White headband and all, Lakers third-year guard Alex Caruso modestly dribbled the ball up the floor Tuesday night against the New York Knicks. As Caruso approached the 3-point line, Knicks forward Kevin Knox lowered his defensive stance. Caruso hesitated, sped around Knox and slammed the ball through the net with a one-handed reverse jam. He stared down his teammates on the Laker bench, flexing his headband.
It’s been that kind of season for the Lakers, who beat the Knicks 117-87 to win their sixth straight game and secure this season’s third homestand sweep.
LA’s 30th victory of the season came at a cost, however. In the third quarter, Anthony Davis rose to block Julius Randle’s shot. Davis fell hard on his backside and remained on the floor surrounded by teammates.
He did not return. X-Rays on Davis’ lower back came back negative and the initial diagnosis is a bruised tailbone, according to Lakers head coach Frank Vogel. ESPN reported Davis is set to undergo an MRI Wednesday and that he’s expected to miss the Lakers next two games, a road trip against the Mavericks and Thunder.
Vogel said of Davis, “He’s one of our pillars. He’s our present. He’s our future. He’s one of the best players in the world.” When asked what Davis has meant to the Lakers this season, James responded, “Everything.”
James, a gametime decision due to illness, scored 31 points and hit six 3-pointers in 31 minutes. He also shot 7-of-7 from the foul line.
“I work on my game everyday to not have any weakness,” he said. “Some of my game is better than others, but I don’t believe I have any weakness. If a team decides to go under my pick and roll I have the luxury to stop-and-pop and shoot the 3-pointer. They were giving it to me tonight so I just took it.”
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who exited in the second quarter after Knicks forward Bobby Portis smacked him across the head as he skied towards the rim, added 15 points off the bench. He shot 3-of-4 from beyond the arc and improved his 3-point percentage to 43.3, eighth-best in the NBA this season.
“I couldn’t be happier for him or more proud of him for the way he’s performed this season,” Vogel said of Caldwell-Pope’s contributions. James added, “Just to have that type of toughness, to come back on the floor and be there for his brothers, it’s big time.”
Knicks forward Julius Randle, a 2014 first round draft pick of the Lakers who played three seasons for the purple and gold, supplied 15 points and 10 rebounds in his Staples Center return. Elfrid Payton added 12 points and eight boards. Knicks lottery pick RJ Barrett scored 19.
Danny Green posted 11 points and Avery Bradley contributed 12 for LA, as the two combined to shoot 9-of-17 from 3.
Dwight Howard swatted five shots, scored eight points and gobbled down 13 rebounds off the Laker bench. Howard nailed a top-of-the-key 3 in the fourth quarter and caught a lob off the backboard from Kyle Kuzma to cap off quite a Tuesday for the former Defensive Player of the Year. The Lakers guaranteed Howard’s contract for the rest of the season earlier in the day. He’s averaging nearly seven points and seven rebounds for the purple and gold this season.
Kuzma scored 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting in 21 minutes. Should Davis miss the next two games, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Kuzma play more minutes throughout the Lakers’ upcoming road trip.
The Lakers shot 50 percent from the field, 47.2 percent from beyond the arc and dished out 27 assists. New York outrebounded LA 56-53 and scored 24 points off 20 Laker turnovers.
Javale McGee and Davis drew two early blocks on the same possession, as the Lakers held New York to below 28 percent field goal shooting early in the first quarter. The Lakers led by five after one quarter, shooting 50 percent from the 3-point line. LA held the Knicks to 32.1 percent shooting from the field. The Lakers gained an 11-2 advantage in fast break points and swatted four shots.
Five consecutive Green points highlighted an 18-8 Laker run and put the purple and gold up by 13, forcing a Knicks timeout with just over four minutes until halftime. James, Green and Bradley each hit a pair of 3s as the Lakers took a 62-45 lead into halftime, shooting 7-of-13 from beyond the arc. The Lakers outscored New York 36-24 in the second quarter. Despite turning the ball over 11 times in the first half, LA kept the game’s momentum by limiting the Knicks to just 35.8 percent shooting from the field. James scored a game-high 15 points in 16 first half minutes.
The Lakers (30-7, 1st in the Western Conference) follow their five-game homestand with trips to Dallas (23-13, 6th in the Western Conference) and Oklahoma City (21-16, 7th in the Western Conference). New York (10-27, 13th in the Eastern Conference) heads to Utah (24-12, 5th in the Western Conference).