(Photo By: Ty Nowell/Lakers.com)
Lakers at Knicks: 3 Things to Know (12/12/17)
Here is what you need to know before the Lakers take on the New York Knicks at the World’s Most Famous Arena.
1) Class of ’14 stepped up once again
Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle have both taken huge strides the season. JC has established himself as a capable second-unit point guard and off-the-bench bucket-getter, while Randle’s abilities as a small-ball center have taken the team’s defense to new heights.
The draft classmates were at their best during the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win over Charlotte, as the Lakers found success with the exact same play over and over again.
Down by three with nine minutes left, Los Angeles suddenly broke out a 26-8 run keyed by a simple high pick-and-roll between Clarkson (22 points) and Randle (12).
That one play accounted for 12 points during that burst, as the Lakers succeeded in their mission to exploit Charlotte center Dwight Howard’s subpar pick-and-roll defense.
Howard often failed to contain Clarkson’s drive, resulting in a couple of layups. When he did jump out at JC, he delivered Randle a smooth bounce pass for an and-1.
And when the Hornets tried a more aggressive coverage against Clarkson, he hit them with a behind-the-back dribble for an open 3-pointer.
While the two-man game was money in Charlotte, Clarkson and Randle will have a much tougher time attacking the basket against the Knicks, whose defense is anchored Kristaps Porzingis — a 7-foot-3 tower holding opponents to a league-low 40.2 percent shooting at the rim.
2) KCP has found his rhythm from deep
The Lakers’ 3-point shooting has seen a much-needed uptick over the last three weeks, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been the head of that spear.
Over the last nine games, the first-year Laker is averaging 17.0 points while hitting 3.0 3-pointers on a 44.3 percent clip.
Before this stretch, the Lakers were last in the NBA in both 3-pointers and 3-point percentage. During it, they are slightly above league average in both categories.
KCP’s individual success has a lot to do with how the Lakers have used his shooting capabilities.
Lately, they have been able to get him clean looks by running him through gauntlets of screens. And Caldwell-Pope has made good by shooting 22-of-45 on shots off those screens.
His 1.19 points per possession on such plays rank fourth in the NBA, trailing only elite shooters: Joe Ingles, Kyle Korver and Stephen Curry.
Caldwell-Pope’s skill set is ideal for this type of action, as his tireless motor and sharp route-running leave defenders stuck dodging bodies while his clean shooting stroke finishes the play.
But coach Luke Walton also deserves plenty of credit for some especially creative play designs. Look no further than the one below in which all four of KCP’s teammates set him a screen on the same play, resulting in a triple.
3) The Unicorn can do it all
Known as “The Unicorn” because of his one-of-a-kind repertoire, Porzingis is one of the game’s premier two-way talents at just 22 years old.
Offensively, he’s already a top-10 scorer averaging 25.5 points with a blend of inside and outside production. The Latvian ranks third in post-up scoring (thanks largely to a signature turnaround jumper), but can also stretch his shooting out past the 3-point line.
Defensively, his rim protection is elite, and his 2.05 blocks are third-most in the NBA.
In addition to Porzingis’ All-NBA-caliber play, the Knicks also have a couple of notable vets.
Enes Kanter is averaging a double-double and constantly deflates defenses with his top-shelf offensive rebounding. Courtney Lee is shooting career-highs from about every spot on the floor.
Yet the Knicks are vulnerable from beyond the arc. While the Lakers’ shooting has been heating up thanks to KCP, Clarkson and Kyle Kuzma, New York has taken their place at the bottom of the NBA in made 3’s.
Plus, the Knicks’ leader in triples, Tim Hardaway Jr., is out, meaning the Lakers have an even better chance to swing the game from long range.
Knicks: Tim Hardaway Jr. (stress injury, lower left leg) is out.
Tip-Off: 4 p.m. PT
TV: Spectrum SportsNet and Spectrum Deportes in L.A. ESPN nationally
Radio: 710 ESPN and 1330 KWKW
Location: Madison Square Garden — New York City, New York