Knicks-Lakers Preview

Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks got the best of Kobe

Bryant and a Los Angeles Lakers team that was without two of its

best players earlier this month.

Things could be different this time around with Steve Nash and

Pau Gasol both back on the court.

Looking to continue their recent home domination in this series,

the surging Lakers try to extend their longest winning streak of

the season in a heavyweight showdown against the Knicks on

Christmas Day.

Bryant had 31 points, 10 rebounds and six assists while Dwight

Howard and Metta World Peace scored a combined 43, but Los Angeles

couldn’t keep up at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 13, falling

116-107 in coach Mike D’Antoni’s first game against New York since

his resignation in March.

“I wanted to beat them. I wanted to beat the Lakers, especially

protecting our home court,” Anthony said after scoring 30 on

10-of-15 shooting. “It had nothing to do with Mike. I wanted to

protect our home court and win the basketball game.”

The Lakers (13-14), though, have since put together four

straight victories, most recently pulling out a 118-115 overtime

win at Golden State in Nash’s much-anticipated return Saturday. The

eight-time All-Star had 12 points and nine assists in his first

action since missing nearly two months due to a small fracture in

his left leg, helping Los Angeles overcome a 14-point,

fourth-quarter deficit.

“It’s great to be back playing with these guys, it was very

painful to sit out,” said Nash, who played over 40 minutes. “I’m

happy I can contribute. We’re just trying to build a team and build

some spirit, where we go out there we know we got a chance to win

and we compete for it and try to earn it every night.

“I’m just anxious to play and get wins. We’ve won four in a row

and if we can keep this going, we put ourselves back in contention.

We should be a desperate team right now.”

Nash’s return appears to have come at just the right time for a

Lakers team starting to hit its stride.

“The guy is a winner. I think that we’re a completely different

team with him out there,” D’Antoni said of Nash, whom he also

coached in Phoenix. “The floor opens up and it changes

everything.”

Bryant, averaging 33.8 points over his last eight contests,

scored 34 on 16-of-41 shooting Saturday while Gasol had 10 boards

and six assists in his second game back since missing eight with

knee tendinitis.

Los Angeles has taken eight of nine from New York (20-7) at

home, including the last five by an average of 12.4 points. The

Lakers, though, know they’ll have their hands full in this one.

“Melo’s playing really well, we know that, so it starts with

him,” Gasol said. “But then you have (other) guys that are playing

also really well together, very experienced guys… . “It’s a tough

team, tough matchup.”

Anthony (28.3), who ranks second in the league in scoring to

Bryant (29.7), came up huge Sunday in a 94-91 victory over

Minnesota. The MVP candidate scored 19 of his 33 points in the

fourth quarter as New York bounced back from a loss to Chicago two

days earlier.

“This was a big game for us. Sunday afternoon game, tough one,

Christmas is right around the corner, we’re going on the road.

These are the kind of games that you lose, that you get lured

into,” said Tyson Chandler, who had 16 points and nine boards. “I

was proud of the guys for really being able to… gut it out and

get this win before we start this road trip.”

The Knicks, who open a three-game trek Tuesday, have won four of

five on the road.

No team has played more on Christmas Day than New York, which

has gone 22-25 in such games – including a 1-6 road record.

“There’s nothing like playing on Christmas,” Anthony said.