The first time around, Knicks fans got their satisfaction. The coach who they pleaded to find a little defense until he decided New York was not in his future plans, returned to the Garden and lost with his new team, the Los Angeles Lakers, 116-107.
And boy was that fun. Despite MVP candidate, Carmelo Anthony getting injured in the final minutes of the game, the Knicks were able to run the wounded Lakers off the floor.
This left the Lakers at 9-14, a shell of the normal Lakers teams. Having dispatched embattled coach, Mike Brown, after only 5 games, LA was still trying to get used to D’Antoni’s “SSOL” offense.
Not helping the matters was Steve Nash, the master orchestrator of this offense, was out of action. He had not been seen on the court since the first week of the season.
In the meantime, such luminaries as Steve Blake and Chris Duhon had been running D’Antoni’s offense, and only recently have the Lakers been able to get something going.
They enter today’s Christmas Day game against the Knicks at 13-14, coming off a four game winning streak since that last Knicks loss. This is a much more dangerous Lakers team, and D’Antoni, with Steve Nash in the lineup – According to ESPN, D’Antoni has a .734 winning percentage with Nash, and a miniscule .387% without him.
Meanwhile, NY is still smarting from their time with D’Antoni. He went 121-167 with the mostly rebuilding Knicks. But where fans drew their ire was his lack of improvement and changes to his game plan once Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, and Tyson Chandler arrived. Defense was at a minimum and he could never figure out how to be successful with all three players on the court at the same time.
Things have changed under new coach, Mike Woodson. The team is currently 20-7, even without any games played by Amare Stoudemire, who is set to return this week. How he will influence this team in the coming weeks in up to any person’s guess, but Woodson’s time can only be considered a success. In took until just this week for him to suffer a home loss, marking only his second in just over a full season as Knicks coach.
Also annoying the fans, and probably some in the organization, was Nash deciding against the Knicks, instead going with the Lakers. According to the New York Times, the Knicks original plans for this season was to go with Nash and Jeremy Lin, but that soon changed after he made his move and instead the Knicks let Lin go and built a point guard foundation with Ray Felton, Jason Kidd, and Pablo Prigioni, while waiting for the injured Iman Shumpert to return.
For most of this season, this has looked 100% in the Knicks favor, as Nash has been hurt.
But this his return, it seems in turn, Ray Felton’s mojo has been sapped. Since December 6th, he has only shot over 40% three times in 9 games. Jason Kidd has shown a bit of his age, like much of the NYK big men as well, and Prigioni cannot be depended on to play any real minutes, but has been surprisingly efficient in the ones he does play when limited.
So as the Lakers and Knicks enter, we are still seeing two teams far from what their norm is. Even as they have slumped a bit in recent games, the Knicks are still the top team in the East. The Lakers have started to heat up and are finally at full strength. They head up against each other today in their first game at Staples Center. Two new coaches and two new point guard situations – which team will continue moving in their upward trend heading into the New Year?