On the verge of their longest losing streak since late in the 2010-11 season, the Los Angeles Lakers are looking for anything positive.
They might have considerable trouble doing so Thursday night when they visit Eastern Conference-leading New York in coach Mike D'Antoni's first game against the Knicks since his resignation in March.
When it hired D'Antoni on Nov. 11, Los Angeles was trying to come back from its worst start since 1993-94 and make a quick return to prominence. Instead, the Lakers (9-13) have continued to flounder, and a 100-94 defeat at lowly Cleveland on Tuesday was a season high-tying third in a row.
Los Angeles hasn't dropped four straight since a five-game skid April 3-10, 2011.
"We've got to stay focused and stay strong," center Dwight Howard said. "We can't let this break who we are as a team.
"We're not playing the greatest basketball. But there will come a day when we'll have the gun. Right now, we're rabbits. Once we get the gun, it's not going to be fun for everybody else."
Kobe Bryant had a season-best 42 points but only two other players scored in double figures for the injury-plagued Lakers. Los Angeles also allowed an opponent to score at least 100 points for the sixth time in seven games.
"We play at a very slow pace and we struggle. Maybe it shifts over to defense. Maybe we're slow. Maybe we can't do it," D'Antoni said. "It's my job to fix it - and that's what I'll do."
Before dropping to 4-8 under D'Antoni, the Lakers took some heat from Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, who questioned whether the coach's up-tempo style fit the team's personnel. Johnson added that he would like to see Pau Gasol get more involved in the offense when he returns from injury.
Gasol has missed the past five games with tendinitis in his knees and remains day-to-day. Point guard Steve Nash, who won back-to-back MVPs while playing under D'Antoni in Phoenix, hasn't played since fracturing his left leg Oct. 31.
If the Lakers can't get Gasol back on the court, it doesn't bode well for them against the Knicks (16-5), who have won seven of eight and are the NBA's last unbeaten home team at 8-0.
New York is among the league leaders with 102.6 points per game and has allowed an opponent to reach the century mark once in the last nine contests. The Knicks held Brooklyn to 18 points in the fourth quarter Tuesday while rallying for a 100-97 victory.
Jason Kidd hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 24 seconds left and Carmelo Anthony had a season-high 45 points, giving him 79 in two games since returning from a lacerated finger.
"He's had some pretty good games under my tutelage but I just think tonight he wanted it so badly, man," coach Mike Woodson said. "He made shot after shot."
Anthony was reportedly one of the main critics during D'Antoni's tenure in New York, which began in 2008-09 and ended with the Knicks accumulating a 121-167 record and one postseason appearance, a first-round sweep at the hands of Boston in 2011. The Knicks were 18-24 when he departed last season but went 18-6 after Woodson took over to reach the playoffs.
One of New York's wins under D'Antoni last season was a 92-85 home victory over the Lakers that snapped a nine-game skid in the series. Anthony missed that game because of a strained right groin, and the Knicks overcame his absence by holding the Lakers to a season-low 37.5 percent shooting.
Bryant's average of 34.6 points at Madison Square Garden since the beginning of the 1999-00 season is his best on any opponent's floor.
Howard, meanwhile, averaged just 9.3 points in three meetings against the Knicks while with Orlando last season.
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