The Knicks end their trip out west with another night in Los Angeles, this time against LeBron James and the Lakers. New York split the season series with the Clippers following Saturday’s 144-122 loss.

This game, despite its late start, should be exciting on several fronts. First, LeBron continues to be an ageless wonder and it’s fun to think what could have been had “The Decision” gone differently. It’s also a time to think back to when the Knicks’ last championship in 1973, when they stunned the Lakers in seven.

It’s a battle of the big markets. LeBron’s near-Hollywood Lakers versus the tough-as-nails Knicks, and New York would love to go home with a win.

Time: Monday, December 18, 10:30 p.m. ET


Betting Line: Knicks +4.5, Over/under 232.5 via DraftKings

Injuries: Mitchell Robinson (Ankle surgery, OUT), Gabe Vincent (Knee, OUT), Jalen Hood Schifino (Back, OUT) Christian Wood (Non-COVID illness, questionable), Anthony Davis (Hip/groin, questionable), LeBron James (Calf, questionable), Jarrad Vanderbilt (Back spasms, probable), D’Angelo Russell (Head, probable)

Key Storyline: Which Knicks and Lakers will show up to play? This truly is a tough matchup because last year’s season series isn’t a great indicator. The Knicks and Lakers split both games, but with caveats. The first, in January, saw the Lakers win in OT after LeBron got hot late and finished with a triple-double. The Knicks won the rematch on the road in March, though without Jalen Brunson and the Lakers were without both James and Anthony Davis.

Both teams rank about the same in scoring, with only half a point separating them. On defense, the Knicks rank ninth to the Lakers’ 12th. It’s thus going to be about who makes more shots early on and builds a strong lead and on talent alone, odds would favor the Lakers.

Key Matchup: RJ Barrett vs. Cam Reddish. The former Duke and New York teammates will see a lot of each other Monday night. Reddish is playing incredible defense in LA, posting a 1.7 defensive box plus/minus (DBPM). Barrett, on the other hand, is the epitome of working smart on the court as opposed to hard, and with solid results. He’s only averaging 19.1 points this season, but is hanging consistently around 43% shooting while improving his threes and free throws.

Reddish’s job is to make Barrett force as many of his shots as possible. Barrett’s is to read his friend’s defense and find a way to score past it. If Reddish wins the battle, New York faces more of an uphill battle throughout the game.

X-Factor: Isaiah Hartenstein. The Clippers shooting almost 57% from the field on Saturday indicates how much the Knicks miss Robinson. He’s out for at least seven more weeks, making Hartenstein the go-to guy in the middle. The seven-footer has been a spark plug off the bench again this season and looks even better on defense.

Hartenstein will probably come off the bench again tonight, and he’ll have a tough time of it if Anthony Davis plays. However, he’s shown nothing but grit all year long and whether its Davis, Jarred Vanderbilt, or even Jaxson Hayes, he’ll be ready.

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

Lakers predicted starters: D’Angelo Russell (PG), Cam Reddish (SG), Taurean Prince (SF), LeBron James (PF), Anthony Davis (C)

Prediction: Win or lose, this game should be close. Both teams are just too closely matched up in too many areas. The younger, meaner Knicks could very well overpower the Lakers early and just roll from there.

However, LeBron is still LeBron, and the Knicks are without their best interior defender.

Prediction: Lakers defeat Knicks 123-116

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.