The Los Angeles Lakers, two time defending champions take on, for the first time this season, a team they have beaten six straight times, the New York Knicks. The Knicks (21-15) are a surprise team out of the East, known for their pheretic style of basketball and newly acquired five time all-star Arame Stoudamire, who rejoins his former and second year Knick coach Mike Dantoni. The Knicks style is run and gun, they rebound and go, take a shot with in six or seven seconds, have a shooters roster, but lack size. The Lakers should dominant this facet of the game, Andrew Bynum has returned and is starting, allowing all-star center Pau Gasol to slide back to power forward, his natural position. The move relieves Pau of the constant beating and banging in the paint, gives him the option of stepping out, or staying close to the basket. Together they work well, a lot of high man low post action, tough to guard two seven footers.
Kobe Bryant recently passed Oscar Robinson in all time points scored, moving him into ninth all time with 26,747. He is currently 4th in the league ppg at 25.2, and averaging his lowest mpg 33.1 since the 97-98 season, but with the recent knee injury to Matt Barnes, one could expect his minutes to increase. In a post game interview after the New Orleans Hornets contest, Kobe touched on his respect of “The Big O”, what part of his game he admired most, and how he is chasing Bill Russell’s list, not the scoring title.
Bryant’s legs looked rejuvenated. He had great bounce and his first step dynamic as usual, defensive prowess high, and energy upbeat. Lots of physical play with the rookie Landry Fields. Used his mental advantage most of the game, a step ahead with moves to the basket, pump fakes, dribble pull-ups, jab steps, and backdoor cuts. Bryant backdoored Fields for a powerful dunk, which he set up by great footwork, noticed Fields biting on each fake, gave him a mis-direction move and ended up at the rim. He worked hard with out the ball and made sharp cuts; because of this he got a lot of good looks. More than a hand full rimmed out, some off balance, others standard jumpers. Bryant seemed motivated by Fields defensive energy. His penetration, crossover, and ability to hit the tough shot all showed at one point or another. Kobe made the rookie pay on D, attacking the gaps aggressively, and getting to the rim at will. The lack of the Knicks presence in the post opened lanes to the basket. He finished with a game high 27 pts, 10 reb, 5 ast.
The real talk about the game is the outstanding post play of Andrew Bynum. He held Stoudamire to 31% on 7-24 shooting, and was very physical on the block. Bynum went 8-15 from the field, worked hard enough on his post position pre-entry, that most attempts were point blank. He received the ball at the rim trip after trip, finishing with 18 pts, 7reb, and 2 blk in 25 min. The relief Bynum’s presence brings to Gasol showed as Pau finished with a quiet 20 pts, 14 reb, 4 blks, and 4 ast. With Bynum in the starting line up Gasol has the ability step outside and work his mid range shot. It’s a luxury having Lamar Odom come off the bench. He’s versatile, hits threes, gets to the basket, and can run the offense. Odom has been hitting the boards hard as of late, collecting nine or more rebounds in four straight games, and finished tonight’s contest with 13 pts, 18 reb, 4 ast, great numbers for a 6th man. Shannon Brown scored 16 off the bench, knocking down key three’s, and electrifying dunks.
The Lakers have won seven of their last eight, including four in a row. They play host to another eastern conference team, the 8-29 Cleveland Cavaliers, Tuesday night. This should be an easy victory as Cleveland is struggling this season to find their identity. Like the Knicks, Cavaliers lack size and depth. Should be an easy win, in fact the Lakers next four opponents combined record is 45-102. Easy to think L.A will win those four, and hold an 8 game win streak heading into the Oklahoma City Thunder contest, Jan 17th.