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Lakers’ defense takes night off against Knicks, 116-107

NEW YORK — Boos have rarely turned to laughs so quickly.

New York Knicks fans let the Lakers have it during pregame introductions, jeering Mike D’Antoni (because he used to be their coach) and Kobe Bryant (because he’s Kobe Bryant) with equal vocal power.

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By the end, though, the product the Lakers put on the court drew cheers of amusement and derision Thursday at Madison Square Garden. Actually, it started in the first quarter, long before the Knicks’ 116-107 victory.

The Lakers (9-14) didn’t find anything close to a tonic, falling further into mediocrity, or sub-mediocrity, if that’s even possible.

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“I wish we had the Washington Generals on the schedule,” Bryant said afterward.

Everybody looks like the Harlem Globetrotters against the Lakers, losers of six of their last seven games.

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Bryant was worried enough to call Magic Johnson, he revealed Thursday, the presumed topic being what to do about the Lakers.

Bryant said they lacked “stability” on the court after falling to 2-8 on the road.

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“There’s no real sense of purpose in what we want to do,” he said. “I’ll direct it a little bit more. I’ll take control of the ball a little bit more.”

Bryant had 31 points, made 10 of 24 shots and had 10 rebounds, six assists and five turnovers in 44 minutes while battling back spasms, so it was a little unclear how much more the ball could be in his hands.

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Meanwhile, the Lakers fell to 1-11 when he scored 30 or more points.

Carmelo Anthony had a sublime 22 in the first quarter as the Lakers trailed, 41-27, continuing to allow a 40-ish quarter seemingly every game. Will it ever end?

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Johnson continued his disbelieving, disconsolate campaign on Twitter by observing, “The Lakers defense is awful….”

You don’t have to be a Hall of Famer to come up with that analysis.

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Johnson has been a vocal critic of D’Antoni’s push-the-pace offense with such an old roster, though the problem these days is the defense.

Anthony (30 points) crushed the Lakers with three-pointers and at the foul line before leaving because of a sprained left ankle midway through the third quarter. He was doubtful to return. So were the Lakers.

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They actually made it mildly interesting, turning a 26-point second-quarter deficit into a six-point game late in the fourth quarter, eagerly pouncing on Anthony’s absence.

But Tyson Chandler had two key offensive rebounds in the final 1:03, giving the Knicks a fresh shot clock each time.

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Howard reacted glumly when told Steve Nash might start practicing next week. Nothing personal against Nash, but Howard’s not worried about the offense.

“It’s our defense,” said Howard, who had 20 points. “He will help move the ball around on the offensive end. We have to do a better job on defense.”

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Knicks fans didn’t think so. They loved it as their team improved to 17-5, 9-0 at home. They even started up a derisive, “Mike D’An-to-ni” chant in the fourth quarter. It was the flip side of the fervent and hopeful “We Want Phil” chants from Lakers fans last month at Staples Center.

D’Antoni didn’t fare very well in his return to New York, where he never won a playoff game in 31/2 seasons as the Knicks’ coach.

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Bryant was quick to defend D’Antoni, now 4-9 with the Lakers.

“It’s not fair. It’s tough,” he said. “We have some figuring out to do and we have some key pieces that are out.”

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Pau Gasol missed a sixth consecutive game because of knee tendinitis. The Lakers are 1-5 without him.

The search for answers continues.

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan

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