After a fairly disappointing first battle in New York a little less than two weeks ago, the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks will battle again on Christmas Day, as Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony will be front and center at Staples Center.
Anthony was at his finest the last time these two teams met, but unfortunately, his night was cut short, as he sprained his ankle in the third quarter.
Bryant was quite productive at Madison Square Garden, as he brought the Lakers back into the game and made it competitive at the end, although he required a fair amount of shots to do so.
But this time around, things promise to be far more different.
In the same manner that Jason Kidd has been instrumental to the Knickerbockers with his leadership, playmaking, shooting and overall intangibles, an argument could be made that Steve Nash brings the same things to the table for the Purple and Gold and might, in fact, be more important to his team than his former mentor is to his.
Oddly enough, two of the best point guards in NBA history will rarely match up against each other given that the former Maverick now starts at shooting guard, and thus, will be called upon to defend the Black Mamba.
Consequently, Nash will probably get stuck defending Raymond Felton, whose eyes will undoubtedly light up when he sees Kid Canada guarding him.
Mike D’Antoni will have the option of hiding Nash on Corey Brewer, and thus have Darius Morris defend Felton; but that strategy would require Pau Gasol to defend Carmelo Anthony in what may be an impossible defensive matchup for the Spaniard.
The other options at the coaching staff’s disposal would revolve around the backcourts matching up with each other while Bryant guards Anthony in what would be branded as an advantageous matchup for the Knicks. Perhaps sliding World Peace into the starting lineup will offer the Lakers the best course of action here, especially when taking into account how effective the five-man group of Nash, Bryant, MWP, Gasol and Howard has been.
According to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool, the quintet has played 50 minutes together this season and has yielded a mere 92.2 points per 48 minutes on 44.1 percent field goal shooting. For the sake of perspective, that figure would place them at fifth in points allowed per game in the NBA this season. Thus, inserting World Peace in for Morris or Ebanks into the starting group may very well be in the cards.
With that said, the New York Knicks are playing some terrific basketball and should probably be expected to put on a strong defensive showing against the Lakers thanks in large part to a unit that plays well in concert on that end of the court, particularly because it has Tyson Chandler as the team’s defensive anchor patrolling the paint.
In addition, the Orange and Blue will look to make it rain from three-point range, which may end up being either a good, great or awful thing altogether.
As it pertains to the Lakers, we have not yet had the chance to see the Nash and Howard pick-and-roll to full effect under D’Antoni given D12’s propensity for fouls against the Golden State Warriors in the former two-time MVP’s return.
Nonetheless, it should be interesting and possibly fun to watch Nash run the action with the former Defensive Player of the Year and suck in defenders to create open jumpers for perimeter players. The world will obviously be paying attention to the effectiveness of the play, especially with Pau Gasol on the court, since many are arguing that the spacing promises to be poor with him on the floor alongside Howard.
As intrigued as I am by the prospect of the Nash and Howard pick-and-roll with Pau on the floor, watching it unfold without the two-time NBA champion will also be an intriguing look for the Lakers. Indeed, a five-man unit composed of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Jodie Meeks, Metta World Peace and Dwight Howard might have the potential to not only open up the floor, but also be a lethal offensive group given the perimeter shooting it would offer.
Mind you, it’s worth noting the unit that closed out the fourth quarter against the Warriors featured Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Gasol and Howard, and it is more than likely the best five-man group the Lakers have to offer in terms of balance offensively and defensively.
NBA.com also tells us that the group produces 102.7 points per 48 minutes on 51.9 percent field-goal shooting. Again, for the sake of perspective, the points scored would pretty much be on par with what they’ve done so far this season, but the conversion rate from the field would be the best in the league.
When we add it all up together, it all points to one thing: The Los Angeles Lakers might finally be ready for prime time this season.
Statistical support provided by NBA.com.