Suddenly, we are a quarter of the way through the season. It’s been weird.
The Knicks have looked much better than the Heat in their two meetings, Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant have murdered Father Time, and Andray Blatche is a relevant player after 20 games. It’s not an insignificant sample size, but I wouldn’t be surprised if none of these trends held.
Every matchup seems so meaningful this early, and for teams like the Lakers and Knicks, the upheaval seems to never end. Two of the most scrutinized teams in basketball meet in Madison Square Garden this week, and it’s my game of the week.
Kobe Bryant has been in the NBA for nearly 20 years, logging more than 43,000 minutes and 30,000 points. He should be in the twilight of his career. And yet, he’s playing better than ever. As usual, he has taken it upon himself to shoulder the scoring load for the Lakers, and he has delivered at what would be his most efficient clip yet. But with Steve Nash out, he has also put in time as a distributor. With Iman Shumpert still recovering from knee surgery, the Knicks will probably ask Ronnie Brewer and J.R. Smith to tame the Mamba. They’ll have their hands full -Kobe loves playing in the Garden.
Tyson Chandler has been a ravenous beast in his last few games. Chandler makes the most of a very limited skill set on offense. Though his effective range on offense is about five feet away from the basket, he’s still one of the most effective roll men in the league. He’s also the Knicks’ best rebounder, especially on offense, and their most important defender, allowing New York to leave Jason Kidd on the floor for extended stretches. After putting on a clinic in offensive efficiency last year, Chandler’s field goal percentage is even higher this year. He will be mainly be occupied Thursday with corralling Dwight Howard, in an increasingly rare matchup of great centers. Chandler has been a step slower on defense this year, but it looks like he is in for another terrific year.
What to Watch For
The Lakers are the most prolific team in the league when it comes to getting to the line. Sounds great, right? The problem is, Dwight Howard accounts for about a third of their free throw attempts and they are not among his many talents. The Knicks’ aren’t a particularly foul-prone team, and they certainly don’t want Tyson Chandler sitting any more than they can help, but it will be interesting if they will ask some of the guys on the far end of the bench to use their fouls on Howard. While the Knicks shoot threes like a Mike D’Antoni team, they don’t run like one, and sending Howard to the line is an easy way to slow the game down. If you haven’t heard the phrase “Ball don’t lie” before, this game may be a good introduction.
A big reason the Knicks have been so successful is that they consistently win the turnover battle. They take care of the ball better than anyone else in the league, and they force turnovers at a pretty good clip, too. The Lakers are just the opposite. They cough the ball up a lot, and they don’t get a lot of takeaways. One or both of those things will have to change if the Lakers are going to win.
A third thing to look for is the size matchup. The Knicks have been playing Carmelo Anthony at the four, and it will be interesting to see whether Mike D’Antoni assigns Metta World Peace or Pau Gasol, if healthy, to defend him.
Why Else Should I Watch?
To see how much jawing takes place between Kobe Bryant and Spike Lee. And of course, to see America’s Sweetheart, Rasheed Wallace.
TNT, 8 p.m. eastern time
League Pass Bonus Game
Memphis Grizzlies at Utah Jazz, Saturday, 9 p.m. eastern time. The Jazz have been surprisingly decent, and how often do you get to see two big teams match up?