Lakers Take Garden Stroll
After all the years, the Lakers having won and rebuilt and won again since the last championship here, Phil Jackson still raises his head slightly as he reaches the floor of Madison Square Garden, special even in dark times here, even when the fight isn’t that fair.
On the second night of a back-to-back series, on a trip that went from somber to wearying to the trainer’s table, the Lakers played a half of defense, rode a massive interior advantage and beat the New York Knicks, 104-83, on Wednesday night.
Even in a vulnerable moment when Shaquille O’Neal tired easily and Karl Malone patted his left hamstring and the frustration of a 10-point loss in Detroit the night before tugged at their defensive souls, the Lakers were better, by a lot.
Even with the new Lakers at something around 30% capacity in Jackson’s triangle offense and Kobe Bryant narrowing his eyes at the boos and the jump shooters looking fortunate to even draw iron, the Lakers were more capable, more dynamic, for the moment more sure of themselves.
It goes night to night, of course, except in New York, except at the Garden, where Bryant goes for 46 points one year and the Lakers go to the free-throw line 47 times (to the Knicks’ six) the next.
Jackson nodded at the thought of winning here, of finishing a brief and harried trip here, and said, “This is the best game to win as a road game there is ... as far as a building and a crowd.”
O’Neal, free of the foul trouble of Detroit, had 23 points and six rebounds and made 11 of 16 free-throw attempts in 31 minutes. Bryant had 21 points. Malone, on a tight hamstring, had 17 points and 14 rebounds. Still sorting through the offense for his own shots, Gary Payton made two of nine, scored 11 points and had two assists in 29 minutes.
The Lakers won for the first time in four road games because they held the Knicks to 34 points in the second half and they made more than one three-pointer in a game for the first time in going on a week, and they pushed the Garden to only its second sellout of the season and first since opening night.
A decent night’s work.
“I liked our attitude on the floor tonight defensively,” Jackson said, the Lakers having held the Knicks to 40% shooting in the second half, a night after being blistered by the Pistons.
As Jackson left the floor after the first half, a fan leaned over the rail and screamed at him. The Knicks, it seemed, had not scored 50 points in a half all season, and they’d just thrown 49 at the Lakers, and Jackson took that thought into the locker room.
“We wanted to make a change,” he said.
So, they defended a little and put a hand in Frank Williams’ face once they found out who he was. Jackson actually benched Bryant for being “inattentive” to Williams, who scored 12 points in the second quarter.
“Frank didn’t command his respect,” Jackson said. “Once [Allan] Houston got back into the game, he was attentive again.”
Even with O’Neal in the game and marching over and over to the free-throw line, and because Bryant has not yet retaken his body or his game, the Lakers have for stretches held close to Malone. He has fought for every inch of the floor through 12 games, nine of them victories.
He left the court with a little more than four minutes remaining Wednesday night, still dragging a sore hamstring, still contemplating all of this Laker and Los Angeles stuff, still 40 years old, still stuck on four games missed to injury or illness after more than 18 seasons.
He dominated parts of the game not 21 hours after aggravating the hamstring he’d injured a week before.
“Just block it out and play,” he said. “In this business, your teammates and your coaches care. Other teams, they don’t care if you’re injured or not.”
The Knicks played without Keith Van Horn, who sprained his right ankle in practice Tuesday, and Antonio McDyess, not yet off the injured list after another knee surgery. They had only Dikembe Mutombo in the middle, so the Lakers went relentlessly to O’Neal, and the free-throw margin was the widest against the Knicks in nearly 19 years. Jackson said he’d never seen such a discrepancy, and Malone was nonplused.
“Those are the ones they called,” he said with a gentle grin, suggesting there were more there.
“We just played our game,” O’Neal said. “We had a lot more energy and played with a lot more effort. We knew we had to get this one.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
The Lakers have 17 games scheduled on back-to-back nights. A look at those games and how they fared last season:
*--* Nov. 6* Nov. 7 Lakers 120, at San Ant. 117 at N. Orleans 114, Lakers 95 Nov. 18 Nov. 19 at Detroit 106, Lakers 96 Lakers 104, at New York 83 Dec. 3 Dec. 4 Lakers at San Antonio Lakers at Dallas Dec. 12 Dec. 13 Dallas at Lakers Lakers at Portland Jan. 6 Jan. 7 Lakers at Minnesota Lakers at Denver Jan. 16 Jan. 17 Lakers at Sacramento Clippers at Lakers Jan. 21 Jan. 22 Lakers at Memphis Lakers at Dallas Feb. 1 Feb. 2 Lakers at Toronto Lakers at Indiana Feb. 4 Feb. 5 Lakers at Cleveland Lakers at Philadelphia Feb. 10 Feb. 11 Lakers at Miami Lakers at Houston Feb. 17 Feb. 18 Portland at Lakers Lakers at Golden State Feb. 25 Feb. 26 Lakers at Denver Sacramento at Lakers March 2 March 3 Lakers at Atlanta Lakers at Houston March 7 March 8 New Jersey at Lakers Lakers at Utah March 12 March 13 Lakers at Minnesota Lakers at Chicago April 1 April 2 Houston at Lakers Lakers at Seattle April 13 April 14 Golden State at Lakers Lakers at Portland LAST SEASON Laker record in consecutive games 18-16 Record in first game 9-8 Record in second game 9-8 Record in all other games 32-16 *double-overtime game