Los Angeles Lakers: New York Knicks
“He should have taken the money,” World Peace said Wednesday. “God damn, Kobe, take the money. Take it and run. He should have let me negotiate for him. I would have said, ‘Hey, Mitch, c’mon, make it happen. Make it happen.’ The standard cut is 4 percent, but I would have taken 10.”
World Peace returned to Los Angeles on Wednesday night with the New York Knicks to play the Clippers in his first game back at the Staples Center since the Lakers amnestied him in the offseason. He has played with six teams during his 15-year career, but said he was happy Bryant will only play with the Lakers during his 20-year career.
“It’s a lot of money,” World Peace said. “I think it’s smart. I think it’s good. He could have gotten whatever he wanted. Whatever he would have asked for, he would have probably gotten. It’s good because it leaves them money to bring in another player, so it was very smart of them.”
The question is what player will want to come to Los Angeles and play with Bryant at the end of Bryant’s career?
“He’s a five-time champion, is hungry, has a killer instinct,” World Peace said. “Everybody has flaws. We all know this. Even the greatest person, except Gandhi; I don’t think Gandhi had flaws. Did Gandhi have flaws? What about the Dali Lama? They had no flaws. So there are a few people with no flaws.”
World Peace thinks at least one other superstar will take “the risk” and play with Bryant in Los Angeles and make a push for a championship.
“Kobe has a few flaws, but he has some good things about him also,” World Peace said. “He has a killer instinct and sometimes he channels it in a way that’s not relatable. But at the same time he has this drive that he wants to win. So I can see somebody taking the risk and coming here. I don’t know who. I’m very intense, but Kobe ... he channels his better than me.”
"I gained my respect for Mike was when I first got to New York," Williams told ESPNLosAngeles.com at Los Angeles Lakers training camp this week. "We had a meeting and he told me a couple things. I won't put that out in the public, but he told me some things. He told me the truth. And I respect him for that."
What did D'Antoni tell him? What do you say to a former first-round draft pick who had already been charged with possession of marijuana, possession of a stolen handgun, and in a separate incident, misdemeanor drug possession for allegedly selling a codeine substance?
What message did D'Antoni have for someone who had already worn out his welcome with both the Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks and became such a persona non grata that he was out of the league completely for the 2009-10 season before arriving in New York?
The honesty was something Williams, a 6-foot-9 forward with deep range who had been relying more on talent than mental toughness, needed to hear.
It humbled him.
For the first 18 games of the 2010-11 season, Williams sat on the Knicks' bench, racking up DNP after DNP. When he finally got a chance to play, New York went on an eight-game winning streak, with Williams making 15 of the 28 shots he put up during the tear.
"Eighteen games in, I got a shot to play and I ended up doing alright and I was playing ever since," Williams said. "To me, I just feel like Mike's system is a great system. He's a great coach. He respects players. He knows how to coach players. And that's basically it. That's just my guy. I like him as a coach, a person. That's just it."
For D'Antoni, the feeling is mutual.
"When you get to know the guy, he's nothing like the perception," D'Antoni said. "He's one of the most stand-up, nicest, coachable and skilled players that I've ever coached and I'm hoping. He's been off a couple years, so that is what it is and he still has to fight perception, but he's one of those guys that plays a lot better than people think."
"Sometimes this league is a revolving door"
Williams' lone season in New York with D'Antoni has proved to be the glory days of his career so far. Williams averaged 7.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 0.8 blocks in just 20.1 minutes per game that season, while shooting 40.1 percent on 3-pointers.
He signed with the then New Jersey Nets after the lockout and never found his niche, shooting just 28.6 percent from the field in 25 games. The Nets traded him to the Portland Trail Blazers at the end of the 2011-12 season. Portland bought out his contract for 2012-13. Williams was out of the league, again. And fell back into trouble, again. This time he was arrested for possession of both marijuana and codeine cough syrup.
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni experienced some seemingly divine intervention last season with the Knicks when Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony went out and the then unknown Jeremy Lin saved the Knicks' season with a hot streak that will be forever referred to as "Linsanity."
