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Lakers vs. Knicks Preview: In-Season Tournament banner night

Can the Lakers’ In-Season Tournament championship celebration serve as extra motivation to help the team get past the Knicks?

NBA: New York Knicks at Los Angeles Lakers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After a tough three-game Texas road trip, the Lakers are back home on Monday, where they will commemorate their In-Season Tournament (IST) championship. The purple and gold will also go up against the visiting New York Knicks for the first time this season.

Start time and TV schedule

Who: Los Angeles Lakers vs. New York Knicks

When: 7:30 p.m. PT, Dec. 18

Where: Arena

Watch: Spectrum Sportsnet

The Lakers’ recent road trip didn’t go as successful as they hoped for and now they find themselves sitting as the No. 8 seed of the Western Conference exactly a week after being crowned as the inaugural IST champions. The team’s recent drop-off is just another reminder that so much can change in an instant in the NBA.

During their time in Las Vegas for the IST, the Lakers were at their healthiest. Then, during their games against the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, multiple key players were in and out of the lineup, which significantly affected L.A.’s performance.

That’s not to say that the Lakers’ inability to stay healthy should excuse their lackluster performances as of late because, after all, giving up 42 points in one quarter to a lottery is absolutely unacceptable. Without Anthony Davis, Cam Reddish and D’Angelo Russell on Friday, it was Los Angeles that looked like a tanking team, even if LeBron James was in uniform.

If anything, Friday’s loss proved that the margin of error for this Lakers team is thin despite their depth being one of their strongest assets. Whether it’s their overall health, over-dependence on AD or lack of consistent two-way players, the Lakers showcased their flaws on Friday night.

One of the few positives to take away from last Friday’s disappointing loss was that the Lakers’ flaws were greatly exposed, which can help them move forward in terms of how the team will address their current issues. However, the growing concern is the purple and gold are about to go through a really tough stretch of their schedule and, given the team’s current health, it’s something worth worrying about.

James himself talked about how difficult the Lakers’ schedule has been and will continue to be at least for the next two weeks, during his postgame interview Friday:

In the next week, the Lakers are going up against five teams in seven days. Four of those matches are versus teams with an above .500 record, including back-to-back games against the Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder. Then there’s the important Christmas Day game against their arch-rivals, the Boston Celtics, who the Lakers absolutely can’t lose to because it’s never okay to lose to the Celtics.

That said, the best way for the Lakers to approach this tough stretch is to take each game one at a time and that starts with how they handle the 14-11 Knicks on Monday. Here’s everything you need for the team that currently sits on the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference:

Zooming in to New York

Like the Lakers, the Knicks have been playing like an above-average team so far this season. Surprisingly for a Tom Thibodeau-coached team, New York has been struggling on defense this month, as our friends over at Posting and Toasting pointed out that they currently rank at the bottom of the league in defensive rating for December. They’ve struggled on defense as of late but have been playing really well offensively, where they rank No. 3 in the league in offensive rating for the month.

Led by Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle, this team shoots the 3-pointer at high rate (38.4%, currently ranked fourth in the league) this season. They’ve been doing a good job producing points out of second chance opportunities and in the paint.

In short, the Knicks can expose the Lakers’ defense, which just allowed the Spurs to shoot 42.9% from the 3-point arc Friday and the one that led Mavs guard Dante Exum to have the night of his life, shooting 7-9 from the 3-point line last week. So yes, it would be nice if the Lakers’ defense performs at their ceiling in this one.

Where the Lakers can expose the Knicks, though, is with their offense, which we all know is largely dependent on James and Davis. The purple and gold will be able to expose the Knicks’ frontcourt defense, but the biggest question is whether or not they can keep up with New York’s offense. To do that, the Lakers’ role players need to make their presence felt in this one.

Hopefully, the Lakers’ IST celebration and banner night will spark some energy in them to get through a tough week ahead. It can be the perfect reminder of what they’re capable of doing when they play at another gear they’re fully capable of attaining and the same gear they need to play with in order to beat this Knicks team.

Notes and Updates:

  • The Knicks are concluding their four-game Western Conference road trip against the Lakers on Monday. They played the Suns on Friday when Brunson notched his career-high of 50 points in a win then went up against the L.A. Clippers the following day, who they lost to by 22 points.
  • For the Lakers’ injury report, the team lists Gabe Vincent (left knee effusion) and Jalen Hood-Schifino (back) as out while Anthony Davis (left adductor/hip spasm) LeBron James (left calf contusion) and Christian Wood (non-COVID illness) are questionable. Jarred Vanderbilt (low back spasm) and D’Angelo Russell (non-COVID illness) are probable.
  • Meanwhile for the Knicks, Mitchell Robinson (left ankle) will not be available.

You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani

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