On Feb. 10, 2012, the Los Angeles Lakers entered Madison Square Garden at the height of "Linsanity." Kobe Bryant came into the Garden having scored 33, 27, and 61 on his last three trips to the Mecca of basketball.
This time, something was different. Sure, Kobe scored 34 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, but the New York crowd wasn’t at the Garden to see Kobe. They were there to see Jeremy Lin and their New York Knicks.
Up to that point, Lin had beaten bad teams in highlight fashion and was a unique feel-good story that reached beyond basketball. However, on that night, "Linsanity" took center stage on a Friday night, and Lin beat Kobe, straight up.
On the night, Bryant was not even the best scorer in the game, let alone on the planet. Lin scored 38 points, dished seven assists, took down two boards, and even had two steals.
On Thursday night, the Lakers take the floor against the New York Knicks. This time, "Linsanity" has been replaced by a hardworking Knicks team that plays defense and has the best record in the Eastern conference. That’s right, a Carmelo Anthony-led team playing defense; maybe the Mayans were right...
In a complete 180-degree role reversal, the Lakers come into Thursday four games below .500, and Kobe Bryant and company have been unable to stop anyone on the defensive end. Bryant always scores plenty in New York, but for the second time in as many years, Kobe is not the reason New Yorkers are filling up the Garden when the Lakers come to town. This is a good Knicks team.
Kobe Bryant may be up to 29.2 points per game, best in the NBA, but his nearest challenger for the scoring title wears Knicks blue. Melo is coming off a 45-point night against the Brooklyn Nets and is averaging 34.0 points for the month of December.
Similar to Kobe, Melo is having a career year in terms of shooting. Anthony is shooting 44.9 percent from behind the arc, significantly better than his 33.0 percent career average or last year’s 33.5 percent. His 46.5 percent field goal percentage is on track to make this his most efficient year since the 2007-08 season, six seasons ago.
The Lakers are still short-handed with Pau Gasol and Steve Nash not ready to return (see full shootaround report). The team is playing ugly basketball on both ends of the floor, and hardly a basketball-watching soul gives the Lakers a real chance on Thursday night.
However, Kobe Bryant relishes the challenge to battle Carmelo Antony on the national stage in the Mecca. Look for a shootout between the top two scorers in the league, and if this game turns into a one-on-one contest, the Lakers might actually have a chance.
Notes: Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni faces his former team for the first time.