Against the now-under-Phil-Jackson’s-watch Knicks, there was no telling what kind of game the night had in store. Coming into tonight’s contest, New York’s record, despite showing just three more victories than the Lakers, was also just two games away from the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. With 12 games left in their season before today, the Knicks aren’t completely eliminated from the post-season yet, giving them every reason to beat the down-trodden Lakers. These Lakers, however, are playing for something as well – trying to avoid finishing with the worst record in franchise history.
After the first quarter, in which they scored just 14 points to the Knicks’ 22, the home team outscored the visitors 113-74 in the three quarters that followed, and led by as much as 33 points. The Lakers’ defense was active, the ball movement was key, and not even the absence of Pau Gasol (home with vertigo) and Jordan Farmar, not to mention the presence of Phil Jackson and Metta World Peace up in a box, could pose any obstacle or distraction that this team hasn’t already seen this season. A 127-96 victory for the purple and gold – how about that?
Bench – Without the on-again and off-again services of super vets, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, the core of this Laker team is a young one, and most of them come off the pine. Led by Xavier Henry, the Laker reserves took the reigns of this game, and, quite literally, ran off with it. Henry, despite learning that he had a torn ligament in his left (shooting) wrist, decided to play anyway, knowing that he couldn’t injure it any more than it already was. He said in a post-game interview that he just needed to warm up his wrist, and he knew it would be fine. He was more than fine, leading the team with his 22 points on 8-11 of 11 from the field, including 3-4 from downtown. In one sequence, he missed the second of two free throw attempts, grabbed the offensive board, scored, got fouled and returned to the charity stripe. Torn ligament be damned – Henry wasn’t planning on a quiet game. Just behind him was Nick Young, with 20 points on 6-10 and an efficient 5-6 from three; one three part of his sixth 4-point play of the season. Kent Bazemore, making the most of his minutes, chipped in 18 points himself on 7-14 and 2-4 from behind the arc and handed out five assists. Together, the Laker bench outscored the Knicks’ bench 82-21, accounting for 65% of the total score.
Ball Movement – 32 assists on 48 made field goals – makes those 17 turnovers seem almost irrelevant. Besides, 12 of those 17 were committed in the first half. Kendall Marshall led the way with nine dimes, followed by Ryan Kelly who handed out eight assists to go with his nine points, four rebounds and two steals.
Threeball – 18-28 three pointers for 54 points. This has been a key indicator of the Lakers’ few successes this past season. When they shoot well from behind the arc, they tend to win those games. The Lakers are fourth in the league in three-point percentage, at 38.2%. Tonight, 64.3%.
Record-Breakers – After the shame of earning the franchise’s record for worst loss in the 48-point beating by the Clippers, the Lakers created a new, more positive stat tonight. In the third quarter, which has been by far, their worst 12 minutes of play in seemingly every game, they set a new Lakers record for the most points scored in a quarter – 51 points. Yes, they gave up 31 points and 57% shooting to the Knicks, but they shot 73% from the field themselves; 6-9 from three, 7-8 from the free throw line, and 19-26 for the quarter. Their offensive efficiency was 204.0 on 91.9% True Shooting (Thank you for the stat, Forum Blue and Gold!).
Teamwork – Yes, this high point should go without saying, but there’s a lot to be said about this team. Despite a horrific season, plagued with injuries and embarrassing losses, this group of teammates still find a way to be supportive of each other and try to win, regardless of how seemingly trivial their goals have become. Chris Kaman, 13 points and nine rebounds, has lived on the bench all season long except for when Pau Gasol isn’t available, plays his rear end off when he does get a chance to play, like he did tonight. Ryan Kelly and Robert Sacre led the team on the +/- column with a +24 each, and not only because of their own production, but because of what they infuse into the game when they join their teammates on the floor. Wesley Johnson didn’t do a whole lot in terms of stats, but maybe that’s because he was glued to Carmelo Anthony to start the game. In the first quarter, Anthony was 0-6 from the field.
Slow Start – The Lakers led by as much as 33 points, managed to maintain that large lead, and won the game by 31. Let’s not nitpick, but if there was a low point to note, it would be their slow first quarter. They just didn’t look all that ready to play. They shot just 28% from the field and scored only 14 points.
Set a season high in points and the franchise record for most points in a quarter? Take THAT, Team Tank!
Next up – the Milwaukee Bucks with the worst record in the league.