Below are five things to take from Lakers’ 127-96 victory Tuesday over New York Knicks at Staples Center:
1. The Lakers played as if they are competing for the playoffs. The Lakers’ two-game winning streak may bring some positive energy in the locker room. The victory may have hurt the postseason fortunes for the Knicks (29-42), which are 3 1/2 games behind the Atlanta Hawks (31-38) for the Eastern Conference’s eight playoff spot. But this surprising success creates a negative cloud surrounding the Lakers’ NBA lottery chances. The Lakers (24-46) have a two-game lead over the Utah Jazz (23-48) for the NBA’s fifth worst record. That gives the Lakers a 8.8 percent chance of winning the lottery, as opposed to a 11.9 percent chance if they finish fourth.
2. The Lakers actually played defense. No this is not a misprint. The Lakers actually stopped an opponent. Yes, Carmelo Anthony’s 29 points came on a 10 of 21 clip, including missing his first six shots. Yes, the Lakers held New York to an atrocious 26.7 percent from three-point range. Yes, the Lakers outrebounded the Knicks, 38-32. Yes, the Lakers limited the Knicks in fast-break points (nine).
The Lakers may have faced an addition-by-subtraction scenario where Pau Gasol’s absence because of vertigo thrust Chris Kaman and Jordan Hill into elevated defensive roles. The Knicks also appear dysfunctional. But the Lakers’ hustle coupled with consistent ball movement that ensured five players reaching double figures and a franchise record 51 points contributed to the team suddenly finding a defensive identity.
3. Xavier Henry thrives through the pain.
He was not kidding when he vowed that, for better and for worse, the torn ligament in his left wrist that needs offseason surgery would not change the way he played. Henry scored a team-leading 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting on plays considered unimaginable for a player nursing such a serious injury. Henry drove to the basket with constant aggression. He attempted and sank open jumpers. Henry hustled on every play. In other words, Henry played how he normally plays when he has a healthy wrist.
4. Chris Kaman and Jordan Hill take advantage of the big-man game. After spending most of the season resisting a front-court heavy lineup, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni relented. Kaman started because of Gasol’s illness despite sitting out for the past 10 games. Hill started for the second consecutive game after showing dependable injury since sitting out this month with an injured knee. Both Kaman and Hill showed a big lineup can work by combining for 24 points and 14 rebounds.
5. Kent Bazemore and Nick Young continues to improve. But Young (20 points on 6 of 10 shooting) and Bazemore (18 points on 7 of 14 shooting) received their numbers in ways that show their athleticism. Young made his sixth four-point play and hit stepback jumper after stepback jumper. Bazemore drove to the rack and hit from the mid-range. But both small forwards thrived because they resisted one-on-one play and worked off of consistent ball movement.