No matter the result, this is probably going to be a very entertaining game.
In this case, "entertaining" also means "both of these teams play absolutely zero defense".
While the Knicks are slowly "trending upwards" on defense (having settled in at about 27th in defensive rating...cringe), the Lakers have been slowly trending downwards; they're now dead last in defensive rating. There's a legitimate argument that their best all-around defensive player might be their first-round pick from this season, Brandon Ingram. That is bad.
The Lakers are built around offense, and that shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone who has paid attention to that team at almost literally any point in NBA history. Under rookie head coach Luke Walton, the Lakers play an aesthetically similar style to the Golden State team that Walton was poached from; they love to play fast and get out in transition. They play at a top 5 pace, and they want to play even faster. It'll be important for the Knicks to control the pace; they can do so by playing patiently and executing the halfcourt offense late into the shot clock while limiting live ball turnovers (cough JENNINGS cough). The Knickerbockers have actually been about average defending in transition, but the Lakers have a lot of athletes that can overwhelm anyone if you provide enough opportunities.
Walton's biggest impact has gone far beyond the X's and O's so far, though — it's been his ability to get the most out of guys who have been considered a lost cause for years now. After competing with JaVale McGee for Shaqtin' nominations for literally years, Nick Young has become a legitimate 3 & D wing. It's really hard to believe that I've now gone on record with that assertion. That's like Travis Wear signing somewhere tomorrow and dropping 17 PPG on 50/40/90 efficiency. Meanwhile, after a truly terrible season under Byron Scott, Lou Williams has returned to prime 6th Man of the Year form. In the past week or so, Williams has scored 137 points off the bench; this is now the most points off the bench over a 4 game stretch in NBA history. That's a really dumb record, but it still shows the impact he can have over a game. Williams is sneaky, and he's really freakin' good at drawing fouls. Since the Knicks are really freakin' bad at NOT fouling, that's a disaster waiting to happen.
Unfortunately for them, and extremely fortunately for us, the Lakers are pretty banged up at the moment; a bunch of their most important pieces will probably be missing in this game. Julius Randle, who has improved a ton after what was essentially his rookie season last year, aggravated his hip pointer issue and may not play as well. Nick Young is also expected to miss this matchup. Starting guard and compulsive snitch D'Angelo Russell has been sidelined while recovering from a minor knee procedure -- it's unclear whether or not he'll play. He'll be a game-time decision.
If Russell plays, that could be a troublesome matchup. D'Lo has had an up-and-down season so far, but knowing what we know now, part of that was almost certainly the knee issues he was dealing with before this procedure. If he plays, the Lakers' chances of winning go up substantially. Russell is a lethal shooter off the dribble when he gets hot, he plays with poise, and he has a lightning quick shooting release off the catch. He's extremely dangerous — he's a lot like a poor man's James Harden.
By playing, Russell will shift a bunch of guys back into roles that they excelled in earlier in the season. Clarkson will move back to the bench, where he’s laid waste to opposing backups all season in conjunction with Lou Williams. It’ll also place an actual point guard with the Lakers starters — of late, they’ve been playing without a true lead ball handler with their starting lineup.
Plus, losing Randle for a couple of games is something the Lakers can afford. Larry Nance, Jr. is a springy, athletic dude who just plays hard (and smart) with a decently high skill level. The drop-off from Randle to Nance isn’t actually all that big, even though they provide very different skillsets. He’s got some solid defensive tools, and he’ll likely be matchup up with KP, who can sometimes struggle to get going against the more agile bigs in the league. Considering his shooting woes, that could be a problem. Nance can also get going on the glass if Porzingis isn’t careful.
It’ll be important for Porzingis to be patient in this one. Even if Nance is locked in, the rest of the defensive “talent” on the Lakers is bad enough to ensure a bevy of easy looks. He should look to stop rushing his shot and get his rhythm back. Enough with the pump fakes into four dribbles into spinning fadeaway stepbacks; if KP can hit his open 3’s with confidence like he was earlier in the year, it’ll do wonders for his scoring moving forward.
On the other hand, if D’Angelo Russell DOESN'T play, this could be a pretty easy win; in their embarrassing loss to the Suns on Friday (the Suns are a very, very, very bad team), the Lakers started Jordan Clarkson (not a PG), Brandon Ingram (not a SG), Luol Deng (also run into the ground by Thibs; possibly more washed than Joakim Noah), Julius Randle (probably out), and ex-Knick Timofey Mozgov. Williams, Thomas Robinson, and Larry Nance are the only notable bench pieces; if Randle doesn't play, Nance would probably start in his place, meaning the Lakers bench is going to be a disaster.
As usual, this game will be decided by the Knicks defense. The Lakers "take care" of the ball like a hitman "takes care" of a client. They give up just over 20 points per game off turnovers. Their assist to turnover ratio is third worst in the league at 1.26. If the Knicks play decent fundamental defense, they're going to force a ton of turnovers, which in turn will boost an offense that already has a huge advantage. After the first quarter on Friday, the defensive performance was actually pretty good — hopefully they can keep that momentum going.
Russell sits - Knicks win, 115-101.
Russell plays - Knicks lose, 115-119