A historic NBA franchise in the middle of a prime American media market. A set of mismatched players thrown together with little regard for how well they may or may not play with one another. Yearly turnover of personnel becoming more and more turbulent. Overpriced veterans and supposed superstars who cannot become a greater sum than their individual parts. Management beleaguered by a wide, knowledgeable and perhaps sometimes overly passionate fan base. Those same fervent followers pressing the panic button at a moment's notice, whether it be warranted or not. A team consistently grounding to new lows and disappointing fans in new, creative and sadistic ways. Expectations failed, season settling into jeopardy, everyone worried.
A historic NBA franchise in the middle of a prime American media market. A set of underrated players who were specifically put together to best build on the strengths of their franchise player. A roster that has built continuity after years of tumult. Cagey veterans help an emerging superstar finally reach his potential, with a set of improperly valued players becoming a greater sum than its individual parts. Management, no matter how shrewd its trades and wily it's moves, will always be beleaguered by a wide, knowledgeable and perhaps sometimes overly passionate fan base. Those same fervent followers cautiously buying in on an extraordinary start to the season. A team coming together, morphing into the class of the league. Expectations already surpassed, season becoming quickly extraordinary, everyone jubilant.
But how is it that two descriptions that would fit both teams like a fine Pat Riley suit now has flipped the script? The usually melodramatic Knickerbockers have become the respectable, heady team of veterans who win with defense, passing and patience. The usually steady Lakers have become a team in crisis, with it's highly paid imports failing to bring W's to the game log. It seems that the two franchises have suddenly switched places, and both fan bases don't really know how to handle the rapid transformation. Knicks fans are looking at their 16-5 squad with much trepidation. They are dubious to accept Carmelo as the MVP candidate he looks to be and the squad's reliance on a group of basketball geriatrics that are creating wins and melding an otherwise unwieldy team of boneheads. Lakers fans are conversely confused at how terrible a 9-13 team full of seeming superstars and solid contributors could be so incredibly awful. Overall, there's a real lack of acceptance that perhaps yes, the Lakers could be this terrible and yes, the Knicks could be this good.
The Lake Show makes it's annual sojourn to Madison Square Garden where they'll face the best team in the Eastern Conference and the third best winning percentage in the NBA. Carmelo Anthony has harnessed his inner superstar, turning in one of his most efficient seasons ever, while playing willing defense and yes, leading the Knicks to victory. Starting Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton, as well as reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler and bench contributors J.R. Smith, Steve Novak and Rasheed Wallace are performing as extensions of Anthony, providing the floor spacing and help defense.
It's easy to see why they're winning so often. New York has the NBA's second best offense (in regards to points per 100 possessions), and control opponents possessions and field goal attempts, placing 12th in the league. The Knicks take care of the ball better than anyone else, ranking first in turnovers, while concurrently forcing the fifth amount of turnovers out of their opponents. But the numbers are only half the story; the Knicks are a well-oiled machine, sharing the ball (though they rank 20th in assists, they're 3rd in assist to turnover ratio) in ways that best lead to open buckets and communicating extremely well on the defensive side of the ball. New York is winning with patience and effort, two words that LA fans have long forgotten.
Looking at three of their recent losses against Houston, Indiana, Orlando and Cleveland, the Lakers simply aren't playing with effort, carelessly throwing away the ball, not hustling back on defense and rotating with the sincerity of a Gregg Popovich apology. They are forcing everything on both ends of the floor, and the results are poor ball management and a stunning lack of patience from a mostly veteran team. In almost every way, the Knicks, and their fans, are the polar opposite of the Lakers early in the 2012-2013 season.
A win for the Show tonight seems farfetched tonight, especially looking at the Bockers' perfect 8-0 record at the Garden. The Knicks seem to have strength at many places the Lakers have weaknesses. They play extremely well stretching the floor, leading the league in three-point makes, which will most likely feast on the Lakers' defensive rotations that couldn't guard a high school girl's basketball team right now. Felton and Kidd make excellent decisions in transition as well as in the half court, and the Knicks' bigs know exactly how to take advantage off of picks with slow moving defenses on them. Of course, Carmelo Anthony is a bad matchup for any opposing team in any year, but starting this season he seems nearly uncontainable--the Orangeman is coming off a 45 point performance on just 24 shots.
The Lakers two big advantages here come from what should be a dominance on the boards and of course, Kobe Bryant. The Mamba has a 34.6 scoring average at the Garden since his first title season in 1999-2000, and should be in prime form against his friend and Olympic teammate Anthony.
The storylines of the two franchise's seasons should be more entertaining than the game itself. The Knicks are absolutely rolling right now, while the Lakers are absolutely rolling over. Kobe will of course be Kobe in MSG, but using this game as a springboard for the start of a Lakers season turnaround should be a difficult task, to say the least.
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