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Lakers vs. Knicks Preview: Let’s keep having fun

Arguably their toughest opponent since the All-Star break, the Lakers’ defense will be tested against the team with one of the best current offenses in the league, the New York Knicks

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Exactly one week ago, right after the Lakers’ dropped a crucial game in the hands of the Minnesota Timberwolves, I wrote in my following preview that in order for the purple and gold to bounce back and survive this stretch without LeBron James, several key members have to step up. Fast forward to today, Los Angeles hasn’t lost since and that’s in large part because everyone has picked up the slack — and that couldn’t be any more true last Friday.

On a night when Anthony Davis scored just eight points and struggled to impose his will against the Toronto Raptors’ aggressive double team defense, his teammates gifted him the best birthday present by leading the team to victory. Thanks to D’Angelo Russell’s 28 points, Dennis Schroder’s 23, Austin Reaves’ 18 and the Lakers’ bench combining for a season-high 61 (!) points, Los Angeles nabbed their third straight victory.

And now suddenly, it seems like the Lakers are gradually looking like the best version of themselves this season. The eye test will tell you that they’re playing stellar competitive basketball on both ends, with a rejuvenated and contagious energy that I can feel from 7,320.07 miles away.

In the past three victories, at least three role players scored double figures, the team is shooting at a decent rate from the perimeter and has stepped up their transition game. As Davis, Schroder and Russell have reiterated, the Lakers are just having FUN — and doing it while winning their last eight out of 11 games.

But what’s even more impressive is that the statistics say that the Lakers have been the best defensive-rated team in the league since the trade deadline (107.9 per 100 possessions). Also, the purple and gold’s 8-3 record in their last 11 games, which is considered a 73.7% winning percentage, would be tied for the best in the league with the Milwaukee Bucks if they maintained all year. Although all these may be considered small sample sizes, suffice it to say that the Lakers are on a path where they could be turning their season around.

And speaking of turning their season around, a team that’s currently on the same path is the New York Knicks, who have arguably been one of — if not — the best team in the league since the All-Star break. The Knicks, who the Lakers face up next, were recently just on a nine game winning streak before they dropped their last two. Since the trade deadline, they’ve ranked third best in the league in offense (yes, they score the ball a lot) and eighth on defense.

Sunday’s matchup against the Knicks will arguably be the toughest contest yet for the Lakers since the All-Star break. Led by our old friend Julius Randle, Jalen Brunson, RJ Barett and Immanuel Quickly, this Knicks team can really score and it’s going to be a great test for the Lakers’ defense. It’s a battle between one of the best current offenses and defenses in the league. We’ll see if the Lakers can prevail with the winning formula they’ve played with to make it four straight wins in a row.

Notes and Updates

  • The Knicks will be on the back end of a back-to-back on Sunday, after playing against the Los Angeles Clippers today. Sunday’s game will be their third game in their current four game road trip. The last time these two faced each other was in February, when the Lakers won (129-123) in overtime. It was one of Rui Hachimura’s best games as a Laker when he led all role players with 19 points. Hachimura might just be the x-factor once again for Sunday’s tilt.
  • The Lakers are listing Anthony Davis (right foot stress injury) as probable while Mo Bamba (left ankle sprain) and LeBron James (right foot soreness) are out. D’Angelo Russell, who missed six games prior to last Friday’s match, is no longer on the report.
  • Scotty Pippen (G-League) and Cole Swider will be with the South Bay Lakers.
  • The Knicks have yet to submit their report but for what it’s worth, Jalen Brunson (left foot soreness) did not suit up against the Los Angeles Clippers today. Moses Brown (G-League) and Duane Washington Jr., (G-League) were also listed as out.
  • For news around the league, after the Lakers’ victory against the Raptors on Friday, they’re now just a game behind the fifth seed but also two out of the 13th seed. Keep track of the Golden State Warriors (34-33), the Utah Jazz (32-35), the Dallas Mavericks (34-33), New Orleans Pelicans (32-34) and Oklahoma City Thunder (31-35) moving forward as the purple and gold continue their quest to claim a Playoff spot.

For the third straight Sunday in a row, the Lakers will play earlier than usual as tip off begins at 9 p.m. PT. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN and locally on Spectrum SportsNet.

You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani.

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