By Craig Kwasniewski
It took half of a quarter, but once the Lakers were able to adjust to the Knicks pace, they put together a collective defensive effort not seen in weeks and easily beat New York 109-87. Here are a few brief observations from my seat high up in section 316:
Tonight was easily Bynum's best effort of the season. Somewhere in a pub in the South Bay Jim Buss is doing body shots and patting himself on the back. I never thought I'd say this while Pau Gasol is still in his prime, but the Lakers need a healthy Andrew Bynum to contend this year. Easily this was his best effort of the season. Before the dubious ejection early in the 4th quarter, Bynum's length held Amar'e at bay. Blocked shots, offensive rebounds and a sweet throw down RIGHT ON Stoudemire summed up the night. The Knicks only got back into the game when Drew was on the bench in the third quarter. Then Bynum was called for a foul on a clean block and questioned Leon Wood, literally asking "What did I do wrong?" No foul language, just a shrug and a question...
You're outta here! It's like Wood decided right at that moment to enact the "no complaining rule", you know the one that they stopped enforcing mid December...like EVERY "new rule." It really made no sense. But hey, we pay a ton of money to see a refs and not the players. Fortunately the Lakers rallied behind their lost teammate and won easily down the stretch.
A good Knicks team always raises the energy in the crowd. NY pride from all the expats showed up in force tonight. A lot of orange and blue and a lot of that typical NY attitude. It makes every game seem like an event. As always, the NBA is a better league when the Knicks are relevant.
Pau Gasol is over-thinking on offense. Darius Soriano at Forumblueandgold.com pointed out that Pau has such an array of offensive moves that he sometimes spends too much time contemplating in the post. Whatever it is, he's not as fluid down low as he was in November. Instead he gets the ball and spends a good 4 to 6 seconds over-analyzing the situation. It causes the defense to rotate and over-play his passing lanes. Instead of a quick fluid move (and/or pass), Pau is stuck in place and left trying to draw a foul or hitting Kobe for a bailout shot. Trust your instincts and commit early in the possession Pau!
Steve Blake contributed much needed minutes on the floor. It really didn't matter if Steve Blake lit up the boxscore tonight. All that mattered was that the Lakers didn't need to replace both his and Matt Barnes minutes tonight. Barnes will probably be out at least 5 weeks, but it's hard on a veteran team with potentially two major rotation players out. Criticize Blake's drop in production, but they needed him tonight.
Artest was in 2009-10 form. Hey it could be New York but the fan in me hopes it's Barnes going down that brought out a more aggressive Ron Artest tonight. The Knicks run that fast-paced SSOL system and have a reputation for being a tad soft. Artest came out and played physical east coast basketball all night. Sure he had his typical open-court turnovers (simply put: he is a mess in the open court, he must have plied his game on a half court back in Queensbridge. He can not run and dribble at all... AT ALL!), but he did have two separate incidences meant to send a message. He did his "was that me?" move with arms up high while locked in with another player (like he'd did TWICE with Pierce last year) in the first half. But the REAL message was knocking down Amar'e as he came crashing down the lane in the second half. It was aggressive but unlike the Miami game, a controlled aggression with the sole purpose of sending a message: not tonight. We'll see if he brings the same game on Tuesday against Cleveland.
Overall, the Lakers don't have the athleticism to run and gun with the likes of New York or Miami so they need a cohesive and smart effort on both ends. Tonight was one of those nights, probably bolstered because it's New York. Whatever, it's still a great cerebral win.