When they played in November, New York won 106-100. LeBron James missed the game due to suspension (that elbow to Isaiah Stewart). Russell Westbrook lead the Lakers with 31 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists in one of his nine triple-doubles this season. Evan Fournier shot 8-for-14 from the floor and 6-for-9 from deep for 26 points. Julius Randle went 20/16/5 against his original team.
The two clubs share similarities beyond their records. Both were defensive specialists last season but have fallen off somewhat. The Lakers’ defense has tumbled from top of the league to 17th this time around, while the Knicks have slipped from fourth to 12th. The Lakers have the 23rd offensive rating while the Knicks rank 24th.
John Hollinger pegged LA to be the third seed this year, but they’re lucky to cling to ninth. He also predicted a sixth-seed finish for our heroes, who are 12th in the Eastern Conference and sinking farther from a playoff position thanks to another three-game skid. A loss tonight would tie New York’s longest losing streak of the season. But don’t punch the L so fast, folks. The Lakers have won only four of their last 10 games. LeBron is likely to sit out once again, this time due to an ongoing knee issue. Plus, it’s another nationally televised game. Won’t the stars align for a victory in this tinsel-town showdown?
Tip-off’s at 8:30 p.m. It’s an ABC game, sports fans.
The Lakers are fourth in pace, which has a lot to do with this Russell Westbrook. His residence in Los Angeles has not been the smoothest, however. The 6’3”, 200 lbs ball handler is ninth in the league with 7.7 assists per game but also first with 216 total turnovers. His 18.7 ppg is his lowest since his sophomore year in 2009, and his 7.8 rpg is his lowest since 2015-16. And, as usual, he’s had some awful shooting slumps.
On the Knicks side, Tom Thibodeau insists on sticking with his starting lineup. Let’s see if New York’s point guard Kemba Walker can end break his run of scoreless games at two.
Malik Monk (6’3”, 200 lbs) has benefited from the California weather. After four seasons in Charlotte, he is logging career-bests with the Lakers (12.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 26.8 minutes). Even his shooting percentages are up to 47% from the field, 41% from long. Monk is a soft defender, though, so look for Evan Fournier to continue his inspired play tonight (24.3 points over his last three games).
31-year old Avery Bradley (6’3”, 180 lbs) has averaged 6.9 points and 2.4 rebounds in his 12th season. The former Longhorn has played with seven teams and is making his second stint with the Lakers. With this match-up, RJ Barrett should keep his hot run going, too. He’s averaged 22.1 points, six boards, and 3.1 assists in his last 15 games.
Stanley Johnson (6’6”, 242 lbs) is averaging 5.8 points and 2.9 rebounds in his run with the Lakers. After stops in Detroit, New Orleans, and Toronto, the seventh-year man was adrift to start the year. The Lakers brought him in last December, and after three 10-day contracts, they inked him to a two-year deal. That’s a happy result for a guy with a good reputation. Tonight’s result will be less jolly for Stanimal, with Julius Randle certain to win this match-up.
Anthony Davis (6’10”, 253 lbs) and Lebron are the anchors of this team. In his 10th season, AD leads LA in rebounds (9.9 trb), blocks (2.2), and free throw attempts (6.1)—and the Lakers get to the line a lot. He sits second to LeBron in team scoring (23.6 ppg), minutes (35.2), and field goal attempts (17.9). A sprained MCL has sidelined him for 16 games this season, and he claims the knee still isn’t completely healthy. Healthy or not, he’s averaged 29.5 points and 12.3 boards in his last four games.
New York needs all the wins they can get with the Jazz, Nuggets, Warriors, and Blazers upcoming on their travel itinerary. There are reasons for hope tonight, though. The Lakers are a poor offensive rebounding team (23rd), and the Knicks are surprisingly statistically good at hovering up their misses (sixth). The Knicks should win their frontcourt battles. Russ may cook Kemba to start, but Thibs will sub in Quentin Grimes ASAP with a directive to chase Westbrook out of the gym. Evan and RJ should win their assignments, too. Prediction: Knicks +8, and Westbrook does something annoying.
Crapto.com Arena. Saturday. 8:30 p.m. Go Knicks!