Vets, Defense Close Out Against Lebron-less Lakers

They don’t get to do it often, so don’t mind all the noise the Knicks made in the visitors locker room at the Staples Center after this game.

“When we win,” coach David Fizdale said of his 10-29 team, “we celebrate like it’s the Super Bowl. Why not?”

It’s been over three weeks and nine games since they tasted a victory. The Lakers, without LeBron James (groin), Rajon Rondo (wrist) and Kyle Kuzma (back) seemed to provide the best opportunity to get one on this six-game road trip, so you can imagine Fizdale’s relief when that final buzzer sounded.

“Obviously it’s a different team without LeBron and Rondo,” Fizdale said of the Lakers, who are now 1-4 without the self-proclaimed greatest of all-time, “but the hell with it. We’ll take the win.”

Tim Hardaway Jr. speaks with Rebecca Haarlow after scoring 22 points in the Knicks' 119-112 win over the Lakers in Los Angeles.

They took it, but the Lakers also did their part to hand them their fourth win in the last five visits to the yellow court at Staples. Luke Walton’s team put little effort into defending the Knicks, who committed only six turnovers in the entire game. The Lakers also hacked for 27 fouls and sent the Knicks to the line for 41 free throw attempts, which is their second-highest amount of the season. So the Knicks may have shot 37.4% from the field (and missed a ton of shots at the rim), but they scored 34 points from the line, 38 points on the fast break and 19 points off the 17 Lakers turnovers.

“The best part is,” Fizdale said, “we closed the game defensively.”

They also closed with some vets, as Enes Kanter (16 points, 15 rebounds, 3 blocks) and seldom-used Mario Hezonja (10 points in the fourth quarter) led an effort of 55 points off the bench. Another vet lost in the rotation, Trey Burke (16 points in 19 minutes), came in when Frank Ntilikina left the game with an ankle injury and was a stabilizer.

Mario Hezonja speaks with Rebecca Haarlow after scoring 10 points in 14 minutes off the bench in the Knicks' 119-112 win over the Lakers in Los Angeles.

It was yet another good start, as the Knicks built a 39-25 lead in the first quarter with a weapon they don’t often use as much as opponents do: the three-ball. They made 7 of 14 from downtown in the first quarter and held an early 17-point lead. The hot shooting wasn’t sustainable, as the Knicks would hit just 4 of their last 23 from three the rest of the game.

The Lakers, led by Brandon Ingram (21 points) pushed back over the middle quarters and led by six at one point in the third quarter. But the Laker defense was so bad, the Knicks were in the bonus early in the fourth quarter and they did the bulk of their damage at the line in the final quarter.

There are still two games left on this West Coast swing, with the next stop in Portland on Monday night, followed by a tough back-to-back to end the trip on Tuesday at Golden State.

Ed Cohen and Brendan Brown break down how the Knicks used their transition game to full effect in the win over the Lakers.

Notes:

Kevin Knox (14 points, 5 rebounds) recorded his 12th straight game scoring in double-figures, which is one shy of tying Kristaps Porzingis for the longest streak by a rookie in 30 years. That goes back to Mark Jackson, who went 19 straight games in 1988. Knox on Thursday was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month by the NBA. He averaged 17.1 points and 6 rebounds per game in 14 games during December, which included six games scoring 20 or more points. His shooting comes and goes and he tends to have good starts but then fizzle out as the game goes on, both signs of a young player. Against the Lakers, he had 8 points in the first quarter and only 4 in the second half. But he did make a critical score on a runner with 1:40 left to give the Knicks a 5-point lead at 114-109. Knox had some eye-opening performances in December and his best game was 26 points and 15 rebounds against the Hornets on Dec. 9 at the Garden. He joined LeBron James as the only teenagers in NBA history to post at least 25 points and 15 rebounds in a game. Fizdale announced the award for Knox before practice at UCLA on Thursday morning and the group mobbed the youngster. “It’s a great achievement,” Knox told MSG Network’s Rebecca Haarlow. “I know I still got a lot of work to do. I struggled early in the season, but I’m still trying to find my rhythm, starting to figure out how to play the games. I just make sure I get better every game.” The most impressive and encouraging thing about seeing Knox progress in his second month is that, physically, he has so much more growing to do in stature and strength. It will be fun to see what kind of player he will be once he physically matures after an offseason or two.

– There was some hope that rookie Mitchell Robinson (ankle) might be cleared for the game, but he was kept out of the lineup for a 9th straight game. All indications are he is close to a return and the main focus now is to get his game conditioning up so he is ready to log major minutes as we approach the midpoint of the season. Once he is cleared, expect to see a lot of him and Luke Kornet (6 points in 21 minutes, his first single-digit game since he moved into the starting lineup) at center.

– Ntilikina played only 56 seconds in the game before he exited with an ankle injury he suffered while defending Josh Hart on a drive in the first quarter. Replays showed Ntilikina’s right ankle rolled as he took contact from Hart. A foul was called on the play and replays also showed Ntilikina’s defense was almost textbook, with Hart initiating the contact. He tried to stay in the game but appeared hobbled. After a bad turnover, Fizdale took him out of the game and he went to the locker room with a trainer. It was announced shortly afterward that he would not return. After the game, he was seen wearing a protective boot. It would be a tough time to lose him, especially with the guards the Knicks are going to face in the final two games of this trip.

David Fizdale holds his post-game press conference after the Knicks' 119-112 win over the Lakers in Los Angeles.

– With 41 free throw attempts, which was second this season only to the 47 attempts the Knicks took against the Hawks on Nov. 7, it got me wondering what the franchise record might be for free throw attempts in a game. I should have remembered this because I actually covered this game as a beat writer for Newsday back on Dec. 27, 2006 to cap what was a crazy holiday season of games at the Garden (remember the fight with the Nuggets, David Lee’s buzzer-beating tip versus the Bobcats and the buzzer-beater layup against the Jazz?) This game was a 151-145 win over the Pistons in TRIPLE OVERTIME, which saw the Knicks attempt a franchise-record 63 free throws. Stephon Marbury, who went the length of the court to beat Utah a few games prior, went for 41 points in this game and was 12 of 15 from the line. Rip Hamilton dropped a career-high 51 points in that game, which was the first time an opponent scored 50 against the Knicks at the Garden since Michael Jordan’s “double-nickels” game in 1995.

The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.