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Lakers vs. Knicks Preview: Looking for a win without LeBron James

Although they got the win on Sunday against the Pistons, this Lakers team still has plenty of progress to make towards their championship goals. However, that progress could be disrupted in Tuesday’s game against the Knicks, as LeBron James will not be allowed to play.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Detroit Pistons Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

When looking at the box score of the Lakers’ win on Sunday, one would assume that the Pistons gave them some fear of losing along the 48 minutes, but that the more talented Lakers eventually won 121-116 in a game that they probably controlled for most of the night.

That conclusion would be far from the truth.

The Lakers came apart in the second quarter of the game, with their poor performance in that quarter carrying over to their now infamous third quarter troubles, as the Pistons extended their lead to as much as 17 points before the final frame started. Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook helped stage a furious comeback, with the Lakers ultimately prevailing in the end.

One would hope that the 9-9 Lakers could just be happy that they got the win, turning their sights towards the rest of their road trip and the season at large. However, that third quarter also involved a scuffle that made waves on Twitter, one that was centered around LeBron James and Isaiah Stewart. LeBron was ejected due to a Flagrant 2 given from his elbow making contact with Stewart’s face, while Stewart was ejected for trying to fight LeBron as well as everyone who stood in the way of that goal.

We now know that Stewart will be suspended for two games, while LeBron will be suspended one game. This means he will not play in Tuesday’s game against the New York Knicks.

Los Angeles Lakers v Detroit Pistons Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Can the Lakers still continue their momentum?

Without LeBron, the task in New York becomes even harder. Although the Knicks have also had a rough start nearly equal to the Lakers with a record of 9-8, they’re coming off an extremely successful season where they made it to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. They also added Kemba Walker in the offseason to nearly the same roster in an effort to improve their scoring.

Can Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook shoulder the burden enough with LeBron gone to get the team its second straight road win?

San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

No matter what complaints you might have about the first three quarters of the Lakers-Pistons game, you can’t deny that the 4th quarter involved one of the Lakers’ most dominant quarters of the season as they outscored the Pistons 37-17.

The exciting comeback was seemingly sparked by Carmelo Anthony, but this spark didn’t come on the court (although Anthony did have two 3-pointers and 2 blocks in the final frame). Instead, Anthony provided a message to his teammates during a timeout around the time of when the game seemed like it would end in a loss for the Lakers, especially with LeBron out for the rest of the contest.

“This is where we figure out who we are as a team,” Anthony said.

Many Lakers fans have been calling for Frank Vogel’s job, a firing that definitely could take place just from looking at the history of NBA teams with high preseason expectations that severely underperformed early (you could also just look at the history of Lakers teams). Anthony may have saved his coach’s job with that inspiring message he gave to the team, but in addition, he may have indirectly turned this season around.

“To me, it’s one of those things that can change the momentum of your season,” Vogel said. “To see guys rally around a teammate that just got ejected like that, in a strange circumstance, (they) played with incredible guts at the start of the fourth quarter down 15. That’s the determination that this team’s going to need.

“These young guys played hard, and we get everybody’s best punch every night. That’s how hard we have to play to get a W. To see that we can do it and get a tough win on the road down 15 to start the fourth, that’s a heck of a win for us.”

It would be huge for that final quarter to change the momentum of this Lakers season, especially given the sour taste left in everyone’s mouth after the team collapsed on Friday against the rival Boston Celtics. A one-game suspension for James could derail those positive outlooks, however, the Lakers can at least maintain their confidence given the fact that comeback obviously was done without him on the floor.

Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook were instead the heroes of the night, as both players showed in the fourth quarter why they’re considered NBA superstars, too. Most of their individual performances in the final frame came from the players’ two-man game together as they were finding attempt-after-attempt at the rim from pick-and-rolls together.

Those efficient baskets could offer hope the Lakers can get another road win on Tuesday against the Knicks, even without LeBron.

Notes and Updates

  • Before the suspension was announced, LeBron was listed as questionable for tomorrow’s game due to the same ab strain that kept him out for nearly two weeks. Trevor Ariza and Kendrick Nunn remain out, however, Austin Reaves has been upgraded to doubtful.
  • In the Knicks’ injury report, they list Derrick Rose as questionable (sore right ankle), Taj Gibson as doubtful (sore groin), and Mitchell Robinson as out (concussion). Robinson and Gibson were both questionable for their most recent game on Sunday against the Bulls, with both players eventually sitting out.
  • Around the league, the LeBron/Stewart kerfuffle was definitely the talk of the night heading into Thanksgiving week. However, there are also some notable streaks going on in the Western Conference. The Suns beat the Nuggets by 29 points on Sunday to extend their current winning streak to 12 games, while the Rockets lost to the Knicks on Saturday to extend their losing streak to a whopping 14 games. The Suns don’t play again until they visit the Cavaliers on Wednesday, while the Rockets will be looking to beat the Celtics tonight.

The Lakers and Knicks will tip-off at 4:30 p.m. PT. The game will be nationally televised on TNT, while Spectrum SportsNet will carry the local broadcast. The game will be the first night of a back-to-back, with the Lakers visiting the Pacers on Wednesday.

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