Could it happen again for D'Antoni and the Lakers with Robert Sacre?
"I said yesterday Darius (Morris), but it’s probably more maybe 'Sacresanity' or 'Sacsanity' has to happen," D'Antoni said following Tuesday's shootaround in preparation for the Lakers game against the Rockets. The coach said Monday that "Morrisanity" could be coming around the corner but hedged a bit Tuesday because Sacre is definitely starting while D'Antoni has not decided, at least publicly, whether Morris or Antawn Jamison will be with the first five.
"We’ll see," D'Antoni said. "You know what? Couldn’t be a better guy that deserves it because he’s over there, he’s the most energetic, best guy on the bench that you can have. So, it couldn’t happen to a better person as it did to Lin, it couldn’t happen to a better person. We’ll see. He’s got an opportunity. We’ll see if it strikes twice."
Sacre, selected with the final pick of the second round of the NBA Draft out of Gonzaga, is averaging 0.5 points and 0.8 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game in 13 spot appearances this season.
The 7-foot, 260-pound center fared better in the preseason when he filled in for Howard while the All-Star was still recovering from offseason back surgery. Sacre has also produced with the L.A. D-Fenders, the Lakers' D-League affiliate. In five games with the D-Fenders, Sacre averaged 12.0 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game.
While his statistics with the Lakers have been negligible, he has managed to contribute to the culture of the team nonetheless. Sacre is already a fan favorite for his "Sacrebrations" on the bench in support his teammates. The 22-year old says his celebratory moves are in part inspired by Yosemite Sam of the Looney Tunes.
"You can’t help but notice his spirit," D'Antoni said of Sacre's antics. "If good things happen to good people, we got a good opportunity to have that adage go forward."
Sacre was at the D-League Showcase in Reno, Nevada on Monday when the news broke about the Lakers' big men being injured. With the Lakers' chartered flight already en route to Houston, Sacre had to fly commercial from Reno to Los Angeles and then from L.A. to Houston on Monday night to join the team.
D'Antoni said the Lakers had a longer walk-through than usual on Tuesday to benefit Sacre, but it wasn't necessary to get him up to speed.
"He knew it anyway," D'Antoni said. "That’s why he’s great. Because he’s always practiced hard, kept himself in shape and he’s ready to go."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Bottom line, the Lakers don't currently have enough good players to beat good teams.
But there is struggling, and then there is this.
Right now, the Lakers are a legitimately bad team, and as a result, on top of their problems with personnel, they have a problem with belief. There is zero confidence in what they're doing offensively. Kobe Bryant doesn't fully believe in the guys around him (with legitimate cause) and the other guys don't believe in what they're doing. They're turning the ball over, dribbling to places they shouldn't, and gripping the wheel too tightly in a system built on free-flowing movement and energy. Bad offense leads to bad defense, and certainly the Lakers, who were about 0.1 seconds from allowing 71 points in the first half Thursday night -- upon further review, Raymond Felton's buzzer-beating 3-pointer didn't quite beat the buzzer -- have a significant problem on that side of things.
There is no continuity, no cohesion, no consistency in the Lakers' effort. Dwight Howard doesn't believe the guys behind him have his back (with legitimate cause). As you might suspect with a team surrendering points by the bushel, the Lakers do a lot of pointing. At one another. There are good moments, but nothing close to 48 minutes of sustained competence. Instead, they tend to bury themselves early and then work for a miracle.
As a result, the Lakers are facing their most significant problem: Math.
Over the past three full NBA seasons, the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference has averaged 48 wins. The Lakers, now 9-14 following Thursday's 116-107 fraternity-style paddling at the hands of the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, would have to go 39-20 to get there. That's a .661 winning percentage, the equivalent of a 54-win pace over a full season. Doable -- at least in theory -- for the roster assembled in the offseason, except nobody has any real idea of when that team will actually take the court, and the current group has shown nothing but the ability to lose to any team on any night. Sure, the Lakers made a late push against the Knicks, just as they did last week in Oklahoma City. But spotting teams huge leads and hoping they get bored (or that the star player turns an ankle) before staging a comeback isn't exactly sound strategy.
