The Lakers came back from a loss to the Cavaliers on Thursday to beat the Knicks 115-105 Friday night. Beating the Knicks, and beating them by 10 points on the road is about what you would expect from the defending champs. Offensively the Lakers usually looked good.; defensively though, they had some major issues.
The Lakers have a huge size advantage on the Knicks. The Knicks have no one who can match up with Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum and don't even really have someone with the same size and strength as Lamar Odom. The Lakers went to the post time and time again and it was working. Gasol and Bynum combined to go 14 of 21 from the field for 39 points. The Knicks tried to counter by doubling in the post but that left the perimeter players with wide open three-pointers. Looking at the box score one might think the Lakers were lucky hitting 12 of 23 three-pointers but most NBA players will hit 50 percent when they're wide open. This is why the Lakers should actually be a better three-point shooting team. With the types of looks they get they should be hitting 40 percent as opposed to their average of 35 percent.
The offensive part of their game that wasn't working was Kobe Bryant. The four other starters combined to shoot 61 percent. Bryant shot 33 percent, hitting eight of 24 shots for 27 points. Some think he should sit out a couple games and recover from his injuries. I'm fine with him being in the game because he still demands double teams and is a good passer but I'd like to see him be more selective with the shots he takes.
On Thursday the Lakers had no answer for LeBron James; tonight they had no answer for David Lee. The problem is the Knicks are too small and the Lakers are too big. Lamar Odom or Ron Artest would do a much better job defending Lee than Gasol but then who would Gasol guard? Al Harrington? Wilson Chandler? Danilo Gallinari? Gasol had to guard Lee and Lee took full advantage of that mismatch. He had a game-high 31 points and 17 rebounds and also added four assists.
The part that was most discouraging was the Lakers lack of hustle. In the first game against the Knicks they outrebounded them by 24. This time, the Knicks actually held a 42-40 edge on the boards. How does this Lakers team get outrebounded by the Knicks? It really comes down to hustle. Clearly, they have the size advantage, as demonstrated by the offensive production of their big men but they were simply outhustled.
Sometimes it seems the Lakers are just too big. When they essentially exchanged Trevor Ariza for Artest, it was supposed to be an upgrade on the defensive end. But it seems like it just creates mismatches. If the Lakers have Gasol, Bynum and Artest in there they are a slow team. Artest can't guard the quicker perimeter players like Ariza could. In the fourth, Jackson pulled Artest in favor of playing a second guard. He had Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown on the court along with Kobe Bryant and the defense looked much better. In the first three quarters the Knicks turned it over just once; in the fourth they turned it over six times.
Sometimes Artest is the right player to have on the court but Phil Jackson has to realize the opposition's strengths and weaknesses earlier and adjust playing time accordingly. This is a very negative post for a 10-point win on the road but the Lakers aren't playing with any intensity and if they want to assure home court advantage throughout the playoffs, they need to learn from every game and improve.
Game Notes: Let's add just one more negative piece, shall we? Early in the game after a made bucket by the Knicks, Bryant inbounded to Bynum who proceeded to take the ball out of bounds to inbound the ball again. Sorry, but that's a travel and a quick turnover the Knicks converted into two more points. Talk about lack of focus.