The road trip ends this week, but not before two more contests on enemy terrain. Let’s get to it, I have presents to wrap.
Knicks at Lakers, Monday, Dec. 18, 10:30 pm
This season, the Los Angeles Lakers (15-11) faced early defensive challenges. They ranked 19th in the league with a defensive rating of 113.8 after the first eight games. Head Coach Darvin Ham adjusted the lineup, replacing Austin Reaves with Cam Reddish and achieved better defensive balance. (Cam Reddish, who knew?) That sparked a remarkable turnaround over the last 15 or so games, improving their defensive rating to 112 (the league’s seventh-best). The return of Jarred Vanderbilt has only added to their arsenal. While their offense remains 22nd in the league, their stalwart D is keeping them comfortably above .500. LeBron James is excited to show off for the Knicks; expect no different on Monday.
Knicks at Nets, Wednesday, Dec. 20, 7:30 pm
New York will jet back east for their first of four regular season games against the Brooklyn Nets. Brooklyn has a 13-11 and is outperforming expectations, with contributions up and down the roster. Cam Thomas is averaging 22.7 points per game, while Nic Claxton leads in rebounds (9.2 per game), and Spencer Dinwiddie tops them for assists (6.5). Depth has been key to their success, and their bench is capable of running up the score (see their 20 points in eight minutes against the Suns).
The starting lineup has been in flux due to injuries, but Cam Johnson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Mikal Bridges, Dinwiddie, and Claxton have been fairly consistent. Cam Thomas has been a bright spot. His minutes have doubled this season, and he’s averaging 23.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists. Despite some criticisms about his consistency, the 22-year old Thomas can be a dangerous foe (see again that Suns game). As with the rest of the team, offense is more of a focus than defense, so this has the makings of another high-scoring affair.
Knicks vs Bucks, Saturday, Dec. 23, 12:30 pm
The first of two matinees with Milwaukee Bucks, with one played on Saturday and the second on Christmas Day. Much obliged, Santa.
The Knicks have dropped two to the Bucks so far, once in November, and then again on December 5. That In-Season Tournament Quaterfinal Knockout NBA Cup Game (trying to get my word count up) was their most lopsided loss of the season, and Saturday’s Clippers game was the second. In November, the Knicks had better defensive and net ratings than the Bucks. Milwaukee was still figuring out how to coexist with a new coach and new superstar. Seems like they’re starting to: so far in December, the Bucks have a 5-1 record and the second-best net rating in the league; meanwhile the Knicks have slipped down the standings and have the NBA’s worst defensive rating in the 12th month. This season, the Knicks are 1-0 in matinees, but that was against the Hornets . . . the predicted outcome is much less pleasant this time.
Stay positive, Ebenezer! Safe travels, Knicks.