By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Lakers | Staples Center
When: Tuesday | 10:30 PM
Where to Watch: MSG
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York (29-41): This season is coming down to the wire for the Knicks, who are 2.5 games out of the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot with 12 games left to play. Cleveland halted New York's win streak at eight games on Sunday at MSG, but with Atlanta losing its third straight game on Monday night, the Knicks remain in position to make a run as they embark on this five-game, seven-day road trip up the west coast.
Lakers (23-46): These aren't the same Lakers we're used to seeing, the most notable difference being Kobe Bryant's absence for all but six games this year. The Black Mamba has been ruled out for the year with a left tibial plateau fracture and back/hamstring issues have limited Steve Nash to just 11 games. Pau Gasol, the team's leading scorer (17.5 ppg) and rebounder (9.8 reb) has been a bright spot this season but is listed as doubtful for tonight with vertigo. Indeed, it's a rebuilding season for the purple and gold, who rank 22nd in the NBA in offensive efficiency and 28th on defense.
The Numbers Game
The Knicks have climbed back to their usual spot near the top of the NBA's turnover list -- they average only 12.9 per game, good for the second fewest in the league.
Matchup to Watch
J.R. Smith vs. Nick Young
The Lakers signed Young to help fill the scoring void left by Bryant, who entered the year recovering from an achilles injury. He's performed this impossible task quite admirably, reaching a career-high level of scoring efficiency (54.6 true shooting percentage) and providing his trademark upbeat attitude amidst the losing in Los Angeles. Smith, often considered the prototype for this type of scoring wing player, is a better 3-point shooter, rebounder and passer and has really found his comfort zone in the Knicks' starting lineup, scoring 14 points per game and shooting over 41 percent from three over the win streak.
What to Look For
After Sunday's loss to the Cavs, the Knicks were all aware of the opportunity they squandered to pick up ground in the standings. Following another Hawks loss, New York has to be looking at tonight and tomorrow (at Sacramento) as "must-win" types of games...Carmelo Anthony was on fire for three quarters against Cleveland, but managed only four of his 32 points -- all free throws -- in the 4th. Whether it was fatigue or poor offensive execution down the stretch, the Knicks can't afford to let an inferior team like the Lakers hang around until the end...Amar'e Stoudemire has averaged about 28 minutes per game over the last eight, producing 17 points on over 55 percent shooting.