LeBron James, Lakers Shocked by Kevin Knox, Knicks' Dramatic Late Run

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2019

NEW YORK, NY MARCH 17:  Kevin Knox #20 of the New York Knicks handles the ball against Kyle Kuzma #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the game on March 17, 2019 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE  (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Well, that's not how you tank.  

The New York Knicks pulled off a remarkable comeback Sunday afternoon, outscoring the Los Angeles Lakers 13-1 in the final three minutes and 45 seconds to pull off a 124-123 win.

Mario Hezonja was the hero, blocking LeBron James on the game's final possession. Not only did that seal the win, but it also provided NBA fans with a sequence they probably never thought they'd see.

Emmanuel Mudiay (28 points, eight assists), Damyean Dotson (25 points) and Kevin Knox (19 points) led the way for New York (14-56), while James was excellent until the game's final possession, scoring 33 points and adding eight assists and six rebounds.

Kyle Kuzma played the role of sidekick with 18 points and eight assists.

With both teams out of the postseason conversation, the result may have been better for the Lakers (31-39) in the big picture given the implications it will have on the draft order. The Knicks top-three lottery odds are probably secure, meanwhile, so the victory was a nice morale boost for the players.

              

Kyle Kuzma Must Prove He's a Long-Term Fit with LeBron

Sunday's loss to the Knicks was the perfect microcosm of the Lakers' season: James had a strong performance, nobody from the Lakers supporting cast showed up in a major way, and the Lakers lost a winnable game. 

The question surrounding the Lakers coming into the season was whether James could lead Los Angeles' odd combination of young players and ill-fitting veterans to success. The answer has been a resounding "no." The question for the rest of the season, then, will be whether a young player like Kuzma can prove he's a long-term piece next to James.

Kuzma throughout the season has looked like a decent fit with James, providing the potential to be a complementary stretch 4. He's averaged 18.6 points per game this season, though his struggles from three—he's shooting a woeful 30.7 percent—have been a concern. 

Of the team's young players, Kuzma nonetheless looks like the most seamless fit with James. Lonzo Ball has to sacrifice some of his playmaking abilities when he shares the court with James, though the Lakers have significantly struggled without Ball's presence, especially defensively.

And Brandon Ingram didn't mesh with James at all this season.

With those two players shut down for the year, Kuzma is now the clear sidekick for James down the stretch. It's his chance to show both the front office and James that he can provide the scoring punch and fit to be a factor on a contending team.

There have been signs Kuzma is looking to work on other parts of his game as well:

The Lakers won't be resting on their laurels this offseason. They'll be in the hunt for Anthony Davis once again on the trade market. They'll try to lure major free agents to sign in Los Angeles. If they fail at the first two options, they could get creative, kicking the doors on players like Bradley Beal and CJ McCollum in trade talks if the Washington Wizards decide to tank or the Portland Trail Blazers struggle again in the playoffs and look to surround Damian Lillard with different players.

The Lakers' young pieces will be available in a trade for a star. There's little question about that. Whether Kuzma is a player the Lakers willingly part with or try to keep at all costs will depend, at least partially, on how he plays down the stretch as the Lakers' clear No. 2 option behind James. 

                      

Kevin Knox's Resilience Through Struggles Vital to Knicks' Rebuild

The Knicks have no business pulling off a 13-1 comeback in the dying moments of a March game in a season where they are clearly tanking. More than a few teams would have thrown in the towel by now, but the Knicks are still fighting.

One of the players indicative of that spirit is Kevin Knox. 

By all measures, the rookie forward hasn't been very good in his first year, which is to be expected of a 19-year-old. He came into Sunday averaging 12.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and just 1.0 assists per game, but more troubling is the fact that he's shooting just 36.1 percent from the field and 33.9 percent from three. 

Those aren't great numbers, youth or not. He hasn't shown much of a knack for playmaking. He's lost on defense.

But Knox is grinding. 

In three of his last four games, for instance, he's shot at least 45 percent from the field. Baby steps. More importantly, Knox has taken the opportunity to learn from his veteran teammates, as he talked about on Friday per Marc Berman of the New York Post:

"It was a great opportunity to stay with the team, hang around with the veterans and see the NBA life. I can say a lot of rookies don't have that opportunity. There are a lot of rookies that've been in the G League and rookies that haven't seen the court at all on a regular basis. I'm grateful to be up here learning from guys, getting this experience. I'm happy about it because a lot of rookies don't get the opportunity I had."

Knox is fully aware that his shooting needs to improve.

"Just extra shots, extra work, staying confident in yourself to keep shooting," he said. "It was definitely good to see the ball go through the rim. I airballed the first shot (in Indy) and made my next two. It's me keeping confident, to find that stroke helped me a lot."

That mentality—keep working, stay confident, use every game as a learning tool—is the mentality all the Knicks should have. Players like Mudiay, Hezonja, Dotson, Mitchell Robinson and Dennis Smith Jr. (when he returns from injury) don't have a lot to play for this year, but who knows what next season will look like for them.

Some will be fighting to prove they can still fill a need for other teams come the offseason. Some of New York's young players, meanwhile, could see their fates change dramatically next year. Maybe they'll stay in New York as role players for a Knicks team that signs star free agents. Maybe they'll be traded elsewhere to bring aboard a star, as the Knicks will surely inquire about Anthony Davis.

Or maybe they'll still be the young building blocks for a young Knicks team. Regardless, even in a lost season, there is still plenty to play for and plenty to prove. There will be people paying attention to how they handle these final games.

Knox and his teammates haven't been very good in 2018-19, but that doesn't mean they should stop fighting. Let the front office and fans worry about tanking. Knox and his teammates should be scrapping like they did Sunday.            

                                                  

What's Next?

The Lakers will travel to face the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night at 8 p.m. ET, while the Knicks will travel to Toronto for a 7:30 ET game on Monday night against the Raptors.

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