LeBron James missed the Knicks’ resurgence last season. He missed out on both of the Lakers’ matches against Tom Thibodeau’s club due to injury.
James found out Monday that he will now miss his third straight game against the Knicks. He was suspended for one game for his role in Sunday’s bloody Isaiah Stewart scrap in Detroit, and the Knicks took a break with The Lake Show in town for Tuesday night’s TNT clash.
This is the first suspension in James’ 19-year career, and he deserves a suspension, for “recklessly hitting Stewart’s face and starting an argument in court.” Stewart was banned for two matches.
James may also lose his peak during this roller-coaster purple and gold start of the season. The Lakers made their only MSG appearance with a hum-drum 9-9 record.
The Knicks, too, are not where they expected to be when they used their league-high cap space to rip offense after the 41-31 campaign and in the offseason.
That hasn’t really happened since the Knicks are standing at 9-8 – a five-way tie for sixth place in the Eastern Conference until Monday. Basically, these are two .500 teams.
As former Laker Julius Randall points out, no team has emerged strong yet. Parity has infected Adam Silver’s NBA.
“They’re just trying to figure it out like us,” Randall said of the Lakers after the Knicks lost in Chicago on Sunday night. “It’s the league. It’s probably the most balanced I’ve seen since I was in the league. I’ve never seen a league that is competitive every night like this. Actually, honestly, no nights leave.
“Sometimes [the Lakers] Looks good, sometimes they look bad. They are trying to figure it out and get on a roll like us.
36-year-old James, Anthony Davis and newcomer Russell Westbrook paired up with the revamped Carmelo Anthony, 37, for the Lake Show Big 3. It gives the most famous character to the NBA’s most famous franchise.
James last played in the Garden on Jan. 8, 2020, when he dropped 31 points and six 3-pointers to the Knicks.
One NBA scout argues that this is the biggest drop-off that James has experienced from one season to the next.
“It happens,” Knicks point guard Kemba Walker said of the Lakers’ struggles. “He doesn’t have a full team all year. We all know LeBron has been an incredible talent for years. He turns it around at one point. LeBron is one of the best players to play this game. I’m sure he’ll figure it out.
This is Walker’s first Knicks-Lakers game.
“It’s cool,” said Walker, a Bronx native. “It’s definitely fun. The Knicks-Lakers are always a cool competition.”
James missed two weeks with an elbow injury and returned Friday to be blasted by the Celtics. His absence is an excuse for the Lakers’ record. Another roster turnover since the Lakers traded three major contributors to Westbrook.
“I watched the game the other day,” Walker said. “Those guys got like 13 new guys. A lot of new guys get along so things don’t work out that fast. It just takes time. When it clicks, it clicks. Everyone has to adapt, figure out new roles, new teammates. This is the adjustment period.
The Knicks’ new backcourt by Walker and Evan Fournier has also been hit during the match. Both were not on the court in the fourth quarter of the Bulls’ defeat – which is becoming commonplace.
Both appeared to improve on the Knicks’ offense, but did not make much of an impact on both ends. Fournier is shooting just 40.5 percent from the field. Walker is having trouble creating others and getting to the rim, though he showed signs of chemistry with Randall in Sunday’s thrilling third quarter.
Still, Walker’s plus-minus is destructive minus-106, and the good news is he’s healthy. Fournier is minus-40.
And don’t forget the other wing, RJ Barrett, who has endured a brutal 10-game crash. Of the 215 players who have had more than 50 field-goal attempts in the last 10 games, according to Forbes, Barrett is the only player to shoot less than 32 percent overall and less than 3 percent to 21 percent.
The starting-five issues are why the Knicks are inconsistent, losing to the lower lights Orlando (twice), Cleveland and Toronto, and losing to Houston on Saturday.
Sunday’s game began brutally when the Knicks got the Lakers, Phoenix, Atlanta, Brooklyn, the Bulls and the Nuggets once again.
However, the Knicks have played well against good teams.
“We finally figure out how to compete and play at that level every night,” Randall said. “We don’t have to wait for a big game to get up and play like that. Finally we get there. I am sure we will meet the challenge.