Don't pencil the Los Angeles Lakers into the Western Conference play-in tournament just yet.
Los Angeles won its second in a row with a 101-99 overtime victory over the New York Knicks in Tuesday's showdown at Staples Center. Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma and Andre Drummond led the way in LeBron James' absence for the Purple and Gold, who improved to 39-30 and moved within one game of the sixth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers.
While that trio spearheaded the effort, Talen Horton-Tucker drilled the winning three in the final seconds of overtime.
Solid showings from Julius Randle and Derrick Rose were not enough for the Knicks, who fell to 38-31 overall and 1-3 in their last four games. RJ Barrett had a chance to win it at the buzzer, but his deep three didn't fall.
Notable Player Stats
- Anthony Davis, F, LAL: 20 PTS, 6 REB, 4 AST
- Kyle Kuzma, F, LAL: 23 PTS, 3 REB
- Andre Drummond, C, LAL: 16 PTS, 18 REB, 3 AST, 2 BLK
- Derrick Rose, G, NYK: 27 PTS, 6 AST, 6 REB, 3 STL
- Julius Randle, F, NYK: 31 PTS, 8 REB, 5 AST
Defense, Horton-Tucker's Heroics Save Day for Lakers
The Lakers still have their work cut out for them to avoid the play-in tournament, but there is still plenty of reason for optimism.
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported James plans on returning for Wednesday's contest, and Davis has looked like the prime version of himself of late. The eight-time All-Star, who scored 36 points Friday against the Portland Trail Blazers and 42 points Sunday against the Phoenix Suns, figured to lead the way again against the Knicks.
While Davis was effective, it was Kuzma who provided an immediate spark off the bench with 18 first-half points with an array of three-pointers and drives into the lane.
His production helped keep the Lakers well within striking distance even though Alex Caruso was ruled out for the remainder of the game in the first half with right foot soreness. That left Los Angeles without three of its primary ball-handlers in James, Caruso and Dennis Schroder.
Someone needed to fill the void alongside Davis and Kuzma, and Drummond did just that in the third quarter by getting to the rim, controlling the glass and even swatting Nerlens Noel's dunk attempt.
It was a fitting play, as the Lakers relied on their top-rated defense to overcome their lack of firepower throughout the contest. In fact, the Knicks scored 20 points in the third quarter and just 15 in the fourth, which allowed Los Angeles to overcome the double-digit deficit it faced with less than eight minutes remaining in regulation and force overtime.
That is when Horton-Tucker shined with a three-pointer to kick off the scoring in the extra period, assist on a Davis basket, two key free throws and the winning three.
Offensive Woes Spoil New York's Effort
While much of the focus was on the Lakers and their attempt to avoid the play-in tournament, this was also a critical game for the Knicks.
After all, they entered play just a half-game ahead of the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat for the No. 4 seed. Keeping that fourth seed would mean home-court advantage in the first round, while falling to the No. 6 spot would mean a potential matchup against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Rose came out with some expected urgency and torched the Lakers in the early going while staking the Knicks to a halftime lead.
The three-time All-Star unleashed multiple floaters in the lane and facilitated when defenders collapsed on him. That took some of the pressure off Randle, but the Knicks' go-to option was also dialed in out of the gates and hit multiple mid-range looks and even mixed in a triple in the first half.
The problem is, it was just the Randle and Rose show for much of the game.
Nobody else on the Knicks was even in double figures, and Barrett's final heave was his last shot during a 2-of-13 shooting performance. The lack of support for Randle and Rose ultimately proved New York's undoing even though its defense forced 18 turnovers, consistently cut off penetration lanes and bracketed Davis with doubles at times to prevent him from taking over.
The Lakers remain at home to face the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, while the Knicks host the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday.