lebron james new york knicks
Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks and Lakers face off on national television on Tuesday night. It’s a shame the two aren’t meeting under better circumstances.

Los Angeles (23-28) is old, banged up, and 2.5 games out of the play-in games in the Western Conference. Streaky New York (27-24), by comparison, is fighting to climb out of the play-in tournament on the Eastern side. How far the two former contenders have fallen indeed.

And yet, Tuesday’s game has an air of excitement about it. LeBron James is set to make his first Madison Square Garden appearance since January 2020. It doesn’t matter that he’s 38 and battling injuries in his 20th season. He still plays at a high level and is just 117 points away from passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

In the meantime, the Knicks will try to spoil Los Angeles’ trip to New York.

Time: Tuesday, Jan. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET


Injuries: Mitchell Robinson (thumb, out), Patrick Beverley (knee, out), Austin Reaves (hamstring, out), Anthony Davis (foot, probable)

Betting Line: Knicks -1.5, Over/Under 232 via DraftKings

Key Storyline: The King has returned. Three years ago, LeBron James and the Lakers were well on their way to a championship. He only scored 21 points in LA’s 100-92 win at MSG on Jan. 22, 2020, but the win put the Lakers at 35-9. Even with the pandemic interruption and subsequent Orlando bubble looming, everyone knew it. Nothing was stopping LeBron and the Lakers.

What a difference three years make, right? The roles have almost reversed, with the Knicks much more talented and the Lakers treading water with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Even so, at the World’s Most Famous Arena, expect James to put on a show and keep Los Angeles competitive.

Key Matchup: Quentin Grimes vs. Russell Westbrook. Patrick Beverley’s injury means the former MVP will probably play alongside Dennis Schroeder in the backcourt and Grimes will be tasked with stopping him. Westbrook isn’t in his prime anymore, but still drives the lane well and can be a pest when needed.

It’s also worth noting the Lakers are a weird team that switch up who controls the offense. Sometimes it’s Westbrook, sometimes it’s Beverley, and sometimes even LeBron James himself. The Knicks will hope Julius Randle bullies the King enough just so he isn’t completely dominant. Yet, with Westbrook likely feeding him the ball, Grimes stopping the offense in its tracks could prove essential.

X-Factor: Immanuel Quickley. The former Kentucky shooter is finally looking like himself in January. Quickley is averaging 15.2 points and shooting 38.3% from long range, upping his three-point percentage (3P%) to 34.5% for the year. And even better, Quickley has made 52.2% of his shot attempts this month.

Quickley is particularly important to the Knicks’ fortunes in this game because for all their faults, Los Angeles still ranks sixth in scoring. Yet, neither the Lakers nor the Knicks are particularly strong three-point shooting teams. This is ironic considering the whole philosophy seems to be pick-and-roll through James or Davis and let everyone else shoot.

But if the Knicks’ starters can hit shots from long range and Quickley is just as deadly from three, New York could win this battle of East vs. West.

Lakers predicted starters: Russell Westbrook (PG), Dennis Schroeder (SG), Troy Brown Jr. (SF), LeBron James (PF), Anthony Davis (C)

Knicks predicted starters: Jalen Brunson (PG), RJ Barrett (SG), Quentin Grimes (SF), Julius Randle (PF), Jericho Sims (C)

Prediction: Sorry, LeBron. The Knicks’ bruising defense might just be a bit much for your aging and injured team. New York fights off rallies led by James and struggles to contain Davis, but plays good defense and hits enough key shots en route to the win. Knicks 114, Lakers 100.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.