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Lakers 99, Knicks 82: Moving In The Right Direction

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It's possible we'll look back on this game and think of it as no big deal. Consider the opponent. These Knicks... I just don't know, amigos. I bought most of their hype and have thought they were a potential four seed in the East, but they've now looked awful in two straight. Tonight in losing to the Lakers, 82 to 99, they were lazy and confused and just a raggedy-ass operation. The Knicks might be a bad team for a while, in which case tonight's game might seem in time like the routine braining of a noncontender.

If we do have that reaction it'll be good news, because it'll mean the Lakers have turned into the beasts we hoped they could become and we're once again grading them on a curve befitting title aspirants. Tonight's performance tantalized with a glimpse. After an unsightly-but-we'll-take-it win over Utah, the Lakers gave us a pretty one over the Knicks, whom they ground into powder. Still without Andrew Bynum, serving the last of his four-game sentence, they brought that Mike Brown Thump on D and played one brilliant half of offense. Regardless of whether the Knicks are frauds, this was invigorating stuff.

The Lakers controlled the action from about the middle of the first quarter. Some impossibly hot outside shooting from New York put the Lake Show behind five early, but soon the offense found the soft underbelly of the Knicks' defense. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol ran a series of nifty pick-and-slip plays and McBobs freed himself on the baseline for easy finishes. Meanwhile Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire let their focus wander and started firing the laziest of jumpers. Early in the second a Jason Kapono three pushed the lead into double digits. Pau was guarding Amare well. Metta World Peace continued his weird evolution into a Hedo Turkoglu-like offensive distributor.

The key was ball movement and knocking down shots, nothing fancy. Guys were just passing the ball with pace. Around the key to an open shooter, into the high post, backdoor lobs - there was a little something for everyone's tastes. There were minty looks inside and out. And guys just had the range on their jumpers, which isn't something we're used to around here. At halftime they'd made 5 of 6 threes and 18 of 26 twos. They might not shoot better in a half this season. Seven different players scored at least five first-half points.

Early in the third the Knicks came unspooled. Amare threw up a weak 20-footer, then Toney Douglas shot from 26 with 14 seconds left on the shot clock - two possessions to open the half that scream "No give a shit." A few minutes later Amare and Tyson Chandler barked at each other over another blown rotation. Kobe hit some ridiculous shots toward the end of the period, including a banked and-one triple over Renaldo Balkman, to make sure there'd be no comeback. The fourth quarter was garbagio time. The Knicks committed turnovers on the first five possessions in the fourth.

The Lakers' scoring contributions were nicely distributed. Nearly everyone on the floor looked comfortable and in rhythm. The bench had a great night, piling up 40 points. I thought Steve Blake was especially sharp. He really kept the attack flowing without a mistake. Good to see Kapono (9 points on 3 shots) do what he do. The Knicks didn't care enough to attack him on defense, so he was great to have in the lineup.

The defense, for the most part, was very solid. To an extent I think there are just malfunctioning parts in the Knicks' offense right now - like they don't have a real point guard and Chandler is invisible - but nonetheless the Lakers took them out of their game. Amare shot 4 for 17 and looked terrible doing it. Pau has always given him problems. Everyone including Pau showed strong form on defense, and for that we have to credit Mike Brown. He's brought out an underdog fire that wasn't there last year.

The Lakers get Friday off and then play an early-afternoon home game against the Nuggets on Saturday. And now we get Bynum! Skies are clearing and the mood lifting in Lakerdom. They haven't killed us off just yet.










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