The Los Angeles Lakers have hit the ground running in the new year.
Los Angeles extended its winning streak to six games Tuesday with a 117-87 victory over the New York Knicks at Staples Center. LeBron James led the way for a Lakers team that sits atop the Western Conference standings with a 30-7 record, but there was plenty of concern after Anthony Davis exited when he fell hard on his lower back in the third quarter.
Mike Trudell of Spectrum SportsNet reported Davis suffered a sacral contusion, although X-rays were negative.
As for the Knicks, they have lost three in a row and are an ugly 10-27 on the campaign.
Notable Player Stats
- LAL F LeBron James: 31 points, five assists, five rebounds and two steals
- LAL F Kyle Kuzma: 16 points and six rebounds
- LAL F Anthony Davis: five points, six rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks
- NYK G RJ Barrett: 19 points and five rebounds
Game Takes a Backseat to Injury Concern for Lakers
As it turns out, the Lakers' biggest health concern Tuesday was not the fact that James was a game-time decision because of an illness.
The King took the floor and was aggressive from the start, attacking the basket off the dribble, launching from deep when New York sagged off him and using his overpowering combination of strength and quickness to pour in 15 points in the first half alone as the Purple and Gold largely put the game away before intermission.
It was no surprise a balanced Lakers squad that entered play fourth in the league in offensive and defensive rating, per NBA.com, handled the lackluster Knicks. Los Angeles swarmed to New York's perimeter shooters (holding the visitors to 20 percent shooting from deep) and forced 17 turnovers to prevent any realistic comeback efforts.
Los Angeles appeared to dial the intensity up a notch in the immediate aftermath of Bobby Portis' ejection when he hit Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the head as he went up for a layup in the second quarter.
Caldwell-Pope returned in the second half, but the same cannot be said about Davis.
The six-time All-Star was helped to the locker room in the third quarter after he slammed his lower back on the floor on a scary fall. With the game's outcome never truly in doubt, all attention turned toward his health.
After all, his presence has allowed James—who posted double-digit assists in his previous seven games—to assume more of a facilitating role. That should help the 35-year-old remain relatively fresh heading into the all-important postseason, but he will need to be the primary scorer, distributor and perhaps even rebounder if Davis is sidelined for a significant time.
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
If LeBron James records 10 assists tonight, it would be a career-high 8 straight 10-assist games. During his 7-game streak, James has created 151 assist opportunities for his teammates & they are shooting 58% (88-151) off his passes - leading to 205 points scored. https://t.co/IreHRXA9N5
The Lakers have enough talent to remain afloat for stretches without Davis, especially with James leading the way.
Still, the franchise that didn't even make the playoffs last season without the big man will not emerge from the daunting Western Conference without him.
The Knicks face the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, while the Lakers are at the Dallas Mavericks on Friday.