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Things to watch in the Lakers-Knicks matchup

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1. How do the Lakers absorb Matt Barnes' absence? With the forward expected to be out for several weeks because of a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee, the Lakers lose a feisty, energetic and highly efficient bench player who averaged 7.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 21.1 minutes per game this season. The Lakers certainly have a number of different combinations to absorb his absences, but it will be interesting to see which one works best.

The Times' Mike Bresnahan highlights Kobe Bryant's belief that he will log more minutes at small forward, Coach Phil Jackson says Luke Walton will get more playing time, and the Lakers recently recalled Devin Ebanks from the Bakersfield Jam of the Development League. But there are some other possibilities. While Bryant plays more at small forward, Shannon Brown could assume more minutes at shooting guard. Or perhaps Ron Artest would stay deeper into the rotation at his original starting spot at the 3.

More time for Bryant at small forward would likely result in an uptick in the 33.1 minutes he's averaged this season, something Bryant expressed little worry about to reporters. But with his continual efforts in minimizing pain in his right knee, the Lakers further test their need for Bryant having an elevated role at the possible risk of injuries later in the season. More playing time for Brown could increase his confidence in his shooting stroke, which has experienced a deep slide from November, December and January in field-goal percentage both from the field (48%, 40.2% and 36.4%) and from three-point range (45.6%, 39.5% and 20%), despite averaging nearly 18 minutes per game the entire season.

Giving Artest an increased role could spark his confidence and lead to performances such as the one he offered in the Lakers' 99-95 victory Wednesday over the Phoenix Suns. Or it could lead to continual spurts of discomfort in the triangle and defensive inconsistency. It's surely an option Jackson would consider, but one that would be based on how Artest handles the opportunity. The same applies to Walton, whose understanding of the triangle helps the Lakers' fluidity but his limited minutes thus far make it unclear what impact, for better or worse, he'd have on the team. Ebanks came off the bench with Bakersfield averaging 14.6 points at a 50% clip, 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 steals, meaning an increased role could spark even more confidence. Or it could provide a huge reminder of the difference between the NBA and the D League.

There are no definitive answers, but the Lakers may at least provide some glimpses of what the near future might hold against New York.

2. How will the Lakers counter the Knicks' offense? New York (21-14) has three consecutive wins, including one against San Antonio, and have won 11 road games, thanks to a highly efficient offense you'd expect from Coach Mike D'Antoni. The team managed to string a league-leading 108.1 points per game thanks to its quickness (second in the NBA with 99.2 possessions a game) and efficiency (a third-ranked 108.8 points per 100 possessions). And as The Times' Mark Heisler reminded, the Lakers haven't been strong defensively. It's not so much the points they're allowing, ranking 10th overall in total defense (97.19 points). It's the way the Lakers concede points to other teams. That includes but is not limited to poor shot selection, missed rebounds or turnovers resulting in quick transition buckets, the Lakers not sliding over to help if the team's backcourt gets beaten off the dribble and little to no communication during slides, screen and rolls and run-outs.

The return of Andrew Bynum has certainly bolstered the Lakers' rotation in length and size. Bynum's blocked shots (1.5 per game) and intimidating force in the lane are welcome, but those variables are also indicators the Lakers are forcing him to bail them out of defensive lapses. If the Lakers don't remain more disciplined, it will be a long night as they try to contain speedy point guard Raymond Felton (who had his first triple-double against Phoenix), versatile Landry Fields and power forward Amare Stoudemire.

3. How will the Lakers' front line match up with New York The comment didn't bother him then. It surely doesn't bother him now. There may be some who think the intrigue surrounding Odom and Stoudemire involves the latter's contention that Odom had a "lucky" game in Game 1 of the Lakers-Suns West Finals matchup when Stoudemire was with Phoenix. With Stoudemire averaging 26.3 points on 52.1%, nine rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game and Odom remaining the Lakers' most consistent player, this matchup proves compelling for other reasons.

