Lakers should aim to force the Knicks to put the ball in Brewer’s hands, especially if he is struggling with his shot. In wins, Brewer averages 7.1 points on 42.6 percent shooting, while he is averaging 3.4 points in 31.8 percent shooting in losses this season. Overall, Brewer is averaging 6.2 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.
Steve Novak has one responsibility on the Knicks, to shoot three-pointers. Novak must be guarded at all times, as the Knicks are good about distracting the defense, opening him up and finding him for that open look. When Novak is on, he can deflate the defense. With the Lakers struggling on defense already, their perimeter defense must be in check tonight.
Backcourt: Raymond Felton came into the Knicks with questions of his conditioning and whether passing up on Jeremy Lin was the right call. So far it seems that the Lin question has been answered, but it has more to do with the team’s overall performance than Felton’s performance. Felton shot has been a little streaky, but he has done a solid job at the point. Felton is posting 15.8 points and 6.8 assists per game. Limiting Felton’s play making ability will be crucial, as the Lakers tend to struggle against teams with solid point guards.
Jason Kidd has transferred his point guard mentality to the 2-guard spot quite nicely in New York. The veteran has provided stable and effective leadership to the Knicks that have benefited the team. Kidd is averaging 9.1 points and his PER is still above the league’s average (20.76). However, moving from the point guard position has limited his play making skills, as his assists per game (3.6) is down from his career average (8.9) per game.
J.R. Smith continues to be one of the best contributors off the bench in the league. Currently, Smith is the third highest score on the Knicks with an average of 13.8 points. Smith may be limited or may even miss tonight’s game due to back problems. If he does play, Kobe Bryant and Jodie Meeks’ defense against Smith is a must.
Keys to Victory:
Come Out Strong: The Lakers have built a habit, especially in their losses, of beginning the game without urgency. As a result, they fall behind by the half and are forced to play catch-up for the remainder of the game, which forces them to play desperate basketball and often leads to forced shots, primarily at the three. This game will be intense and playing in the Garden is like playing on a stage. The Lakers need to focus on their gameplan and come out and perform at a high level for all 48 minutes.
Defense Starts with Energy: As I just pointed out, playing at the Garden is intense. The crowd’s energy can either make you or break you. The Knicks and Carmelo Anthony in particular will be playing with a ton of emotion as they face Mike D’Antoni for the first time since he left the organization. The Lakers have struggled with performing with consistent energy throughout the season. Tonight it will be crucial for the Lakers to match the Knicks energy at the Garden if they hope to have a chance of winning.
Like all of Lakers Nation, I want to see urgency in their faces. I want to see their energy spur their defense on the boards and with their transition game. Keep them off the boards, force them to iso-plays, defend the three-point line. Play with a purpose, with meaning, with passion and with energy.
Balance the Offense: Even though Kobe Bryant has played with great efficiency this season and has put together amazing performances at the Garden, the Lakers are better when the offense is more balanced. The Lakers need to move the ball consistently tonight to prevent a massive amount of turnovers. Make their defense work. Additionally, the Lakers should find ways to increase touches to Dwight Howard. I have a feeling he will, but he may get fouled on the majority of his possessions. He must make at least 60 percent of his free throws to maintain the flow of the game.
Los Angeles Lakers (9-13) vs. New York Knicks (16-5)
5:00 PM PST, December 13, 2012
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
TV: TWC Sports Network, TNT
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) 1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Knicks Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Raymond Felton
SG: Jason Kidd
SF: Ronnie Brewer
PF: Carmelo Anthony
C: Tyson Chandler
Key Reserves: G J.R. Smith, F Steve Novak