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MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

These Knicks are no longer an endangered species

New York hasn't won a championship since 1973, and Walt Frazier, now an announcer, seems to still be pining for the old days, judging by the '70s-style leopard-print suit he wore to game against Lakers. But it's a new day for the long-downtrodden Knicks, who are suddenly 'relevant' again.

January 09, 2011|Mark Heisler
  • Spike Lee and former Laker Norm Nixon watch the teams warm up before the Lakers-Knicks game at Staples Center.
Spike Lee and former Laker Norm Nixon watch the teams warm up before the Lakers-Knicks… (Jayne Kamin-Oncea / US Presswire )

N.Y., as in Not You bozos, too. . . .

NBA powers, like Miami, have risen, and some, like Phoenix, have fallen, like the Suns since the Lakers' glory run started four seasons ago.

And NBA teams have come out from under rocks, or wherever the Knicks went after 2001, their last finish over .500.

Not that Spike Lee would show up here, as he did Sunday, when Pat Riley was the Prince of the City in the '90s and the Knicks contended for titles but neglected to win any.

This team was only No. 6 in the East but at 53, Lee can't hold out for a title, having waited 38 years since the last one.

So, welcome, Spike!

The Lakers had beaten only three winning teams all season — Portland, Chicago, New Orleans — but things weren't so bad that they couldn't make it four, pounding the Knicks inside, out-rebounding them by 19 and drubbing them, 109-87.

Just as the Lakers planned it . . . for once.

As for turning points and the Lakers' showing how tough they were, get serious.

Ron Artest did get a flagrant foul for headlocking Amare Stoudemire on the move.

Of course, he's Ron Artest.

Andrew Bynum got ejected 34 seconds into the fourth quarter, ending his night at 18 points, seven rebounds and two blocks.

Of course, it was only for asking Leon Wood, "Are you serious?" twice, which was enough to get two technicals.

Asked about the Lakers' manly response afterward, Kobe Bryant said, "Come on. It wasn't really physical. We're a little bigger than they are so there was a lot of bumping going on."

At least, no bunch of shrimps can come in here and bump the Lakers.

The Knicks, who won 39 games once in the last nine seasons, 37 another time . . . and were never over 33 in the others . . . started 3-8, but came in at 21-14.

This pleased Knicks alumni, like Phil Jackson and his then-roommate, Bill Bradley, who attended.

Recalling their halcyon days in the '70s, Knicks announcer Walt Frazier came dressed as a leopard, or at least wore a leopard-print suit.

Frazier got his nickname for donning fedoras like Clyde Barrow with fur coats the original Clyde wouldn't have worn on a bet.

"He used to locker right next to me," Jackson said of Frazier.

"I know the elephant one [coat] must have weighed 40 pounds."

Those were the days, my friend, but they ended.

By the turn of the century, it was such instant history, it was as if it had never happened.

Now, as a Madison Square Garden Network reporter remarked to Jackson, they're back to being relevant.

"I like that term, 'relevant,'" Jackson said, smiling. "They were irrelevant before.

"You drove by the Garden, just looked to see who they were playing, huh?"

The Knicks now run Coach Mike D'Antoni's offense, which no one could guard in Phoenix.

This one isn't much easier, rolling up 128 points on the Spurs in the Knicks' biggest win of the season last week.

Knowing they had to pound them inside before the Knicks spread them out and shot them to pieces, that's what the Lakers did, as subtly as elephants.

Of course, when you do pound it inside every play, the opponent knows what's coming and sags back.

At present, the Lakers aren't just taking things as they come. Now they work on things.

Passing into the post every time he touched it, Bryant had one assist, three turnovers and no shot attempts in the first 3:30.

After that, it worked better.

It was a night to remember, or not.

Eschewing his usual purple-and-gold fur outfit, local radio personality Vic the Brick Jacobs wore white fur — rat, probably.

"Homage to Clyde," said Vic, a boyhood Frazier fan, pronouncing it "oh-MAJH."

"Phil, special energy in the house, higher energy to the game?" Vic asked Jackson after the game.

"You think so?" said Jackson, who didn't appear to have noticed.

"I think so," said Vic.

Jackson didn't say what he thought but is thought to be holding out for a win over a winning team from Boston, Miami or even San Antonio.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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