Who is willing to call Friday's game in Washington a sure win? I'm certainly not.
The rest of the conference won't wait around for the Lakers. Dallas will eventually get Dirk Nowitzki back. Minnesota gets Ricky Rubio back, maybe as soon as this weekend. The Wolves were strong last season with Rubio and Kevin Love available. Denver ought to get better, and so on. Even stipulating the Lakers will look like the team we expected once Nash and Gasol return (and there are reasons to believe they'll still have some issues), they've reached a point where the games in between are critical. Not for winning the conference (ha!) or pushing into the top four on the playoff ladder, but to avoid having to play .700 or even .750 ball just to make the playoffs. Somehow, someway, the Lakers need to win games with the guys available to them or they risk making their quality of play with Nash and Gasol a moot point.
I still believe they'll get in and I know we're not even to Christmas yet, but the threat is very real. Already the Lakers have taken giant bites out of their season's allotment of margin for error, particularly when considering this was supposed to be the easy portion of the 2012-2013 schedule. Nash said Friday he hopes to begin practicing next week, which could mean a return to the lineup around Christmas, barring any setbacks. But the Lakers have to assume he won't be back for a while, and start producing Friday in against the Wizards and in every game until he (and Gasol) are back.
As someone expressed to us via Twitter after the Lakers paid homage to the Cuyahoga River fire with their self-immolation act Tuesday in Cleveland, Nash is seen as the guy who can right the ship, and get the Lakers back on course. But even accepting this (no longer completely) conventional wisdom, there's only so much the two-time MVP can do if the boat is halfway to the ocean floor when he returns.
Without question, water is currently flowing in faster than the Lakers can bail.
We hit on the high notes, which didn't take all that long, and all of the low ones in Friday's edition of Lakers Late Night. Among the big topics of conversation:
- A tough night inside for Andrew Bynum.
- A tougher night for Derek Fisher and Metta World Peace.
- Problems with the offense again plagued the Lakers.
All that, plus a lot of people who were not invited to my wedding, mostly because they're dead.
The Lakers are coming off a quality OT win in Boston, which in theory creates the chance for a 4-2 Grammy roadie. The trek concludes in Toronto against a shoddy Raptors crew after a trip to meet a Knicks team that is missing superstars Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, who weren't exactly laying a winning foundation, anyway. Even acknowledging their three-game winning streak, the shorthanded hosts should play the role of carcasses to the purple and gold vultures, right?
Well, that's exactly what was expected from a recent game in Milwaukee with Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson sidelined. For those with short memories, that emerged an embarrassing Lakers loss. In other words, this game may be imminently winnable, but the Lakers won't be awarded a W by default. They gotta play the game.
For some perspective on the Knicks, we talked to Jared Zwerling, who covers the team for ESPN New York. Here are his thoughts on five questions.
Land O' Lakers: Jeremy Lin has been huge during this recent surge. What in particular does he provide that the Knicks were lacking?
Linsanity is taking over New York!
Beyond his mental makeup, Lin's pick-and-roll game has been exquisite. He maneuvers well around screens, is patient and even has the dribbling ability to split double-teams like a Dwyane Wade. His standout pick-and-roll game has enabled Tyson Chandler more opportunities at the basket and the Knicks' shooters more open looks from downtown. When Lin is on the court, the Knicks are scoring more points in the paint and shooting a higher percentage.
You're welcome, Los Angeles.
It was another robust show, following Thursday's 99-82 win over the Knicks at Staples. Among the topics of conversation:
- A very strong defensive performance from the Lakers, holding the Knicks to 31.3 percent shooting.
- Kobe Bryant's health, and his strong game Thursday.
- Bench depth.
- Andrew Bynum's return, just in time for a stiff portion of the Lakers schedule.
Video from Mike Brown, Bryant, Devin Ebanks, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, andTroy Murphy.
Postgame Video below, from Brown, Bryant, Murphy, Pau Gasol
1) Devin Ebanks is ready for a place in the rotation...
