Christmas came early for Laker fans Friday night as Steve Nash made his triumphant return in a 118-115 overtime win against Golden State. In a wildy entertaining game, Nash posted 12 points and nine assists in nearly 41 minutes of play. The Lakers hope for a similar performance from their floor general as they head into a Christmas Day Clash at the Staples Center with the New York Knicks. After a 116-107 drubbing their first meeting, the Knicks will look for consecutive wins against the Lakers for the first time since 2007.
Many will look to the match-up between the league’s top two scorers, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, as the game’s primary holiday duel. But rather, it’s the battle inside with Dwight Howard going up against Tyson Chandler that will really help dictate tonight’s winner. And if the Lakers can also limit turnovers and neutralize New York’s three-point shooting, they’ll have a great shot at getting back to .500.
Howard v. Chandler
Not only does this game feature the NBA’s top two scorers, it also features arguably the best two centers in the game today. Many were already aware of Howard’s claim as the league’s best center, and this year’s 18-point, 12 rebound, and 3 blocks per game average only reinforces it.
But Tyson Chandler's impact on the Knicks’ success is huge - and often unheralded. Chandler has always been a good defender, but this year he’s been a beast on offense as well. His .700 percent effective field goal percentage and 142.4 offensive rating both lead the league. In fact, his shooting percentage is almost 100 points higher than second place JaVale McGee. More importantly, it contributes to Knicks wins. In fact, his 4.8 win shares are tied for fourth in the league with Kobe Bryant.
If Dwight Howard can man the middle and/or force Chandler into early foul trouble, the Lakers can more easily focus their defensive efforts on stopping the Knicks' great outside shooting.
Live by the 3, Die by the 3
The Knicks can flat out shoot. They rank first in the NBA in three-pointers with 311 and attempts in 788. Also, their .395 percentage is good for fourth in NBA. However, the Knicks struggle when the three isn’t falling. In their seven losses this year, they shoot less than 33 percent from three - often relying too much on outside jumpers and less on attacking the paint.
In their earlier match-up, the Knicks seemed too comfortable on the offensive end, hitting 12 three-pointers on 53 percebt shooting. Look for the Lakers to close out better on Knicks’ shooters, especially in the half-court defense.
Much of the Knicks’ shooting success last game was due to transition offense leading to wide-open looks for their shooters. In fact, the Knicks shot six of seven from three on the fast break in their Dec 14th meeting. So, the Lakers must limit turnovers in order to prevent the Knicks from getting out on the break.
L.A. still ranks just th in the league in turnover percentage. But with Steve Nash’s return, coupled with a better team feel for D’Antoni’s offensive system, the only way this team can go is up.