"Amare Stoudemire is playing basketball and scoring a lot of points in the paint," Odom said. "He's so quick, strong and explosive. His range from the outside, he doesn't get enough credit. He's a great stand-still shooter. You have to make him put the ball on the floor."

With Bynum's admittance that Stoudemire is one of his favorite NBA players and Odom's acknowledgement that his hometown roots still make him a Knicks fan, this matchup no doubt proves more compelling than others. Though the Lakers' plan for guarding Stoudemire with Odom, Bynum and Gasol may have mixed results, there's no doubt that Stoudemire's not known for showing much effort defensively.

The Knicks' defensive problems in limiting the opposing team's front line go beyond Stoudemire. They allowed the Celtics to score 62 points in the paint and the Heat 56 more, and the Lakers are coming off a victory against New Orleans in which Bynum, Odom and Gasol combined for 55 points. But that doesn't mean they'll be a punching bag. Besides the possibility New York could go small, the Knicks still play pretty physical and lead the league in blocked shots (6.74), showing that the Lakers will  get opportunities but they will come with bruising effects.

-- Mark Medina

Twitter.com/latmedina

E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Photo: Knicks power forward Amare Stoudemire celebrates after a basket during a 125-119 victory over Golden State on Friday. Credit: Kyle Terada / US Presswire

 
Comments () | Archives (23)

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Apparently, Melo & Billups are close to being traded to the Nets, in which case Billups has stated he'd like to have his contract bought out...maybe a legit chance to upgrade our point guard situation. Oh Lord please.

Here's hoping that the Lakers take a "win one for the Gipper" mentality, and play with the hustle and grit that Barnes has all year.

The Knicks' weakness is the Lakers' strength. The Knicks have a lack of size up front. Old Laker Ronny Turiaf provides energy and a shot blocking presence but is undersized.

Two prominent players in the Knck rotation that MM did not mention are Shawne Williams and Toney Douglas. Douglas, as you may remember, was chosen by the Lakers in last year's drafts and then had his rights sold to the Knicks. He is a fine, energetic defender and can shoot the long ball. Shawne is even better from 3, shooting over 50% for the season. They definitely bear watching.

Then, perhaps one of the best kept secrets in the NBA is Wilson Chandler, the Knicks' 6'8" forward. He aveages 17.8 ppg on only 14 shots and almost 39% beyond the arc.

You may notice a theme in the Knicks' offense. They like to shoot the 3 and can do it well. They went 17 of 33 against Phx. on Friday night, destroying the same Sun squad that gave the Lakers a hard time earlier in the week. They also beat the Spurs at MSG last week.

This is the type of game where I almost expect a Laker letdown. It's Sunday. The home white uniforms. An under the radar, athletic opponent. Players that the Lakers have not played against that much.

With the fact that Boston and Dallas lost night, this game is an opportunity for the Lakers to gain a little in the race for HCA. I hope they pay attention to detail and don't allow the Knicks to catch them slipping.

@Diandra – congrats on the RCOTD


@Lew – thanks for the game day bus! I’m boarded and ready for the roll call…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTjJJiu2lC0


@mclyne – I just finished reading the Mike Trudell article on Lamar that MM posted earlier. I agree it’s a must read. For all of those worried about his new reality show hurting the team…please read the article to get a deeper understanding of LO.

Congrats on the RCOTD, Diandra! Nicely done!

@bronxlakerfan - you're right about Wilson Chandler being underrated. He dropped 30+ on the Spurs the other day.


You're also right about the Knicks biggest weakness being the Lakers strength (interior play). But that works both ways. The Knicks biggest strength...Pick & Roll with Amare and Felton...plays into one of the Lakers biggest weaknesses...defending the P/R. Plus, Felton always seems to have big games against the Lakers going back to his Charlotte days.


I'm expecting an exciting game, with the Lakers winning a close one.

LRob - It does work both ways which is why this should be particularly intriguing

LRob...

