Knicks-Lakers Preview: The Paper Tiger

The Lakers' annual 'Grammys' Road Trip is often seen as a proving ground for the Lakers; a long trip to test their resolve and ability to win. Coach Phil Jackson considers it perhaps the most important stretch of the Regular Season for the team. A 7-game, 13-day road trip is always imposing (never mind that the Lakers already had one of the such in December this season, if you want to count a Clippers 'road' game); and this year's lineup does nothing to counteract that statement: New Orleans, Memphis, Boston, New York, Orlando, Charlotte and Cleveland. Out of those teams, only the last two are below .500; and Boston, Orlando and to a lesser extent even New York have been considered as championship contenders during this season.

The last two games of this trip can be considered as 'trap games'  due to being on the tail-end of the most grueling trip of the year as well as directly succeeding what could perhaps be considered the toughest 3-game stretch of the year; road games against Boston, New York and Orlando in the span of four days. Discounting those two games as deceptively easy, we find 5 geniunely tough games. New Orleans, a strong contender in the Western Conference; Memphis, who are two games over .500, just short of the 8-seed in the West (but would rank 6th in the East), and known to give the Lakers problems due to their strong frontline; archrival Boston, fast-paced supposed 'contender' New York featuring a supposed MVP candidate in Amare Stoudemire; and Championship contender Orlando.

A tough stretch no doubt, with seemingly no weak team featured. But, disregarding mainstream media's East Coast bias, it quickly becomes evident that New York, in fact, is far from a contender. They've been praised as a broadway version of the Phoenix Suns, but realistically they're nowhere near. Whilst the Phoenix Suns consistently had one of the best records on the League during the Regular Season and ranked well on top in offensive efficiency; the Knicks are an above-average offensive team at best whilst being as deficient as the Suns on the defensive end. The result of this is a record that would have them barely scraping in the 10th spot if they played in the Western Conference, yet they're being viewed as a good basketball team. Paper tigers, indeed.

Statistically, there's nothing the Knicks do exceptionally well. They take a lot of threes, but don't make them at a high enough clip to be judged as truly deadly, although they can occasionally get hot. Indeed, the Knicks as a team are only point-3 of a percent better than the Lakers in three-point accuracy, and the Lakers are not by any means regarded as a superlative three-point shooting team. They make their free throws well, although they don't necessarily have a propensity for getting to the line; and they're a subpar offensive rebounding squad. The only things the Knicks do particularly well offensively are taking care of the rock (6th-least turnovers per game in the NBA) and transition opportunities (41% of their shots are taken within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, of which they convert at an eFG of 53%). Summatively, all of the aforementioned combines to give the Knicks an above-average but not exceptional offensive team, with their 1.1 points per possession ranking 7th in the League (with inflated scores obviously being a factor of pace).

Defensively, the Knicks are pretty terrible all-round. They don't really force tough shots, allowing opponents a 50.56 effective field goal percentage; nor do they secure the rock, giving up offensive rebounds on 28.32% of possessions. Their interior D is obviously squishy, despite being anchored by world-renowned defensive specialist Amare Stoudemire; and even on the perimeter most players get their way on the Knicks. Surprisingly enough, the positions at which Knicks opponents do perhaps the most damage are at Power Forward and Point Guard; both positions manned by Knicks 'stars'.

The Knicks are quite small, and will likely end up even smaller due to Ronny Turiaf being questionable for the game with a sprained ankle. If he misses the game, that leaves the Knicks with Amare and, ummmm.... Timofey Mozgov (googles name, finds this, moves on)? Amare will likely log a lot of time at Center if Turiaf is indeed out, with Chandler playing many minutes as a stretch 4. It's also likely that young forward Anthony Randolph gets some burn, giving him an opportunity to break out of his Knicks-induced slump. The lack of Turiaf will really hurt the Knicks, as he possesses decent size and is an effective rebounder and shot-blocker. However it's a double-edged sword as Randolph showed explosive bursts of potential last season with the Warriors, something that does not pair well with the Lakers' propensity to allow a random role-player to make a new career high when playing them.

