It's clear to see why programmers and schedulers have tonight's Knicks vs. Lakers game on prime-time national television. Before the season started, you had Dwight Howard against Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony against Kobe Bryant and a plethora of other former all-stars going head-to-head.
But is tonight's matchup at Madison Square Garden one of those must-see games? Or is it simply Lakers versus Knicks?
For starters, you can scratch Amar'e Stoudemire, eliminating what would have been an intense battle against Dwight Howard. To counter that, the Lakers—who before the season were thought to have been on their way to an 82-0 season—are actually third in the Pacific Division at 9-13 and are 12th in the Western Conference.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Knicks find themselves 16-5 and first in the Eastern Conference with Carmelo Anthony, their franchise player, drawing league MVP talks. New York's bench has been superb so far, and egos have been put aside for the benefit of winning. For once, the Knicks look like they'll be able to make it out of the first round of the playoffs.
But for a team that has Howard, Bryant, Gasol, World-Peace and Steve Nash, what exactly is the problem?
In Kobe Bryant's sit-down conversation with Stephen A. Smith, the problem appears to be in their transition defense, something D'Antoni has been known to be complacent with. But how will this problem ever be eliminated with an offensive mind coach? Kobe says only time will tell (via ESPN):
Mike said when he got here, to us, it's going to be a learning experience for me as well. This is him addressing the team. He said, 'If you feel like I'm not using you to your strengths, if I'm not using you in the post as much as you like, let's talk about it and we can figure it out.'
In his postgame interview after a 100-94 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Kobe made mention to former coach Phil Jackson saying, "I've been through tough situations in the past, I always blow my top and go crazy, and then I had a head coach who always kept calm and always focused on the x's and o's of things."
So what is a realistic expectation for tonight's game?
The Knicks have been playing elite basketball and are arguably the hottest team in the league as of right now. They are 8-0 at home and are facing a demoralized Lakers team who are hungry.
My prediction is an absolutely phenomenal game, contrary to the external circumstances.
Again, the Knicks are undefeated at the Garden, but Kobe Bryant never fails to disappoint in New York. He has the second-highest opponent average at the garden, just behind the great Michael Jordan. Tonight's game will be a treat for all NBA fans.
This article was first featured on Atlantic Twine.