Lakers-Knicks Preview: Lost Between Two Shores

PHOENIX - JANUARY 07: Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks pumps his fist after Landry Fields #6 hit a three point shot against the Phoenix Suns during the NBA game at US Airways Center on January 7 2011 in Phoenix Arizona. The Knicks defeated the Suns 121-96. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and or using this photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The New York Knicks tonight make their annual visit to Staples Center to face the Lakers, and you know what that means: endless repetitions of a Jay-Z song you've already heard way too many times, and courtside shots of Spike Lee/Billy Crystal/other showbiz ghouls whom in one fashion or another we associate with NYC. It also generally means an easy win for the champs, as the Knicks haven't beaten the Lakers since Smush Parker roamed the earth. But these days, there's no longer the gross power imbalance between these teams that existed as recently as last year. The Knicks, you see, in a radical shift of organizational strategy, no longer suck.

It took a few years, but GM Donnie Walsh has finally brought together a core of talent that can implement coach Mike D'Antoni's signature brand of hoop. Gone from last season's squad are downmarket All-Star David Lee and, among other forgettables, veteran deadweights Chris Duhon and Jared Jeffries. The nouveau Knicks include Amare Stoudemire (last seen ‘round here in the Western Conference Finals, where he got tooled on by Pau Gasol and called Lamar Odom "lucky"), point guard Raymond Felton (allowed to walk by Charlotte GM Michael Jordan, a masterstroke that ushered in the era of Bobcat dominance we know today) and second-round rookie find Landry Fields, a/k/a "Dirty Landry." These guys have blended with leftover pieces Wilson Chandler and onetime Laker draftee Toney Douglas to form one of the surprise teams of the NBA season. Forget that they missed out on signing LeBron. Forget the trade rumors about Carmelo Anthony. These Knicks are perfectly fun just the way they are.

At 21-14, the Knicks are chilling in sixth place in the Eastern standings, and as they're 6½ games ahead of seventh-place Indiana, it would take a harrowing collapse for them to miss the playoffs. Even that 0.600 winning percentage might understate a touch how well they're playing. They began the season 3-8 and since touching bottom in mid-November have won 75% of their games. For a while they were getting fat off noncontenders, but lately the schedule has ramped up and the Knicks are still holding their own. The Nuggets, Thunder, Spurs and Bulls have all lost to New York over the past month. With their 25-point asskicking of the Suns on Friday night, the Knicks ran their winning streak over Western Conference opponents to eight.

If you know anything about this team, you know they score points by the tanker-load. Their per-game average of 108 dwarfs the rest of the league, and it's not all a function of pace. Though they do play an extreme form of up-tempo ball, their offensive rating of 110.8 (which adjusts for pace) is fourth in the NBA. Shooting prowess is their calling card. They rank among the league leaders in two-point shots and free-throws and ninth in three-point percentage. Only Orlando takes a greater share of field-goal attempts from beyond the arc.

This being a Mike D'Antoni crew - and the Lakers being the Lakers - we can expect to see pick-and-roll sets pretty much every time the Knicks have the ball. After some early-season struggles, Felton and Amare have got their timing down, and both will cause problems for the purp and yellow. Felton isn't the greatest shooter ever, but he can do damage from various spots on the floor if not checked correctly. Amare you know all about. He can hit that elbow jumper all day long as well as attack off the bounce.

More than Felton and Amare, what worries me is the Lakers' ability to handle the secondary action off the Knicks' pick-and-roll. By that I mean: please, for the love of all that's holy, stay on the shooters. The Knicks have five or six bros who will hang out on the perimeter and be all too happy to knock down threes when Kobe Bryant or Derek Fisher wanders away from them. Kobe has been especially bad about this recently. He keeps sagging off his man to help out where it isn't needed, and I'd really love it if he would stop doing so.

Say, let's take a break to hear what Neil Diamond has to say about this matchup, shall we?


Damn, baby. That cat can take a song and make it his.

As good as the Knicks are on offense, they're nearly as dreadful on D. Their defensive rating of 108.9 ranks 22nd in the league, so again: pace is exaggerating things, but not really. These guys don't challenge shots or rotate well, and they're gooey soft on the defensive glass. In fact, I don't know if Pau, Drew and Lamar will face a worse defensive frontline all year. I mean, Ronny Turiaf... you're familiar with his work, yes? Well, he's the Knicks' starting center. Behind him and Amare there are Anthony Randolph and Timofey Mozgov, who were two of the worst players in the league back when D'Antoni was giving them minutes, which he isn't anymore.

We say this before every game, but tonight it applies more than ever: get the ball inside. It won't be difficult. The three Laker bigs could well combine for 60 points in this one. And if Amare gets in a spot of foul trouble and D'Antoni has to go with Randolph, Mozgov or Shawne Williams at the power positions, it'll be like one of those draft workouts where a big man is posting up against a chair.

Of interest tonight will be the Lakers' new small-forward rotation. Matt Barnes is out for a matter of weeks, if not months, so if Luke Walton is ever going to earn a respectable portion of his salary, now's a good time for him to start. If he can't shoot even in the mid-40s, percentage-wise, you can't justify having him on the court except as a low-grade minutes sponge. And if he can't hold off Devin Ebanks on the depth chart, he might not get another opportunity to demonstrate his usefulness if the league.

If you'd like to read more, visit your local library. (Books are like a journey for the mind!) But if you'd like to read more about the Knicks specifically, check out our fantastic sister site Posting and Toasting. They do terrific work over there, so if you do pay a visit and decide to say hello, please show them the utmost respect.

Enjoy the day's football action, and we'll see you tonight.

Knicks

Lakers

RECORD.............................

21-14 (11th)

26-11 (5th)

NET POINTS PER GAME....

+1.9 (9th)

+6.0 (4th)

PACE..................................

96.7 (2nd)

92.5 (16th)

OFFENSIVE RATING...........

110.8 (4th)

111.5 (2nd)

Turnover Rate (Off.)............

13.5% (12th)

13.0% (6th)

FTA/FGA (Off.)....................

0.32 (11th)

0.29 (20th)

Free-Throw %.....................

79.5% (2nd)

78.6% (7th)

3PT FGA/FGA (Off.).............

0.30 (2nd)

0.23 (12th)

3PT% (Off.).........................

37.5% (9th)

36.6% (13th)

Effective FG% (Off.)............

52.5% (4th)

50.7% (11th)

True Shooting% (Off.)........

57.0% (3rd)

55.1% (11th)

Off Rebounding Rate..........

24.2% (23rd)

29.7% (5th)

DEFENSIVE RATING..........

108.9 (22nd)

105.0 (11th)

Turnover Rate (Def.)...........

13.6% (17th)

13.0% (23rd)

FTA/FGA (Def.)...................

0.30 (15th)

0.25 (2nd)

3PT FGA/FGA (Def.)...........

0.20 (6th)

0.24 (23rd)

3PT% (Def.)........................

36.1% (16th)

34.4% (8th)

Effective FG% (Def.)...........

50.4% (19th)

48.0% (7th)

True Shooting% (Def.).......

54.6% (19th)

51.7% (5th)

Def Rebounding Rate.........

72.0% (25th)

72.3% (23rd)

Numbers in parentheses indicate league rank. All numbers courtesy of Basketball Reference and HoopData.

Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.

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