... But perhaps not quite ready to guard a superstar wing like Carmelo Anthony. I asked Mike Brown before the game if he was curious to see how the second-year player -- who might as well be a rookie after the limited playing time he had last season -- would fare in his first assignment shadowing an elite scorer. The coach admitted he was in fact intrigued, but Ebanks would also receive a short leash for mistakes. To say the least, Brown wasn't lying.
A guy like Melo is a handful for most seasoned defenders, much less a youngster like Ebanks.
I'd be surprised if his showing cost Ebanks a spot in the rotation, considering his solid previous three outings, plus the potential the organization and Brown sees in him. But in his first truly prime time matchup, Ebanks revealed he still has plenty to learn.
In the meantime, Barnes appears to be back in the rotation, although it'll be interesting to see how his minutes fluctuate throughout the season. If Ebanks holds his own, I imagine Barnes will play fewer than tonight's 18 minutes. If Ebanks is overwhelmed and/or the matchup dictates his presence, maybe more. But either way, Barnes got some run, which will make him happy.
After three consecutive games, plus a day off to recharge, the Lakers are back at it Thursday night against the Knicks. The purple and gold will try to even their record against a New York squad on the back end of a back-to-back, which began with a loss to the Warriors. For a better look at Thursday's opponent, I tracked down Jared Zwerling (ESPN New York) for some insight.
(Also, here are my responses to Jared regarding the Lakers.)
Andy Kamenetzky: Small sample size acknowledged, but do you get a sense Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire have a better sense of how to play with each other? How does the dynamic work, with both needing the ball?
Jared Zwerling: By playing with each other, do you mean being on the same court together, because that's where the similarity starts and ends, for now. At this point, the Knicks are more stationary than what's sold at Kinko's. With Chauncey Billups gone, Mike D'Antoni has been using Anthony as his point-forward, like K.C. Jones made Larry Bird on his 1980s Celtics championship teams. That has gotten Knicks fans excited, but the team has shied away from its trademark pick-and-roll, which is a main component of D'Antoni's offense. That's mostly due to a brand-new team still adjusting and not in rhythm yet. When they do run it, it's been mostly Anthony and Tyson Chandler playing the two-man game, with Amare Stoudemire positioned on the weak side for the jump shot, or even the 3-pointer, which he's been knocking down.
Melo and Amare are still an experiment in chemistry.
D'Antoni has Chandler mostly setting screens because of his 7-foot-1 size and long arms, so there's better spacing and ball movement, and his two superstar scorers can get more open on separate sides of the court. But the offense is not there yet. The majority of the time Anthony or Stoudemire have the ball in their hands, they're going iso on their respective defender. Anthony is more of the ball-stopper because his game is centered around his patented face-up quick jump shot from midrange. He doesn't need a screen to score, whereas it's more helpful for Stoudemire, who's used to playing that way from his days with Steve Nash.
The thing is, Anthony is such a good scorer -- he single-handedly led the Knicks over the Celtics on Christmas Day -- that the Knicks sometimes settle on dishing the ball to him and then standing around watching him go to work. Overall, Anthony and Stoudemire will never be a play-off-each-other duo like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade because their games are suited to shine separately on different areas on the court. They need their teammates in between them to get them the rock. Anthony and Stoudemire will have to adjust more to the flow of the offense and help the Knicks play more of a team game. Through two games, they're averaging only 16 assists per game.
Well, except for the Lakers, who stood pat.
Whether because of confidence, a lack of options or both, save perhaps a free-agent big man to play the "Theo Ratliff" role, the team that beat Portland Wednesday is the team that will defend its title. How does today's zaniness affect that quest, or simply reshape the Western Conference? Let's take a look at some of the major deals.
Thunder get Kendrick Perkins, Nate Robinson (plus Nazr Mohammed in a separate deal with Charlotte). Celtics get Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic.
Without question, this is the transaction creating the most shock waves. It's a doozy, steeped with potential to alter the playoff landscape. And in particular, how it affects the Lakers.
