The New York Knicks will continue their five-game road trip on Sunday, December 11. What are the keys to defeating the Los Angeles Lakers?
Dec 9, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) talks with forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) during the second half at Golden 1 Center. The Knicks defeated the Kings 103-100. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
The New York Knicks began their five-game road trip in a positive manner with a 103-100 victory over the Sacramento Kings. It wasn’t the prettiest performance of the season, but the Knicks gutted one out to improve to 13-10.
In the second of five consecutive games away from Madison Square Garden, the Knicks will place the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center.
The Knicks enter Los Angeles at 13-10 overall and 4-6 on the road, while Los Angeles is 10-15 overall and 6-6 at home. The Lakers are on a five-game losing streak, but Luke Walton has his team fighting and flourishing.
For anyone who thinks Los Angeles is a team to overlook, it’s already defeated the Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors, and Oklahoma City Thunder.
New York has won three consecutive road games. It overcame the Minnesota Timberwolves 106-104, Miami Heat 114-103, and Sacramento Kings 103-100 to shake its road woes and snap its four-game losing streak away from Madison Square Garden.
The question is: what must the New York Knicks do to maintain the momentum improve to four games above .500?
Dec 9, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; New York Knicks guard Brandon Jennings (3) drives past Sacramento Kings guard Darren Collison (7) during the first quarter at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
5. Limit Turnovers
The New York Knicks did a poor job of taking care of the ball during the 103-100 victory over the Sacramento Kings. They moved the ball quite well, but costly turnovers were the story of the second half and the reason New York couldn’t pull away.
If the Knicks commit a high number of turnovers against the Los Angeles Lakers, the game will likely be lost on that point alone.
New York committed 16 turnovers against the Kings, but benefited from Sacramento only turning that into nine points. The Knicks scored 25 points off of turnovers themselves, but that isn’t the story in this instance.
The Knicks can’t give the Lakers any additional opportunities to push the pace and get out in transition by committing turnovers.
Sacramento may have been unsuccessful in doing so, but the Lakers will take errant passes and turn them into two points on the other end. There are a number of explosive athletes who will be waiting in the wings to create in transition.
That’s another topic entirely, but the Knicks will need to limit turnovers to prevent one of Los Angeles’ primary forms of offense from flourishing.
Dec 9, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; New York Knicks center Kyle O’Quinn (9) talks with center Joakim Noah (13) during the second half at Golden 1 Center. The Knicks defeated the Kings 103-100. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
4. The Centers
The New York Knicks have an opportunity to slow the game down and exploit a positional advantage against the Los Angeles Lakers. That will be the key to overcoming the Lakers’ torrid pace and securing a key victory.
Timofey Mozgov and Tarik Black can make their mark against the Knicks, but Joakim Noah and Kyle O’Quinn should win this matchup.
Noah and O’Quinn have been dominant on the boards in recent games, which is a promising sign for this game. That includes the Sacramento Kings game, when Noah and O’Quinn combined for 20 total rebounds and six offensive boards in a combined 48 minutes.
Both are also exceptional passers and sensational defensive players—when committed—who can anchor the interior.
Being able to control the defensive glass will prevent an explosive Lakers team from receiving second chances to score. Dominating the offensive glass will enable New York to both slow down the pace and work more efficiently.
New York has been erratic on the defensive glass in 2016-17, but this is the type of game that the big men could decide.
Dec 2, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Los Angeles Lakers point guard Lou Williams (23) warms up before the start of their game against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Lakers 113-80. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
3. Contain Lou Williams
The Los Angeles Lakers are learning first-hand why Lou Williams is a former Sixth Man of the Year. He’s been nothing short of sensational during the 2016-17 NBA regular season, including a four-game stretch for the ages.
In case you haven’t heard, Williams is currently playing at an All-Star level and making history for the Lakers.
Williams is averaging 19.3 points on a slash line of .461/.406/.860 through 25 appearances. That’s a tremendous level of volume and efficiency, with the past four games displaying just how dominant Williams can be when at his best.
Thus, if the Knicks are going to win this road game, then one of the primary areas of focus must be containing Williams.
Whether or not D’Angelo Russell plays, the Lakers will have to remain close to Williams at all times. He can create space with his handle, drive the lane, space the floor from beyond the arc, and finish at the rim.
Los Angeles has a deep and explosive offensive unit, but if any one player can hurt the Knicks as a scorer, it’s going to be Williams.
Dec 9, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle (30) dunks the ball against the Phoenix Suns during a NBA basketball game at Staples Center. The Suns defeated the Lakers 119-115. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
2. Transition Defense
The New York Knicks have been underwhelming on defense during the 2016-17 NBA regular season. They’e improved on defense during home games, but have been rather underwhelming and absent of energy on the road.
If the Knicks come out with the same lackadaisical approach in Los Angeles, the Lakers will run up the score and secure an extreme advantage.
The Knicks have the personnel to play at a high level on defense—both in transition and in the half court. Playing without energy has been one of the primary issues for the Knicks in 2016-17, however, which is why success against the Lakers could be elusive.
New York and Los Angeles both aim to push the pace, but the Knicks are the team that’s more likely to struggle on defense. Energy will be key.
Dec 9, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; New York Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) shakes hands with head coach Jeff Hornacek during the second half at Golden 1 Center. The Knicks defeated the Kings 103-100. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
1. Kristaps Porzingis
Over the course of the first 18 games of the 2016-17 NBA regular season, Kristaps Porzingis was playing at an All-Star level. He’s improved in areas outside of his scoring in the five games since, but his scoring has regressed by a dramatic measure.
If the New York Knicks are going to pick up a fourth consecutive road victory, they’ll need Porzingis to play like himself again.
Over the past five games, Porzingis is averaging just 13.8 points in 34.2 minutes on a slash line of .313/.231/.765. He’s been rebounding and defending at significantly higher levels, but his shot has gone ice cold.
During those five outings, Porzingis shot 2-of-12, 6-of-18, 6-of-16, 5-of-15, and 6-of-19 from the field.
Against the Lakers, the Knicks will need Porzingis to play more like himself and contribute at a high level. Carmelo Anthony will likely be the go-to scorer and Derrick Rose expects to be back in the lineup, but Porzingis’ ability to contribute 15-to-20 efficient points is critical to the flow of the offense.
The Knicks have improved defensively, but the Lakers have enough depth to give them fits, which is why the stars must shine.