It has been said numerous times now, but this was not the big market battle the NBA and TNT had in mind when this game was scheduled for national television. The league's two most valuable franchises have both experienced horrid seasons, with all of us familiar with the Lakers' season-long race to the bottom, while the Knicks are making one last desperate push for the 8th seed in a putrid eastern conference.
However, when seeing the effort put forth by these two teams tonight, one would have thought that the Los Angeles squad was the one making a playoff push while New York was the outfit consigned to the lottery. Well, that may have been half right, as the Knicks' effort on the defensive end tonight was one of a team resigned to its fate. Their rotations lacked any type of rhyme, reason, or evidence of a coherent game plan en route to allowing 57.8% shooting (64.3% on mostly open 3's) to this Lakers squad ranked 22nd in offensive efficiency on the year.
The Lakers allowed an 8-0 run to begin the game while I, like most of you, was forced to watch the (albeit entertaining) OT period of Mavericks vs. Thunder game. However, LA closed the gap and behind 39 bench points in the 1st half (led by 13 in the 2nd from Xavier Henry) and never looked back. After ending the 2nd with a 50-42 lead, the Lakers caught FIRE for a franchise record 51 in the 3rd quarter, averaging more than 2 points per possession in the period.
The whole Lakers team played well tonight, with some highlights including 82 bench points, the most for any team this year. Xavier Henry and Kent Bazemore, two wing reclamation projects who have been forced into point guard duties due to injury, penetrated into the lane at will tonight, leading the way with 22 and 18 points respectively. X was especially impressive, between the aforementioned 2nd quarter run, hitting 3 of 4 3's en route to 8/11 shooting while playing through a torn left wrist ligament that will require surgery. Also impressive was Nick Young's 20 points off the bench, with his 6th 4-point play of the year, extending a team record. Ryan Kelly continued to flash his potential, dicing up the Knicks' porous defense with 8 assists while also contributing 9 points and 4 rebounds. Lastly, Chris Kaman recovered from beginning the game shooting 0-4 to finishing 5-10 with 13 points and 9 rebounds.
For New York, potential Lakers free agency target Carmelo Anthony overcame a cold 2-10 first half to finish with 29 points on 21 shots with 9 rebounds, but most of those points came after the game was well in hand for Los Angeles. Additionally, the rest of the Knicks "Big 3"; Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, had reasonably efficient nights for the Knicks, going 7-14 and 5-7 from the field respectively. Unfortunately for them, the Lakers were just too hot and their own defensive effort/execution were too bad to even have a prayer of winning this game.
Despite the pro tanking crowd being mad that this win dropped the Lakers to sixth in lottery odds, to have a team come out and move the ball this well (to the tune of 32 assists) is a testament to Mike D'Antoni's coaching, and also showed how pretty his offense can look when the ball finds energy and shooters get hot. This eminently likable cast of players just never gives up, and overall this was a fun win for this weird team in this weird year.