For the Thunder, the move reflects commitment to a serious run. Not to mention fighting fire with fire. For all the hand-wringing over OKC's athleticism and speed, the Thunder have lost seven of the last 10 games against the Lakers, playoffs included. The Lakers' size has been too much to handle, so Perkins (and Mohammed, to a lesser degree) addresses that issue. Perk is among the best in the biz at bodying the likes of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, and his ability to operate without help allows Serge Ibaka (the new starting 4) freedom to block from the weak side. He'll also set some big screens to free up Durant and Westbrook. In the meantime, Robinson takes some second-unit scoring pressure off James Harden, and Lakers fans are plenty familiar with the harm he can inflict.
Plus, Green's career splits reveal wretched shooting against the Lakers. Considering how bad a defender he is (Krstic, too, for that matter), if Green's not making shots, his value is marginalized. I've written before about OKC's need to upgrade from the Georgetown product if it really wants to get serious against the Lakers. Perkins fits that bill.
Kendrick Perkins' move from OKC is important to the Celtics, Thunder and Lakers.
Is it foolproof for OKC? No. Perkins and Ibaka form a wicked defensive tandem, but offensively, they're somewhat redundant. Ibaka is solid from 10 to 15 feet, but pretty mediocre farther out. Perkins' range is roughly 17 inches, and neither has ever really been counted on to score. Ditto Nick Collison. When Mohammed is the closest thing to a scoring machine among big men, that's not a good thing. Durant will be asked to provide even more frontcourt points, and his load is already pretty big. The Thunder have also slipped defensively this season, and it remains to be seen whether Perkins will be as effective in a system with more leaks than Boston's.
All in all, I think it's a very good move for the Thunder, but any urge to crown them should be slowed.
From the Celtics' perspective, I'm mystified. Maybe it's a proactive move after Perkins declined an extension offer. Maybe they don't trust his balky knees (although I'd bet on Perk before the O'Neals). Maybe they're not as concerned about Orlando (i.e., Dwight Howard) and don't feel obligated to retain Perkins for one player. Maybe they think Perkins will help the Thunder eliminate the Lakers, providing even less need for beef. And from a practical standpoint, Green and Krstic will stretch the floor and with Delonte West and Von Wafer, provide a nice punch for the second unit.
But considering the obvious impact of Perkins' absence during the Finals, and the way Doc Rivers reminds people every five seconds the Celtics have never lost a series with their ideal starting five (Rondo-Pierce-Allen-KG-Perk), the move feels curious. Boston's defense will undoubtedly suffer from Perkins' absence. Between this move and the side deal moving Semih Erdin, the Celtics have transformed themselves from one of the league's biggest teams to one lacking reliable size. I also wonder how the tight-knit -- and often moody -- Celtics veterans will respond to one their core players being moved. My guess? Not too favorably, even if it doesn't torpedo their enthusiasm toward the season.
Of course, as a Lakers fan, what do I care? You're a genius, Danny Ainge! A genius!
To get an idea of why the Knicks are suddenly sputtering, we contacted Jared Zwerling, who covers the Knicks for ESPN New York. Issues include defense inside and along the wing, energy recently lacking and minds occupied by a certain small forward in Denver. No, not Renaldo Balkman. The other guy.
Q: The Knicks are 4-6 in their past 10 games, the most recent loss while hosting an undermanned Clippers team. Is there something specific causing problems? Do you think the Melo Drama plays any role in the struggles?
Jared Zwerling: Actually, the Knicks are 5-11 in their past 16 games, so they're not even that good. After the Clippers loss last night, Mike D’Antoni, Amare Stoudemire and Raymond Felton all pointed to the fact they’ve been playing with a lack of focus and energy. I think the Carmelo Anthony drama definitely has something to do with that.
Even if the Knicks do get Carmelo, it won't be in time for this game.
For example, Wilson Chandler has said flat-out he doesn’t want to play in Denver. Imagine if you’re an employee of a company, and were just notified they’re relocating to another city in a few months you don’t want to go to. That’s what Wilson and I think several other members of the team are dealing with to a greater extent. Even D’Antoni wants Knicks fans to stop chanting, “We want Me-lo.” I’m sure every player has a feeling of uncertainty about where they’re really going to be come Feb. 24 -- or even before.
