Kobe Bryant and the Lakers make their lone appearance this season at Madison Square Garden on Sunday to face the Knicks, who enter fresh off another team dispute.
The Lakers (16-10) had their share of off-the-court attention early in the season because of Bryant’s trade demands. It’s all in the past now as Los Angeles has won seven of nine games and sits in second place in the Pacific Division behind Phoenix.
For the Knicks (8-18), the season has provided little remedy after an offseason that featured a sexual harassment lawsuit against coach Isiah Thomas and the Garden. New York owns the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference and has played seven of its last 10 games without point guard Stephon Marbury since his father passed away on Dec. 2.
Marbury, whose status remains in limbo, was previously fined for skipping a game at Phoenix on Nov. 13.
Thomas was the focal point of another confrontation when he and forward Quentin Richardson got into an expletive-filled exchange in the third quarter of Friday’s 105-95 loss at Charlotte. Assistant coach Herb Williams was forced to hold back Thomas during the argument.
“Sometimes you try to say some things to a player or say some things to your team just to get them motivated, to get some fire in them,” Thomas said when asked to explain the incident. “There won’t be any carry-over from it.”
Richardson also downplayed the disagreement, which overshadowed another dismal performance as the Knicks fell behind by 23 points at halftime in their seventh loss in nine games.
“I thought that the whole group was bad, frankly,” Thomas said. “We just had no fire, no competitiveness.”
It was another poor effort for center Eddy Curry, who had 11 points and five rebounds. Curry, the team scoring leader last season, is averaging just 10.7 points and 4.4 rebounds in his last nine games.
That’s a direct contrast to the emergence of Andrew Bynum for the Lakers. The 20-year-old center is averaging 16.8 points and 11.4 boards while shooting better than 70 percent in his last five games after a stellar performance in Friday’s 106-101 win at Philadelphia.
Bynum made 10-of-11 shots for 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. He scored 18 of Los Angeles’ first 38 points and surpassed 1,000 points for his career.
“My teammates looking for me, especially in the first half, is nice,” Bynum said following his third straight double-double.
Los Angeles continued to showcase its impressive balance as Bryant’s 19 points was just the team’s fourth-best total Friday. Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher each scored 21 points as the Lakers improved to 2-1 heading into the finale of their four-game road trip.
This is the first 2007-08 meeting between these teams after New York swept two games from Los Angeles last season for the first time since 2000-01. Bryant, averaging 34.3 points in his last four games at New York, missed the Lakers’ visit to the Garden on Jan. 30 since he was suspended for hitting San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili in the face in his previous game.