This time, Steve Nash was on the floor running the show for the Lakers and their play was much better than the previous meeting between the two teams at Madison Square Garden
No matter the outcome, the Los Angeles Lakers had shown up in this showdown with the New York Knicks on Tuesday at Staples Center.
This was far from a repeat of Dec. 13, when coach Mike D'Antoni made the most humbling of returns to his old Madison Square Garden haunt that seemed to confirm all the reasons he hadn't been able to cut it as Knicks coach in the three seasons before he resigned in March. But the Lakers' ability to not only keep up with the Knicks but outlast them 100-94 made this the high point of their disastrous season, a fifth consecutive win that may very well spur this so-called Super Team onto bigger and better things.
They had point guard Steve Nash this time, and that meant promise was back and potential would be filled again for this 14-14 team that hadn't been at the .500 mark since Nov. 30 (8-8). Nash, who returned on Saturday from the left leg injury that had him out since Oct. 31 and hit a game-winner against Golden State, helped stave off a late Knicks run with a step-back jumper with 1:47 remaining that put the Lakers up 96-91.
The Lakers held on from there, benefiting from the departure of reigning Defensive Player of the Year, center Tyson Chandler, with 2:22 left when he fouled out. Chandler would have come in handy with 12 seconds left, when Lakers forward Pau Gasol dribbled unimpeded from atop the key for a dunk that all but sealed it. The Lakers survived despite the loss of small forward Metta World Peace to his sixth foul with 1:58 remaining. World Peace had perhaps his best game of the season, finishing with 20 points and seven rebounds while helping slow Knicks star Carmelo Anthony (34 points on 13 of 23 shooting). Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 34 points (14 of 24 shooting), while Nash had 16 points and 11 assists.
The Lakers can't say that they're back, mainly because they never arrived in the first place.
Even with this win that was the high-water mark of this so-called Super Team's season, they are now - by virtue of their 14-14 record and the statistical realities that come with it - officially mediocre. Their five-game winning streak is a sign of progress, to be sure, but hardly evidence of title contender status considering the lowly Toronto Raptors achieved the same feat just last week.
Yet the winning in this sort of cohesive, confident, chemistry-filled way - with Nash orchestrating, Bryant dominating, Metta World Peace intimidating, and Dwight Howard defending - may have been enough to warrant the Lakers announcing that they finally arrived. If only they cared about such things.
No, the bumpy road they took to get here taught them plenty about the four-plus months that lie ahead: this is no time to get cocky.
"I wouldn't say (they've turned a corner) yet," said Nash, who had 16 points and 11 assists in his second game back from a left leg injury that had kept him out since Oct. 31. "I think our team has got a lot of work (and) building to do.
"This is a team that has struggled, and I don't want to find any complacency yet. So we've got to stay humble and hungry and really have an underdog mentality."
Bryant, who tied the Knicks' Carmelo Anthony with the game-high in scoring with 34 points, continues to focus on the bigger picture at hand.
"People can be extremely positive of how you're performing and the job that you're doing the entire regular season, the entire playoffs, and then you lose in the Finals and you're the (expletive) worst," he said. "People can say you suck for the entire season, and you win the Finals and people don't give a (expletive) what happened before that. It's all about what you do in the Finals. It doesn't matter what you do on a Monday or a Tuesday."
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SOURCE: USA Today