Knicks at Lakers Pick for 1/4

by Taylor Smith
on January 4, 2019

The Knicks and Lakers are 2 of the NBA’s most prestigious franchises, but both teams appear headed in starkly different directions this season.

The Knicks are firmly entrenched in a rebuilding phase. Kristaps Porzingis has yet to play this season after tearing his ACL late last year, and there is no word on whether he’ll return to the floor at all this season.

In the meantime, New York is seeing what they have in some of their own draftees while also trying a few reclamation projects with former lottery picks.

The Lakers, meanwhile, are suddenly in win-now mode. L.A. was a rebuilding team at this time last year, but that all changed when LeBron James made the decision to sign with the Lakers over the summer.

James, who just turned 34 in late December, didn’t sign with the Lakers just for fun. He came to Los Angeles to try and win more championships.

The Lakers may not win a title this season, but they have clearly taken a big step forward with LeBron in the fold. Still, making the playoffs in the hyper-competitive Western Conference won’t be easy. Entering play Friday, the Lakers are 21-17 and in sole possession of the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference. They’re just 2 games north of the much-improved Sacramento Kings.

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The following odds are courtesy of live odds feed:

Betting Data Knicks Lakers
2018 Straight-Up 9-29 21-17
2018 Home 4-12 13-7
2018 Away 5-17 8-10
2018 ATS 16-20-2 17-21-0
2018 ATS Home 6-9-1 9-11-0
2018 ATS Away 10-11-1 8-10-0
2018 O/U 22-16-0 14-23-1
2018 O/U Home 8-8-0 5-14-1
2018 O/U Away 14-8-0 9-9-0

Forgettable Year in New York

The Knicks are bad. New York is just 9-29 so far this season, which is good for the second-worst record in the East and the third-worst record in the league overall. The Knicks have been particularly dismal of late, as they’re just 1-9 over the course of their last 10 games.

New York enters Friday night’s game in L.A. riding an 8-game losing streak, which is the longest skid of any team in the league at the moment.

New head coach David Fizdale has used his first season in town to try and see what he has in his roster. Kevin Knox, the team’s lottery pick this past year, has been promising thus far during his rookie campaign. He has some obvious holes in his game, but the 19-year-old already looks pretty advanced offensively.

The Kentucky product is averaging 12.2 points per game this season, but he impressively upped his scoring average to 17.1 points per game during the month of December.

The 6’9” forward also shot better than 38 percent from 3-point range. Having that kind of shooting range at such a young age gives Knox a leg up on some of the other players in the league from his draft class.

The rebounding numbers have also been decent, and that’s an area in which he should improve as he continues to acclimate to the speed of the NBA game. While Knox has come along nicely, the development of Frank Ntilikina has stalled a bit.

Ntilikina, whom the Knicks selected in the lottery of last year’s draft, has found himself on the fringes of the rotation at times under Fizdale.

Ntilikina is known for his defense, but his offensive progression ha been a slow burn. The 20-year-old is averaging just over 6 points per game this season while shooting just 30 percent from 3-point range.

It’s obviously far too early to give up on him, especially considering guards tend to take more time to develop at the NBA level than forwards or centers. Still, the fact that Fizdale hasn’t been all that confident in Ntilikina to this point is something of a red flag.

The Knicks also have a couple of interesting reclamation types in Noah Vonleh and Emmanuel Mudiay. Mudiay has seized the starting point guard job this season, and he’s averaging a decent 14.3 points with 3.9 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game this season.

In December, the former Nugget averaged 18.6 points, 5.5 assists and just over 3 boards a night.

The most impressive player on the team, in my opinion, has been Noah Vonleh. Vonleh has looked like a legitimate 2-way player with range out to the 3-point line and enough length to protect the rim on the other end of the floor. He has shown the ability to guard multiple positions, as well.

Vonleh would likely be tasked with guarding LeBron James tonight if James were not sidelined with a groin injury.

Injury-Riddled Lakers

The Lakers are already without James and Rajon Rondo, and the team also lost swingman Kyle Kuzma to a back injury in Wednesday night’s loss to the Thunder. The injury isn’t considered to be serious, however, as Kuzma is listed as questionable to play tonight.

The Lakers have gone just 1-3 in the games that James has missed so far, which shouldn’t be a surprised. Missing arguably the best player on the planet has a way of making the team worse, ya know. James’ absence has forced guys like Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart to take larger roles in the offense.

While there are obviously going to be some growing pains, I think this little spell without James leading the way will be good for the Lakers in the long haul. Giving the young guys some added responsibility and learning how to play without LeBron should help with each player’s confidence.

The Pick

The Knicks are so bad that I’m having a hard time talking myself into vouching for them even if Kuzma doesn’t play tonight.

New York hasn’t come particularly close to winning a game in a while, and the shorthanded Lakers would still have an overall talent advantage in this spot. That said, 7 ½ points is a pretty big spread for a Lakers team that could be without as many as 3 key rotation pieces.

Can the Knicks keep it close? Sure. This Lakers team without LeBron isn’t a playoff team in their own right, so it could be a hotly-contested affair.

I was leaning toward taking the over here, but the Lakers have been one of the worst teams in the league in terms of hitting overs. They play at a quick pace, but their defense has been surprisingly sturdy to this point.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Knicks cover the spread here tonight. They’ll be hungry for a win after losing 8 in a row, and they could take advantage of a Lakers team down several important players.

I don’t necessarily think the Knicks win the game outright here, but I like its chances of staying competitive.

Give me Knicks +7 ½ tonight.
Pick: Knicks +7.5
-112

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