Things to take away from Lakers 99-82 victory over New York Knicks
1. This was a field day for Kobe Bryant. He said he felt so healthy he didn't need to wear a sleeve to cover his surgically repaired right knee. The Knicks' defense also appeared so lax that this served as nothing more than Bryant's personal playground. In the Lakers' 99-82 victory Thursday night over the New York Knicks, Bryant's 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting and six assists reflected both his explosiveness and great court vision.
On one play, Bryant drove into the lane and faded back for a baseline jumper over a defenseless Amare Stoudemire. On another, Bryant eyed forward Josh McRoberts cutting to the basket and fed him a crisp bounce pass. On another, Bryant converted off a catch-and-shoot play from Devin Ebanks and sank a three-pointer. On another, Bryant performed a cross-over on Carmelo Anthony as he drove right, cut back and hoisted a Dirk Nowitzki-type one-legged fadeaway. And on another, Bryant banked in a long three-pointer while drawing a foul on Renaldo Balkman for the four-point play.
For all the injury concerns facing Bryant, it appears they're not an issue. At least for now.
2. The Knicks' defense is absolutely awful. Stoudemire rarely cut off baseline penetration or closed out on the perimeter. Tyson Chandler hardly gave Pau Gasol much of a challenge. Whoever the Knicks threw at Bryant, including Anthony, Landry Fields, Toney Douglas and Balkman, he embarrassed every one of them.
3. The Lakers' ball movement remained impressive. Lakers Coach Mike Brown conceded that many of the Lakers' games will have to serve as practices because of the team's learning curve. Against a team that lacks much defense, this provided a great opportunity for the Lakers to sharpen their offense. The Lakers did a great job in not getting into a track meet with the Knicks. Instead, they produced on offense through great reads and cuts.
There's plenty of examples that show how 23 of the Lakers' 38 field goals came off assists. Derek Fisher connected with McRoberts on a fast break after he cut sharply into the lane. Matt Barnes fired a bullet pass through the heart of the Knicks' defense to find an open Troy Murphy inside. Metta World Peace set a downscreen for Steve Blake, who then curled, received a handoff from Pau Gasol and nailed an open jumper. The Lakers will face stiffer defensive tests, but they executed from a good foundation against New York.
But then the second half hit. They opened the third quarter playing out of rhythm. They committed 10 turnovers. And they went 13 of 35 from the field. Still, the Lakers nursed enough of a lead for the Lakers to close out with some impressive plays. That included two triples from Blake, a Gasol putback dunk and a Barnes three-pointer. All in all, a good day.
After not appearing in two of the Lakers' games, Barnes also entered the game with 4:30 left in the second quarter for World Peace apparently because of Brown's skepticism Ebanks could keep up with Melo. Even when Barnes and World Peace remained in the lineup together, it was Barnes who took the duties covering Anthony. He rarely gave Melo an inch of space to operate, an effort that should surely help give him more playing time in the future.
5. The Lakers' defense remained impressive. Here's one play in the third quarter that epitomized the Lakers' commitment to defense. Bryant tried driving through the lane, but mishandled the ball. He raced back on defense and swiped the ball from Stoudmire before he could finish on the fast break. Barnes fronted Knicks center Tyson Chandler to deny him space in the second quarter. And Gasol continuously fronted Stoudemire, who finished four of 17 from the field. The Lakers' offense might not always click like it did against New York, but a solid defensive effort will more than likely keep them competitive in each game.
6. World Peace continues to play well off the bench. This isn't just because World Peace posted nine points on three-of-seven shooting. He looks like an entirely different player on both offense and defense. On defense, he pointed out to McRoberts to rotate to Melo so World Peace could man the paint. On offense, World Peace also drew double teams in the post and immediately kicked the ball out to the perimeter. All in all, World Peace remains engaged. And because of that, fans at Staples Center are cheering him when he enters the lineup for reasons beyond his quirky name change.
7. The Lakers' outside shooting remained deadly. So this is what it looks like when the purple & gold don't have to depend solely on Bryant and Gasol. On both of Jason Kapono's three-pointers, he simply had to step to the ball and shoot it after the Lakers penetrated, drew double teams and swung the ball out to the him. Again, the Knicks' defense is hardly what the Lakers will see on a normal basis. But this type of outside threat will continue to throw defenses off balance as long as they make them.
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Photos: (Top) Lakers guard Kobe Bryant saves the ball from going out of bounds during the first half Thursday night at Staples Center. (Bottom) Lakers guard Kobe Bryant blocks a shot by Knicks forward Bill Walker on Thursday night at Staples Center. Credits: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times