Anthony Davis, LeBron James Lead Lakers to Win vs. RJ Barrett-Less Knicks

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2020

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) goes up for two points as New York Knicks forward Taj Gibson (67) is restrained by a Lakers defender, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Their last time out, the Los Angeles Lakers were embarrassed in arguably their worst loss of the season against the Boston Celtics.

A trip to Madison Square Garden righted the ship.

Anthony Davis scored 28 points and LeBron James added 21, leading the Lakers to a 100-92 win over the New York Knicks on Wednesday.

It was a stark contrast to James' last appearance at the Basketball Mecca last March, which saw his buzzer-beater blocked by Mario Hezonja to cap off the worst quarter of his professional career. The lasting image of James, slumped over in a combination of exhaustion and frustration after being unable to vanquish the lowly Knicks, led some to wonder if we were seeing the death of his prime in realtime.

We know by now all of the handwringing was premature. James is once again back to playing MVP-level basketball while leading the Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference.

The Knicks remain the same cellar dwellers they were during that March meeting and have lost nine of their last 11.

LeBron, AD Continue to Mask Weaknesses in Lakers Roster

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The Lakers are going as far as LeBron and AD take them. Luckily, James and Davis can take you really far in a season where there is not one perfect roster.

If this were a game against a better team, though, the Lakers are probably walking away with their second straight loss. Danny Green and Avery Bradley were a combined 3-of-14 from the floor. Kyle Kuzma was essentially a ghost until the fourth quarter. Dwight Howard and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were the only two role players who actually filled their roles Wednesday.

On certain nights, particularly ones against lowly opponents, a dose of LeBron and AD plus two role players is going to be enough to win. That won't be the case in May, when the margin for error will shrink and the Lakers will need someone to consistently step up next to their two superstars.

That person may be on the roster now or may come via trade within the next couple of weeks. At 35-9, it's hard to find much to complain about. But this roster wasn't constructed with the goal of the No. 1 seed in the West in mind; it was constructed with the idea of winning a championship. You're not going to win many games in May with a starting backcourt shooting less than 25 percent.

It's Time to Trade Vets, Give Kids Playing Time

There's no reason for Taj Gibson to be in the starting lineup for an NBA team in the year 2020. There's no reason for Marcus Morris Sr. to still be on this Knicks roster when there are teams desperate for his skill set and likely ready to offer a first-round pick. 

The Knicks need to get Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr. and RJ Barrett as many reps as possible—even if they haven't earned them. The only way for them to grow and for the team to assess whether they're worthwhile developmental projects is to get them on the floor together and take lumps. This is a 12-33 basketball team being led by an interim coach; throw the young guys to the wolves and keep paying the vets that remain handsomely to offer mentorship and wave towels.

Aside from Morris, who has played himself into a big contract this summer, every decision this Knicks front office made this summer has proved disastrous. Julius Randle is a 25-year-old putting up the NBA's most empty-calories 19-9-3 stat line. Bobby Portis is averaging less than 10 points per game for the first time since 2016-17. Gibson's signing made little sense when it happened and even less now.

Play the kids and wash yourself of the summer as much as possible already. 


What's Next?

The Knicks host the Raptors on Friday, while the Lakers play Brooklyn in the second night of a back-to-back on Thursday.