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Lakers vs. Knicks Preview: Another chance for Player of the Week LeBron James to show he’s not the #WashedKing

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LeBron James won the Western Conference Player of the Week award for the second time this season right as the Lakers are set to host the New York Knicks. Things couldn’t be more different than the last time these two teams met.

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Los Angeles Lakers v New York Knicks Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The last time LeBron James played against the New York Knicks, he got his shot blocked at the buzzer by Mario Hezonja to drop the Lakers to 31-39. The team was already out of playoff contention by that point last season, and for some fans it was a sign for concern that one of the best athletes in NBA history couldn’t cram a dunk on Mario Freaking Hezonja, with all due respect to Mario.

No, seriously, this was a real thing people were worried about. Take this tweet from one of my closest friends, for example. Sure, this dude is a bit of a hot take artist, but he’s also going to be a groomsman in my wedding, and he’s a good representation of pure, emotional fandom.

This is a real tweet he sent right after that buzzer sounded:

The play was so inexplicable that he felt it might be a more reasonable explanation that James was just tanking:

Fast forward around nine months, and those takes couldn’t look more like overreactions. James just won his second ever Western Conference Players of the Week on Monday after three games in which he averaged a triple-double of 23 points, 11.7 rebounds and 12.7 assists while leading the Lakers to a 3-0 week and a 29-7 start that’s left them with the best record in the conference. James may have made #WashedKing his hashtag for personal motivation, but so far this season, he couldn’t look more like the standard kind of NBA royalty, and a legitimate MVP candidate at age 35.

It’s in this context that the Knicks come to Staples Center for their first and only visit of the season, for a game that should serve as a showcase for just how far the Lakers have come since that ignominious loss of last year. This season the only lottery team in this matchup is the Knicks, and if the Lakers put their foot on the gas, they’re likely going to throttle them.

The Lakers have developed a habit of late for letting inferior teams hang around, but they really should take advantage of this one, because it’s their last game before a two-game trip featuring a back-to-back against the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder. Those aren’t unwinnable games, but the Lakers should still take advantage here while they can.

And make no mistake, the Knicks are baaaaad. They’ve lost their last two in a row, six of their last 10, and are 10-26 on the year. They rank in the bottom seven in both offensive and defensive efficiency, according to NBA.com, and even with the Lakers’ increasing struggles during non-LeBron minutes, this should be a relative shoe-in for them as long as James and Anthony Davis show up to play.

We’ll see if that’s how things go, or if this will be another relatively uninspiring win in the vein of the last few. Or even worse, a loss. Still, something tells me the self-proclaimed #WashedKing won’t let that last possibility happen against this specific team team again after the way things went last year.

Notes and Updates

  • UPDATE: Well, so all that stuff above about James? It might be moot, as Lakers head coach Frank Vogel says that James is feeling under the weather and left pretty quickly after shootaround. He’s still hopeful to play tonight, according to Vogel, but his status is now something to keep an eye on.
  • Avery Bradley says he will play against New York, something that was in doubt because of the ankle sprain he suffered on Sunday night vs. the Pistons. An MRI showed no fractures and Frank Vogel said after the game that Bradley wanted to come back in, but he also admitted that Bradley’s limp was significant enough that they held him out. Given all that, it’s somewhat surprising to see him back so quickly, but at shootaround Bradley credited the Lakers training staff for getting him ready to go.
  • Anthony Davis is probable to play with the same sore right shoulder he’s been listed with for the last few games, but he spoke at shootaround, usually a decent indicator that a player plans to play.
  • Our own Alex Regla talked to Lakers rookie Talen Horton-Tucker about what his first NBA season has been like after growing up a Lakers fan. The story gets into his bond with his mom — who is a bigger Laker fan than he even was — his goals for beyond this season, how much it excites him that Lakers fans even know who he is, and the support he’s getting from teammates like Anthony Davis. The story got into even more than that, and is one of my favorite things I’ve been a part of publishing here, so I hope you’ll give it a read. And as a possible related note to that story:
  • Frank Vogel hasn’t liked the whistle the Lakers are getting so far this year, so he talked to the league about it.
  • Dwight Howard will reportedly get his contract guaranteed today, and is also heading back to the Dunk Contest. Pretty good 48 hours for the big man when you include his five-block performance against the Pistons.
  • Kyle Kuzma has been involved in a ton of trade rumors already, and there are still weeks to go before the deadline. We’ll be tracking them all at this page, so keep an eye out for updates.
  • There is also a report the Lakers are one of a few teams interested in Wizards sharpshooter Davis Bertans, so tab him as a name to keep an eye on as the Feb. 6 trade deadline draws closer.

The Lakers will tip off against the Knicks at 7:30 p.m. PST. The game will be televised nationally on NBA TV, and locally on Spectrum SportsNet. Follow our own @ali_behpoornia for updates, as he’ll be taking my place at Staples Center for this one.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.