LeBron James
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The New York Knicks miss a rare opportunity to steal a win against LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Danny Small

NEW YORK, NY—The New York Knicks came at the King and they missed. LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers entered Madison Square Garden in search of a bounce-back win, but the Lakers played more like a middle-of-the-pack team than a first-place squad.

Sure, James and Anthony Davis combined for 49 points, but it wasn’t the completely dominating performance from start to finish one might expect from the vaunted Lakers. King James notched his 19th point with 5:11 left in the second quarter and he would only score two more points the rest of the way.

As James began to facilitate more for his teammates, the Robin to his Batman took control. Davis did his best James Harden impression, drilling all 13 of his free throws en route to a game-high 28 points.

Despite the impressive stats put up by the James-Davis duo, the Knicks had their chances on Wednesday night. New York held a lead for stretches in the first half, the game was tied at halftime, and the Lakers never led by more than 13 points. This was not a laughable 30-point blowout like when the two teams met in STAPLES Center earlier this month.

And therein lies the frustration with these types of losses. Had the Knicks hit a few more shots, they would have had a legitimate chance at knocking off the best team in the Western Conference.

Julius Randle, the focal point of the offense, struggled to do anything against the size and length of the Lakers’ frontcourt. Randle’s preferred style of bully ball doesn’t work against a rugged defender like Davis, who just so happens to have JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard helping over the top.

“I mean, they’re a long team,” Randle said after the 100-92 loss. “They play two bigs, you know 7-footers that are extremely long. The guards are able to get in there and be aggressive and play fast in the lane. They’re a tough defensive team so you have to give them credit.”

Frank Ntilikina was 0-for-8 from the floor, forcing interim head coach Mike Miller to call on Dennis Smith Jr. to try and breathe life into the team after missing the last 13 games due to an oblique strain. It didn’t work. Plus/minus can be a misleading stat, but for what it’s worth, the Knicks were outscored by nine points during Smith’s 3:36 on the floor.

To be honest, there is no shortage of blame to go around for the lackluster effort. Bobby Portis went 2-for-8 from the field, Kevin Knox only played a handful of minutes because he looked like a deer in headlights defending James, and Reggie Bullock was more or less invisible in his 21 minutes of action.

The only player who really brought energy and, more importantly, shotmaking to the game for New York was Damyean Dotson. His five triples kept the Knicks afloat for the first three quarters, but aside from Dotson and Marcus Morris Sr., the Knicks were 2-for-12 from three.

Neither squad was crisp under the bright lights of the Garden, but the Lakers were much more opportunistic, drawing enough fouls to put themselves in the bonus early in the third quarter.

“I think the third [quarter] was tough,” Miller told reporters after the game. “It started out getting in the penalty within two, three minutes, and that made it difficult because I don’t think either team found a good offensive rhythm and I thought both teams defended pretty well. That ended up being a real factor that when we got into the penalty and picked up some fouls, they were able to get to the line and capitalize.”

Los Angeles converted on 19 free throws while the Knicks only attempted 13 as a team. Again, Davis was a perfect 13-for-13 from the charity stripe. In an eight-point win, the Lakers hit 10 more free throws than the Knicks. From every possible angle, free throws were the game within the game. The difference between winning and losing.

A loss to the Lakers? It happens. Missing the chance to steal a win against the Lakers when they didn’t bring their A-game? That’s tough.

Danny Small is on Twitter @dwsmall8.

NY/NJ hoops reporter (NBA/NCAA) & sports betting writer for XL Media. Never had the makings of a varsity athlete.