The stars were out Sunday, with Jack Nicholson, Spike Lee, Denzel Washington, Adam Sandler, Lindsay Lohan and Ciara all courtside to view Lakers' star Kobe Bryant and Knicks star Amare Stoudemire.
Bryant led his team with 27 points, but went just 10-of-28 from the field. Stoudemire led his team with 23 points, but went just 7-of-24 from the field.
No, the true star of the night wasn't a person at all, but rather the Lakers' revamped defense.
Los Angeles held the high-octane Knicks and their league-leading 107.56 points per game average to just 87 and, perhaps even more impressive, held New York to more than 10 percentage points under their regular shooting clip as the Knicks only connected on 36.0 percent of their shots Sunday.
The Lakers improved on defense as the game went on, holding the Knicks to just 17 points in the fourth quarter as they turned an 11-point lead following the third quarter into a 22-point rout.
"We’re getting there [defensively]," Bryant said. "It just feels like we’re learning things. We did a much better job tonight defensively and every game seems to be getting better with our system."
The Lakers tweaked their defensive schemes about two weeks ago. There were some hiccups at first, but now they have won four games in a row and five out of six, holding their opponent under 100 points in all five of the wins.
"I thought we had a relatively good plan," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "We executed it OK, not great, but OK … the adjustments that we have to have game to game I think we’re coming together a little bit on our defensive ideas."
When asked pointedly if the Lakers can win another title by playing the level of defense they displayed against New York, Jackson said, "I think we can definitely win a championship with this type of defense."
Part of the new scheme that L.A. uses to get stops encourages wing defenders to run the opposition off of the 3-point line and entice them to put the ball on the floor and attack the Lakers big down low.
"The system we’ve been working on in practice is starting to pick up a little bit," Andrew Bynum said. "Guys are starting to understand the concept of funneling the wings to Pau and myself and trying to make them hit over the top of us."
Said Bryant of Bynum, who impressed with 18 points, seven rebounds and two blocks: "He’s our protector so we funnel a lot through him. He’s doing a great job changing shots."
More than Bynum just changing shots, he could have drastically changed the complexion of the game when he picked up two technical fouls and was summarily tossed at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Here's my story on the ejection and plenty of detail about the disturbing trend the Lakers are following these days, as they've been issued 16 Ts in their last 10 games.
Some more information emerged regarding Matt Barnes and the torn lateral meniscus in his right knee. He'll have the surgery Tuesday and he told reporters he expects to be out about eight weeks. In the mean time, Ron Artest figures to see more minutes at small forward, with Luke Walton and the freshly-recalled from the D-League Devin Ebanks will be relied upon as backups. Artest had six points, nine rebounds, two assists and two steals in 35 minutes Sunday. Walton had two assists and one rebound in seven minutes of playing time and Ebanks received a DNP-CD.
Barnes is a key Lakers reserve, no doubt, but the Lakers bench did not suffer in its first game without him because of Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown. Odom continued the All-Star level play he has maintained since swapping places with Bynum in the starting lineup seven games ago, finishing with 13 points and a season-high 18 rebounds. Brown scored 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting overall, including a 3-of-4 mark on 3-pointers. It was the first time in 10 games for Brown that he shot 50 percent or better from the floor.
One of his 3-pointers came as the buzzer sounded at the end of the third quarter as he fortified the Lakers lead from eight to 11 with a rainbow prayer from the corner. Much like the nearly 60-foot long 3 he hit at the end of the third earlier in the season against the Clippers, the shot by Shannon gave the team a much appreciated boost in the arm headed into the final period.
"It was a big shot," Jackson said. "It was a shot that was important to make. It kind of took their momentum and held it at bay and we got off to a pretty good start in the fourth quarter."
Seen in the locker room: The Lakers showed off their rooting allegiances as Ebanks wore a New York Mets hat after the game and Bryant wore a Mike Vick No. 7 Philadelphia Eagles jersey. Ebanks, a New York City native, grew up rooting for the Mets, Jets and Knicks and has a tattoo of the Mets' interlocking NY logo on his left hand. Bryant entered the locker room before the game wearing jeans and a sweater, but spoke to reporters after the game after going through a costume change into his Eagles garb. He lamented Philly's 21-16 loss to the Green Bay Packers and then made a plea for the team to re-sign Vick. "Hopefully we’ll bring Vick back, deservingly so, and give him another run," Bryant said.
Former Dodgers manager Joe Torre is reportedly in talks with MLB commissioner Bud Selig regarding a post in the league office. Seeing as it is Jackson's "last stand" this season as a coach, he was asked what he thought about potentially working with David Stern at the NBA's league office in New York in the future.
"Thank God for Montana, it’s a place I can go hide out," Jackson said of the location of his summer retreat that could become a more permanent residence once he's done coaching in L.A. "However, [Stern's] son Eric is an assistant to the governor of Montana and he got me up there during the offseason to speak. So, I may not be able to hide away from the NBA or David Stern."
A reporter then quipped that his salary could be paid for with all the money he's been penalized in fines to the league over the years.
"I could live on retirement on my fine money," Jackson said.
Chatting idly before the game began, Odom revealed another motivation for his upcoming reality TV show: the potential NBA lockout. If there is a long lockout, he won't be collecting a paycheck from his NBA salary -- no player will -- but he will have an additional revenue stream to rely on. "TV don't stop," Odom said.
Quotes of the night: "I love it. I hope they keep it up. All it does is fuel me and gets me going." -- Amare Stoudemire on the physical nature of the game. Stoudemire was brought to the ground by an Artest clothesline late in the third quarter, resulting in flagrant, category-1 call assessed to Artest.
"It definitely is an eye-opener. It makes you stay humble. Especially when you come back, having a taste of that, it makes you want to work harder and stay in the NBA." -- Devin Ebanks on his six-game stint with the Bakersfield Jam of the D-League.
"I’m a big Cam Newton fan and Chuck [Person] is a big Auburn guy and dear friend of mine, that being said, Oregon is a Nike school so I tend to stick with the family." -- Kobe Bryant on his rooting interests in Monday's NCAA Football BSC National Championship game.
Stats of the night: The Lakers outrebounded the Knicks 61-42 overall and 17-7 on the offensive glass. They also outscored New York 50-30 in the paint ... With 20 points and 14 rebounds, Gasol registered his 21st double-double of the season.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.