The top two scorers in the NBA meet on Christmas, but the biggest question isn’t about who scores more points, Carmelo Anthony or Kobe Bryant, but if the New York Knicks pick up their outside shooting which has fallen on hard times lately, and if the Los Angeles Lakers are finally having a winning streak that means this team is going where it’s supposed to.
Kobe Bryant, surprise surprise, is leading the NBA with 29.7 points per game. He has scored over 30 in his last 8 games, which are 4-4 for the Lakers. His shooting percentage? 43.7% from the field. Could be worst, but it’s obviously that regardless of Mike D’Antoni’s system, Kobe Bryant’s way of looking at things and what means best for the Lakers also means forgetting about passing and simply taking as many shots as possible.
This is Bryant’s 15th consecutive Christmas day game. Yes, the Lakers have been that good and that interesting during his time with the team. While he needs 29 points to become the all time leading scorer on Christmas games with 377 points, which means you won’t expect him to suddenly turn a page and change the way he’s been playing this season, he’s also lost the last three NBA Christmas games, last winning in 2008 when the Lakers beat the Boston Celtics in the NBA finals rematch.
While Carmelo Anthony has been doing great in recent games (when he’s not out with a minor injury), averaging 33.7 points over his last six games. The Knicks, however, have had their problems on both ends of the floor. The fantastic ball movement thanks to Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton isn’t as effective as it used to be, which makes it very hard for players like Steve Novak to contribute as much as they used to during the impressive start to the season.
The only guys who can create points for themselves are Anthony, Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith. Felton has been better than expected this season, averaging 16 points and adding 6.3 assists. J.R. Smith is pretty much a coin flip. He averages 15 points per game, but like Felton, he shoots just over 40%, which sometimes results in embarrassing stat lines. Anthony himself isn’t the guy to make teammates around him better. He’s very dangerous regardless of the system around him, but the Knicks need more than just Anthony taking 25 shots a game if they’re to reach the Conference finals, which seems to be the goal set by their best player.
What decides this game? Two things – the Lakers ability to actually play defense, allowing 99.9 points per game this season, including 116 against the Knicks just under two weeks ago, and how meaningful Steve Nash turns out to be in his second game since coming back from injury. He had 12 points and 9 assists last time, and if he can create the kind of problems the Knicks had against the Timberwolves with the inside-outside basketball, it’s going to be a good night for the Lakers. They won’t be able to stop Carmelo Anthony, but if they keep their perimeter defense intact and improve their pick n’ roll rotations, the Knicks are going to struggle offensively.