There are other things on the court, too. On the season, the Knicks have a minus-1.4 first-quarter scoring margin average, which ranks them tied for fifth worst in the league with the Nets. They’re not coming out ready to play -- it’s as simple as that. They especially need that energy to prevent them from becoming a stagnant, shot-happy team. When they get better ball movement, good things happen for the Knicks. When Felton has a double-double in points and assists, they have a strong winning record.
Defensively, a lack of an interior presence and perimeter quickness has hurt. To the first point, I will say I have been impressed with Timofey Mozgov's energy and rebounding. After him, though, Stoudemire has no support protecting the paint, and it doesn’t help that Ronny Turiaf is out with an ankle sprain. But he’s really just another energy guy, honestly. Too many times this season, an opposing power forward has gone off on the Knicks. Luis Scola, David Lee, Elton Brand. Even Carl Landry! Kevin Love had an historic 31-point, 31-rebound night!
Meaning they'll take a back seat this week, too. Four games, all against playoff teams, starting tonight in Memphis. Here's how it lays out ...
Game of the Week
Pau Gasol was overmatched in the first meeting between Boston and L.A., and for the Lakers to win Thursday's rematch will need to be better.
Lakers at Boston -- Thursday, 5 p.m. PT.
Is there another choice?
After the Lakers lost to the Celtics at Staples last week, all hell seemed to break loose. Mitch Kupchak slapped the (Potentially) Open For Business sign on the front door, and Magic Johnson declared the team lacking. It was a game basically serving as the embodiment of everything seen as wrong with the Lakers this season, from defensive questions to toughness (mental and otherwise) to an opportunity to simultaneously debate whether Kobe Bryant's teammates (Ron Artest and Pau Gasol in particular) will step up in big games and if the offense becomes detrimentally Kobe-centric down the stretch. (For a refresher on my take, click here.)
Particularly when mashed together with a horrid loss two nights earlier to Sacramento, fair to say it made for a rather angst-filled Monday morning for Lakers fans.
The good news is a strong showing at TD Banknorth Garden on Thursday night will go a long way toward undoing a few '10-'11 talking points for the purple and gold, starting with the ability to beat an elite team away from home. Anywhere, really. To do it, they'll need the sort of ball movement and distribution seen in the first half against New Orleans. Kobe was a monster early against the Celtics at Staples, single-handedly keeping the Lakers in striking distance. Boston, though, is too good defensively for that approach to work again. The supporting cast has to be better. From there, shoring up the boards would be a welcome next step. Boston was plus-13 in the rebounding battle at Staples.
No dogs in the bunch, starting with...
Monday at Memphis, 5 p.m. PT
Had the Grizzlies merely defeated the Lakers in both of this season's matchups, this game would be intriguing enough. That Memphis is among the hottest teams in the Western Conference, winning eight of their last 10 to grab a rung on the playoff ladder, makes it intriguing and dangerous. In November's 19-point home debacle, the Lakers turned the ball over 20 times. Not a total shock, given Memphis forces more giveaways than any team in the league. So there's one place to start. Another? Keep a lid on Zach Randolph. In the first two games, the Lakers did a reasonable job on Z-Bo, but of late Randolph has been on a streak torrid enough to earn him Western Conference player of the month honors in January.
Only a supremely crowded field (and perhaps his history and low-profile team) kept him off the All-Star roster.
Plenty more coming on this game later in the afternoon.
|Andy and Brian talk about the impact of Matt Barnes' injury, the team's improved play and the insane growth of the 'Melodrama.
Obviously, Ron Artest --trending recently in the right direction, despite a stunning lack of hops -- will need to step up in the face of increased minutes. I've wondered lately if Artest could gain some comfort without looking over his shoulder at a backup outplaying him. Also, varying degrees of slack must be picked up by Steve Blake (who needs to shoot more under any circumstances) Shannon Brown and Luke Walton, and Kobe (whose minutes hopefully won't rise too much).
