Carmelo Anthony gave the Knicks and their fans an early Christmas present by taking over in the fourth quarter of Sunday's win over Minnesota. Santa Carmelo hopes to deliver more holiday cheer Tuesday in Los Angeles and spoil Mike D'Antoni's Christmas.
The Heat and Thunder (at 5:30 p.m.) is a rematch of last year's NBA Finals and they each own the best winning percentage in their respective conferences. But Knicks-Lakers has star power, drama, intrigue, and the NBA's top two scorers in Anthony and Kobe Bryant.
"It's a big game," Anthony said. "A big game for us, big game for the league, big game for basketball period. [If] we don't get excited for this game then I don't know what game we should get excited for."
The two teams are in different places than most considered they would be when the season started.
The Knicks have the oldest roster in NBA history and have been without Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert for every game to this point. Yet behind Anthony's early MVP-type performance - he scored 19 of his 33 in the fourth quarter Sunday - the Knicks are 20-7 and have done a good job of getting up for games that would be classified as "big."
They're 2-0 against the Heat and have won each game by 20 points. They beat the Nets twice and the Spurs in San Antonio. The only real blemishes have been against Jeremy Lin and the Rockets, who have trounced the Knicks twice this season.
But the Knicks recognize the importance of the Lakers game and that they're facing a different team than the one they beat 13 days earlier at the Garden.
The Lakers didn't have Nash or Pau Gasol that night and the Knicks led by as many as 26. But they lost Anthony to a sprained ankle in the third quarter from a nasty spill after a hard Dwight Howard foul and held on for the win. The Lakers haven't lost since, winning four straight. This will be the first time the Knicks face Nash since he spurned them in free agency to sign with the Lakers.
"They'll be different," Tyson Chandler said. "Like I've said before countless times, it's about what we do, no matter who we're facing. Whether it's the Lakers, Minnesota, Portland, Sac - we've got to make sure we play our game. "
Trips to the West Coast are usually difficult, but the Knicks are playing against three of the bottom five teams in the conference. After the Lakers, the Knicks are at Phoenix (11-17) and then Sacramento (9-18). But the Lakers sub-.500 record is deceiving. They're still learning how to play with one another, just got Nash back and have Bryant.
"They've got plenty of games, a lot of basketball to be played and they've got a guy out there who refuses to lose," Jason Kidd said.
The guy, Bryant, is averaging a league-high 29.7 points. Anthony is second at 28.3. But Anthony said the personal duel with Bryant won't be his motivation Tuesday.
"We want to win," Anthony said. "That's our first game on that road trip. But what makes it so much more meaningful is it's a Christmas game, in L.A., Knicks-Lakers. It doesn't get much better than that."
Notes and quotes: The Knicks are listing Stoudemire (knee surgery) and Rasheed Wallace (foot) as out for Tuesday. Marcus Camby said he would be available after missing the prior 12 games with plantar fasciitis. The Knicks play their NBA-record 48th Christmas Day game. They are 22-25 on Christmas.