The Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks put on a great show in the middle of Christmas day. Carmelo Anthony was hot from the field despite Metta World Peace playing inspired defense against him. Kobe Bryant was driving to the rim and finishing with amazing body control. Steve Nash showed just how important he is for the team in his second game back. J.R. Smith hit ridiculous shots.
It was basketball bliss for just under three hours. In the end, the Lakers pick up their fifth straight victory, final score: 100-94.
After the overtime victory upstate against the Golden State Warriors most felt it was the biggest victory of the season. The beginning of the turning point for the Lakers. The follow-up to that show was no letdown as the Lakers again played GOOD and I daresay GREAT basketball throughout the majority of the 48 minutes on the hardwood.
Steve Nash had 16 points, 11 assists, and 6 rebounds in his second game back and was a joy to watch. His organization of the Lakers offense, his ability to pass and make the right play out of the pick and roll, and the way he sets up the defense for his shots in that mid-range area were sublime. Better yet; they've only just begun with Nash.
There have been many a sour Christmases because of the Lakers losing, dating back to 2008 since the Lakers last won on this day. Kobe Bryant knows all too well with a 5-9 record on his annual date with Santa Claus. Today, though, the basketball gods smiled in his favor. In a game he became the all-time leading scorer in Christmas day games putting up 34 points (his 9th straight 30+ point game), 5 rebounds, and 1 assist on an efficient 14-24, Bryant pushed the gas and hit the brakes as necessary for the Lakers offense. The fact that he's still able to drive and finish around the rim in so many ways continues to be one of the most remarkable facets of his game.
Metta World Peace. Where to begin? His ziplock defense on Carmelo Anthony for the majority of the first half and frustrating him was of utmost importance for the purple and gold. He got into Melo's head in that stretch and pushed him out of his comfort zone as the Lakers built their lead going into the half. It wasn't just his elite defense on Anthony, however, as he also put in 20 points and 7 rebounds, constantly hustling on the floor. Even more important, though, is how he fights as the pulse of the team. His wrap up with Tyson Chandler was a display of the mettle the Lakers will need to climb back into this season and deep into the playoffs. Well done, World Metta Peace (as Jeff Van Gundy blundered).
Despite the great effort from Metta, Carmelo still found his rhythm out of the half and matched Kobe's 34 points. He started the second half almost literally on fire. If it were NBA Jam he'd have been scorching the nets to a crisp and leaving a trail of flames behind each jumper he took. Both he and Bryant showcased great individual scoring in this game. Carmelo is playing great basketball right now but it wasn't enough for the Knicks on this day.
The bigs of the Lakers, though, worked quietly but were both equally important. Dwight Howard claimed the paint as his territory while he disrupted anything in his vicinity. Lob? Deflected. Driving in? Discouraged. Laying it up? Over those outstretched arms, perhaps. Howard wasn't overbearing in the Lakers offense, scoring 14 points, but his work defensively was incredible.
And then there was Pau Gasol. 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists for Gasol on a night where he looked out of touch at times. His ability to facilitate in the offense is still important yet balances out with his inability to take advantage of mismatches in the post. Still, what will be the long-lasting image regarding Gasol in this game is his drive from the perimeter with just 12 seconds left and the Lakers hanging onto a three point lead that Pau took all the way to the rim for the dunk, putting the Lakers up five and out of striking distance. PAU SMASH!
A great showcase game for the NBA, a great showing from the Lakers, and a great way to spend Christmas day for Lakers fans. Lakers win their fifth straight game with the 100-94 victory and head to Denver to take on the Nuggets and continue building their bubbling chemistry and momentum. Happy holidays, everyone.
What a game.
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