- As we predicted at the time of Tuesday's recording, the Lakers managed to eke out a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers. That victory made it five in row (a roll maintained against the Warriors), and the defending champs appear back on track. Whether you're talking defense, Pau Gasol or the team-wide execution, we agree everything is moving in a nice direction. Whether the previous issues were caused more by focus or basketball issues, however, is a matter of debate.
|Andy Kamenetzky joins the Max Kellerman show, talking about whether the team has turned a corner.
Also, I appeared on Max Kellerman Show to talk some purple and gold, if you'd wanna give second podcast link a click.
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."
Heading into most games, the Lakers boast a notable size advantage, and this game against the Knicks was no exception. Amare Stoudemire and Ronny Turiaf are New York's only bigs of note, and while the former is playing like an MVP and the latter plays his guts out, that doesn't make either guy bigger or taller. After the game, Pau Gasol noted the expectation of those two frequently paired to offer the most beef possible, but that wasn't the case. Still, the Lakers often negate their gargantuan stature and inexplicably opt to play outside-in rather than inside-out.
This wasn't one of those nights.
Andrew Bynum, Gasol and Lamar Odom combined for 51 points, absolutely overwhelming the opposition with length and bulk and contributing heavily to the team's 50 points in the paint.
Now that's a poster!
A matchup against Stoudemire qualified as a true "test" for Drew, still rounding his way into form after a long absence. He's looked progressively better -- particularly since reentering the starting lineup -- but has also never played against someone of Amare's caliber. Well, the night was decidedly "Drew 1, Amare zilch." Several of Bynum's 18 points were at Amare's expense, while Stoudemire required 24 shots to notch 23 points in part because Drew was a demon challenging them. The first half was especially miserable for Amare. Nine misses on 10 tries, with just five points for his troubles.
Had Drew's night not been cut short by a sketchy ejection (more on that later), the night might have turned even more pointedly lopsided.
Gasol nearly had a double-double before the first half ended and despite finishing just five-for-13 from the floor, this didn't feel like a continuation of Pau's recent struggles. He was active and assertive, earning 11 trips to the stripe and forcing the Knicks to account for him even when his touch wasn't spot on. He also pinpointed an alley-oop pass for Kobe from the three point line, reflective of how versatile his contributions can be while at the top of his focus.
In the meantime, Gasol's defensive impact was massive. Four blocks and a pair of steals, plus several altered shots.
As for Lamar Odom, 13 points, plus a game-high 18 boards to complement four assists. Just another quality effort towards what feels like an inaugural All-Star campaign in the making.
The Knicks entered this game as the most prolific team in the league. 108.1 points on average (created via a robust 47 percent shooting from the field), with a third best 108.8 offensive efficiency. Since overcoming a 3-8 start, they'd failed to reach 100 points on only five occasions, with the lowest total coming in at 90. To say the least, this is a high octane crew, and many a talented defensive unit fails to slow them.
Up to the challenge, the Lakers reminded everyone defensive prowess was in fact their calling card last season. To put it mildly, they wrecked the Knicks on that side of the ball.
For the first time since November 9, the Knicks were held below 90 points and only Landry Fields shot 50 percent or higher among with more than two attempts. The Knicks shot 36 and 32 percent from the field and the arc, respectively. (Heck, they only shot 68 percent from the line!) They were crushed on the glass 61-42, the first and third quarters mustering just one rebound apiece. Whether in transition, around the rim, or in the halfcourt, there were countless examples of Lakers playing "hair on fire" lockdown.
If this wasn't the best defensive performance we've seen from this team this season, I'd be hard-pressed to nominate two superior efforts.
Shannon's energy was infectious.
He burst of the first half gate with 10 points in under eight minutes, and his energy was a huge spark throughout the night. He rounded out the night with 16 points on eight shots (all sensibly selected, to my recollection), the biggest a twisting corner three just before the third quarter ended. The absurdly difficult basket erased whatever momentum might have come from Bill Walker's 24 second clock-beating trey on New York's final possession of the frame.
Brown's elevation also helped keep a frenzied crowd at their fever pitch. The altitude highlight came when Shannon ran a curl, then found nothing but tumbleweeds between him and the cup. The trampoline act was exactly what one would expect from an unfettered running start.