Game: Lakers (13-14) vs. New York Knicks (20-7)
Channel: Channel 7 (ABC)
Where: Staples Center
A festive atmosphere permeated the Lakers locker room as they awaited their Christmas Day game against the New York Knicks.
Dwight Howard talked with Pau Gasol about his hope that all his teammates clap their knees and make a hissing noise once the Lakers public announcer Lawrence Tanter says Kobe Bryant’s name during starting lineup introductions. Teammates opened up gift bags given by Bryant himself. Of course, the Lakers also seem in the holiday spirit after reeling off four consecutive victories, the latest one a overtime win Saturday over Golden State that coincided with Steve Nash’s return from a prolonged injury.
It remains to be seen whether the Lakers’ holiday spirit will prove as lively once they play New York.
The Lakers have a 4-9 record in their 13 consecutive Christmas Day appearances. The Lakers are also less than two weeks removed from their 116-107 loss Dec. 13 to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. In that game, Carmelo Anthony poured on a team-high 30 points, including 22 in the first quarter. Anthony likely would’ve scored more if not for an ankle injury that sidelined him for most of the second half.
That’s partly why Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni will start second-year player Darius Morris at shooting guard to defend Anthony instead of featuring touted defender Metta World Peace.
“We think we can get up into him and get him help from other people with the way they start,” D’Antoni said. “Later on, they’ll put shooters all over the floor and Metta is going to have to be fresh and ready and guard him one on one more. That’s the thought process. Plus, we won four in a row like this. We don’t want to keep messing around. I can change after a minute if I don’t like it. It’s not a big deal.”
The Lakers’ concerns with the Knicks go beyond Anthony, who ranks second in the league in scoring (28.3 points per game). After all, Kobe Bryant, who leads the league in scoring at 29.7 points per game, could balance out Anthony’s scoring punch with more high profile shots.
The Knicks rank fifth in total offense (102.8 points per game) and second in 3-point field-goal percentage (40.4 percent). New York’s lineup featuring Anthony, Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, J.R. Smith and Tyson Chandler rank fifth in the NBA with a plus-68 rating. D’Antoni touted Chandler as “one of the best players in the game” for his defense, pick-and-roll execution and locker room presence.
But the Lakers believe Nash’s presence has marked a turning point in the team’s development.
“Everybody has more confidence and the ball moves a bit better. Kobe took 41 shots. [against Golden State], but you don’t even know it because we want him to take a lot of shots,” D’Antoni said. “Everyone feels like there is an equal opportunity because Steve has the ball and he’s looking for guys.”