On the perimeter, the Knicks are led by Point Guard Raymond Felton, the newest beneficiary of the SSOL offense. An inefficient scorer, but a decent passer within the offense, there's not really any need to spend a lot of time game-planning for him. Behind the arc, the Lakers have to watch out for three-point specialists Danilo Gallinari, Bill Walker and Shawne Williams; as well as Landry Fields who can hit the three but takes it relatively less often. Backup point guard and former Laker draftee Toney Douglas, although better than any of our point guards, isn't anything special either. Despite none of these wings being particularly exceptional players, they certainly play to the weakness of our slower, heavier wings who are ill-suited to chasing shooters around. However, Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest will be sure to pound the Knicks' wispy wings in the post whilst the only Small Forward on the Knicks capable of matching up with either of them physically, Wilson Chandler, is stuck playing undersized power forward most of the game. The Knicks also have former Spur Roger Mason on their roster, but he is underutilized, playing only 8.3 minutes per game, and unlikely to be a factor.

As for Amare, I would propose sending multiple defensive looks at him. While last season Bynum often performed admirably against him with his combination of size and athleticism; right now Bynum isn't particularly well-equipped to do that due to still not having full lateral quickness due to his knee injury and increased bulk due to extra muscle put on over the offseason. Whilst Drew could use his size, strength and length to fluster Amare from time to time, we should expect a combination of Pau and Lamar on Amare; with even Ron thrown in there at times. In fact, with the Knicks' lack of a competent offensive Center, when Amare is at Power Forward, it is easy enough to have Bynum completely roaming and protecting the paint; and let Mozgov shoot jump shots if he wants.

After the minute-heavy, physical game against the Celtics last night; which was sure to have expended much of the Lakers' energy and emotion, a game against the fast-paced Knicks is probably the last thing the Lakers would want on their plates; but this is a team the Lakers can quite easily put the noose around, in theory. In practise however, it sometimes becomes hard to avoid the temptation to run with the Knicks instead of playing steady basketball; and if the Knicks are given any momentum they are no strangers to using this to get hot and go on an insurmountable run.

As such, it is imperative to play the game the right way: No stupid shots, especially corner threes; pound the post, they can't defend the Laker bigs; don't try to run with the Knicks; and avoid giving their shooters open looks. The Knicks will be extremely hard-pressed to stop the Lakers from getting easy baskets in the paint, and barring an Orlando or Phoenix-style hot streak from deep; the only way for the Knicks to beat LA is if they get enough opportunities to run out and tire the Lakers. Don't let that happen, and this game should be a win for LA. It doesn't even truly qualify as a 'statement win' by any means; just business as usual for the two-time defending Champions.

Lakers

Knicks

RECORD

37-16 (4)

26-25 (15)

NET POINTS PER GAME

+6.7 (T-3)

+0.4 (13)

PACE

91.4 (18)

96.1 (2)

OFFENSIVE RATING

112.3 (2)

110.2 (7)

Turnover Rate (Off.)

12.58 (2)

12.87 (6)

FTA/FGA (Off.)

0.290 (15)

0.30 (14)

Free-Throw %

78.2 (9)

79.9 (3)

3PT FGA/FGA (Off.)

0.225 (15)

0.293 (2)

3PT% (Off.)

36.3 (11)

36.6 (9)

Effective FG% (Off.)

51.03 (10)

41.37 (8)

True Shooting% (Off.)

55.4 (9)

56.0 (6)

Off Rebounding Rate

29.71 (5)

24.22 (24)

DEFENSIVE RATING

105.0 (10)

109.2 (23)

Turnover Rate (Def.)

12.87 (24)

13.67 (13)

FTA/FGA (Def.)

0.235 (1)

0.308 (17)

3PT FGA/FGA (Def.)

0.244 (24)

0.208 (9)

3PT% (Def.)

34.3 (8)

36.3 (20)

Effective FG% (Def.)

48.30 (7)

50.56 (22)

True Shooting% (Def.)

51.9 (4)

54.8 (19)

Def Rebounding Rate

72.49 (21)

71.58 (26)

Numbers in parentheses indicate league rank. All table numbers courtesy of Basketball Reference and HoopData, other numbers courtesy of 82games.

Oh, and Andrew? The refs are generally serious, don't bother even trying to reason with them. Just play your game.

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