Extra Pass: Knicks look to bounce back vs. Lakers

Published March 12, 2023, 3:00 PMMiguel Flores

The Knicks are in the middle of a three-game skid, while the Lakers are winners of three straight games.

What's up with the Knicks?

Don’t let their recent three-game skid fool you, the New York Knicks have been great this season.

The Knicks have a 39-30 record, sitting at fifth in the East, tied with their neighbors, the Brooklyn Nets. If you removed their rough first month of the season, the Knicks have been one of the top teams in the league on both ends of the court. That’s all thanks to some forced innovation.

The Knicks aren’t the best 3-point shooting team, but they’ve significantly upped their volume compared to last season. They've also focused on crashing the offensive glass while trying to restrict opponents’ 3-point chances.

Has that resulted in elite basketball? Sort of. The Knicks are ranked sixth in the season in offensive rating and 16th in defensive rating. It hasn’t always been smooth and Knicks games have been incredible for that reason. In one game, they’re beating the Boston Celtics handily, and in the next, they’re struggling against the Indiana Pacers.

Sort of good is also a good way to describe New York’s star players in Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson. They don’t dominate games like how other team’s superstars do and they definitely don’t have smooth games like other teams. But that doesn’t keep them from taking over games and leaving other teams shook.

Randle is recovering well from a down year last season, averaging 25.2 points on 54.2 effective field goal percentage with 10.4 rebounds. He didn't have to change his game much to become an All-Star again this season – he just embraced the Don Julio vibes of blending the bully ball with his unique midrange game.

Ditto for Jalen Brunson, who finally gave New York a point guard they can be proud of. He's the definition of unorthodox, blending Tony Parker-like change of pace with the dogged physicality of an ‘80s guard like Sidney Moncrief. He’s averaging 23.8 points and 6.1 assists. Most importantly, he’s second in the league in clutch points, providing the late-game presence the Knicks have longed for.

The bad news is Brunson is likely out for tomorrow as he continues to deal with an ankle injury. That’s going to put a lot more pressure on the former Laker Julius Randle.

What’s up with the Lakers?

Yesterday, “Lakers in 4” was trending on Twitter in the United States. It’s safe to say excitement is back in Los Angeles, and this is with LeBron James still weeks away from returning.

Since the Lakers’ eventful trade deadline, they are 7-3. It’s astounding how the Lakers suddenly transformed their roster bereft of shooting and defense into a team that has more than adequate role players filling those needs. D’Angelo Russell returned from an ankle injury in their most recent win against Toronto and dropped 28 points and nine assists. Malik Beasley has been a solid spot-up shooter.

By far the most impactful addition has been Jared Vanderbilt. The fourth year big man has brought some much needed defensive versatility. Six-foot-10 with great footwork, Vanderbilt has been deployed on opposing team’s best players and he’s thrived. He’s bounced around the league since being drafted in the second round by the Denver Nuggets in 2018, but he’s found a home with the Lakers.

By far, the biggest reason for the Lakers’ success has been Anthony Davis. Over the last two weeks, Davis is averaging 28.8 points on 56.4 percent shooting with 13.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game. He’s returning to his early season form, before a foot injury sidelined him in December.

Davis has given the Lakers the star power to topple teams on any given night. But the beauty of this renewed Lakers lineup is they’ve found ways to win, even when he’s having an off night. He had just eight points against the Raptors, but the Lakers still pulled out the win thanks to their 3-point shooting.

That’s something the Lakers would not have been capable of last month. They somehow got younger and rangier, when they barely had any trade capital this season. Los Angeles is now just one game behind the Dallas Mavericks for the sixth seed at 33-34.

Where to watch

Catch this game live on NBA TV Philippines or NBA League Pass at 9:00 AM. This will be the Knicks’ second game of back-to-back, so the Lakers could turn this into a rout early. But New York has been hard to count out all season.