The game came down to the last 37 seconds, and after Kadeem Allen’s two huge free throws gave the Knicks a lead, LeBron James was blocked by Mario Hezonja at the buzzer, handing the Lakers a 124-123 loss, a three-game losing streak and a 31-39 record.
Things didn’t start well for the Lakers, either. An early morning game in New York was the perfect storm for the Knicks to take advantage of L.A.
Kevin Knox and Damyean Dotson combined for 26 of the Knicks’ 41 points in the first quarter, while it took six Lakers to put up 30.
The Lakers seemed to finally wake up with a 19-6 run in the second quarter and as much as a 10-point lead in the second half, but it wasn’t enough for them to hold tight after New York went on a 15-1 run to close the contest.
There were still a few small positives to take away from the loss, as Kyle Kuzma continued to find his way as a playmaker on Sunday morning, with no-look passes aplenty in the Garden. Since Thursday’s game against the Toronto Raptors, where he had three points and three assists, Kuzma has turned it around, dishing 18 assists over the Lakers’ last two games.
Despite his futility at the buzzer, James dropped a team-high 33 points and had 6 rebounds in his return from “load management” against Detroit, and seemed to enjoy the effort of his two-way contract teammates like Alex Caruso and Johnathan Williams, as well as continuing to develop solid two-man chemistry with Kuzma.
The two-way duo of Caruso and Williams combined for 23 points off the bench, with Caruso in particular continuing to out-produce starting point guard Rajon Rondo, who only had 3 points in 28 minutes. Caruso finished with a plus-minus of +7, while Rondo finished with a second-worst on the team -11. This continuation of a trend is something to watch moving forward.
The Lakers’ loss adds salt to the wound in a bumpy road trip that has yet to end. Their schedule the next three weeks won’t help erase the trip, either, with matchups against the Milwaukee Bucks (up next on Tuesday) and Golden State Warriors.
But with 12 games left for both teams in the season, the only stakes left were draft position anyway, and the Lakers’ loss left them one game “behind” the Washington Wizards (30-40) for the ninth-worst record in the league.
Not wanting to root for “tanking” is understandable, but it has to be noted that the ninth-worst record would give the Lakers’ a 20.3 percent chance at a top-four draft pick, while 10th-worst would leave them with a 13.9 percent shot. This loss might be a good thing, even if it was a gut punch at the end of an otherwise mostly enjoyable effort.