You make an excellent point about Ray Felton and his prowess against the Lakers. It seems that the Lakers could never beat Charlotte and Felton was the main reason. His ability to drive and kick really facilitate the Knick 3pt. shooters as well. All in all, these Knicks are Phoenix redux. Very similar to D'Antoni's Sun teams.

I hope your prediction is right.

Thanks guys! Can't wait for the game.. will be stealing the link from one of you :)

MM - I posted about that Knicks/Pacers game...they had it on BSPN 30/30...

What an incredible rivalry...yes that was incredible to pull that win out with Reggie hitting those 3's in the final seconds...and Spike Lee getting the blame...

I'm sure they will replay it...it a must see...

LRob - LOL...where do you find these clips...very fitting for Roll Call though...good post....

I doubt any of you will believe this story. But I remember vividly watching the 1995 semifinal between New York and Indiana where Reggie Miller scored 8 points in the final seconds. With the Knicks up by six, my grandfather said, 'Well looks like this game is over.' I said rather tongue in cheek, "No it isn't. The Pacers just have to hit a three pointer, steal the ball, hit another three pointer, steal the ball and then hit another shot." And then it happened...

Felton always seems to have big games against the Lakers going back to his Charlotte days.
Posted by: LRob | January 09, 2011 at 04:23 PM

hmmm .. can you say dfish??!!

his career PPG average is 13.7... his career against lakers is 15.7... there are only a few other teams he has avg more against and they are atlanta 16.5 warriors 16.2 knicks 15.9 (before trade) and phoenix 15.6.. notice all those teams xcept one run uptempo run and gun offenses... i excluded charlotte because only 2 games this year and avg is 19.5.

last year he was relatively quiet vs lakers with career lows in pts and minutes possibly due to being in larry browns doghouse but in 2008 he lit us up for season high with 29 and in 2009 he just missed trip dub by 1 asst

so yes i would have to agree with your hypothesis and his career stats would back that up.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BYNUM!
THE IMPORTANCE OF A DOMINANT BIG MAN!


While Jackson said the team still is adjusting to having Bynum back on the floor, he has seen a change in the way teams are playing the Lakers, namely staying out of the paint.
"Size-wise, (Bynum) is an impact player, and he changes the course of how games are going," Jackson said.
"We know that the best part of what we have done over the past three years is when we've gotten Andrew (back) in the lineup, and he's played consistently with us. It's been a different stance for teams to play against us."

Whoa! I'm late to the game. Diandra: I'm glad they got that all fixed up. I definitely quoted your entire post followed by "yeah..what she said! Congrats on the RCOTD. When I read it, I knew it was a winner and obviously, so did MM. It was as though you read my mind, but I'm really used to it by now, thanks to "justa!"

Great article this morning by Heisler - one of my favorites. Here's to the Lakers putting the Knicks in a "NY State Of Mind" as they reflect on tonight's loss on the plane ride home or wherever their next destination may be!

GO LAKES & IN BUSS WE TRUST!!

888 - remember how beton has been lobbying for Felton to come to the Lakers forever...

Lakers should change it starting line up to give more time to Caracter at Power Forward his natural position.


Bynum/Gasol
Gasol/Caracter/Smith
Odom/Ebanks/Walton
Artest/Brown
Bryant/Blake/Fisher


MM - no way I believe that. Your grandfather would NEVER say that.

MM - gotta call bull paddies on that one. Nice try though, but you forget who you're talking to.

LMAO at Manny PacMan's San Miguel Casino commercial...

Manny has one line...lol...but I think it was better than Magic's or Sugar Ray takes...

Sam Miguel should use Lamar and Khloe...that would bring the 'Beautiful People' to the reservation...at least Ron Ron...;)

the thing i like about bynum guarding the paint. he LIKES to give HARD fouls!

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Guys you don't have to believe the Reggie story. But it's true

@Lew/MM - Thanks for reminding us of that classic game. I never rooted for Riley Knicks unless they were playing the Bulls. I was not a fan of their grab and hack defense.


@fever - Thanks for verifying that my memory was somewhat correct.


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