While facing the New York Knicks likely won’t elicit the same level of drama that the Los Angeles Lakers had in their previous two games, that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of attention given to Kobe Bryant’s(notes) latest visit to Madison Square Garden.
Bryant, who scored an MSG-record 61 points in his most recent trip to New York, returns Friday, looking to help the Lakers win their sixth straight over the Knicks.
After beating Orlando in a rematch of last June’s NBA finals on Monday, Los Angeles (32-10) began its eight-game road trip with a 93-87 loss to Cleveland on Thursday in a possible preview of the this year’s finals. Bryant became the youngest player to reach 25,000 career points as he scored 20 in the first half, but he shot 4 of 15 after the break to finish with 31.
Despite the accomplishment, Bryant faded Thursday when the game mattered most. With less than six minutes remaining, Cleveland went on a 7-0 run to take an 87-80 lead. Bryant, who was held to 11 points on 4-of-19 shooting against Orlando, missed three shots during than span. He is shooting 37.1 percent over the last nine games.
While his shooting touch may be a bit off - likely the effect of a broken index finger - Bryant has had little trouble against the Knicks. He’s averaged 30.5 points in 11 career visits to Madison Square Garden and scored his record 61 in 37 minutes on Feb. 2.
“It’s New York and that’s kind of where his lights go on,” coach Mike D’Antoni told the Knicks’ official Web site Wednesday. “You just try to do the best you can, keep him off the foul line, make him make jump shots and hope he doesn’t get 60.”
Bryant scored 34 points in a 100-90 win over New York at home Nov. 24. The win was Los Angeles’ fifth straight over the Knicks overall.
The Lakers, however, have been slumping away from home recently, and New York will be looking to take advantage of those struggles. Los Angeles has lost five of six road games and has been held to fewer than 90 points in the last two losses. The team shot 38.6 percent Thursday.
“The mentality has to change a little bit playing against these teams,” Bryant said of facing the top teams from the East. “These teams are physical, tough-minded, hard-nosed types of teams. That’s not part of our DNA. We have to step up and match that and still play skillful basketball.”
The Knicks (17-24), meanwhile, avoided a third straight loss with their second win in six games Monday, beating Detroit 99-91. They were 10 of 22 from 3-point range.
Nate Robinson(notes) scored 27 points, going 5 of 9 from 3-point range and 11 of 18 overall. Robinson is averaging 15.9 points in nine games since rejoining the lineup after being benched for 14 games last month.
“He gives us something that we need and that’s athleticism,” D’Antoni said. “Again, you have to have everything else, the defense and sound play, but he does give us something that we need. I thought he played well.”
The win improved the Knicks to 9-3 at home since early December. They have allowed only one of those 12 opponents to score 100 points.
New York has lost six of eight home games against the Lakers, allowing them to average 110.6 points over that stretch.