Tyson Chandler’s towering presence cannot change that reality, nor can ’s dazzling offense offset it.
Bryant reigned supreme Thursday night at Staples Center, as he so often has over the years, masterfully carving up the Knicks with his shooting, his drives and his passes, and leading the to a 99-82 rout.
Bryant had 28 points and made three passes that broke open the game in the fourth quarter, all of them leading to 3-pointers by teammates. Bryant has been coping with a torn ligament in his right wrist, although it hardly seemed to bother him.
“Kobe ain’t hurt, man,” Anthony said with a chuckle. “He looks fine tuned to me. He looks good.”
It was the Lakers’ eighth straight victory over the Knicks (1-2), who have now lost the first two games of their three-game trip, which concludes Saturday night in Sacramento. They could be without Amar’e Stoudemire, who sprained his left ankle in the fourth quarter Thursday and is being listed as day-to-day.
Anthony led the Knicks with 27 points and 7 rebounds and vastly improved his shooting (8 for 14) after a poor night in Oakland. He also directed the Knicks’ offense for much of the game, with mixed results. He had 5 assists, but also 5 turnovers, and the offense turned stagnant in the second half, when the Knicks converted just 9 of 31 shots.
As badly as the Knicks played defensively — allowing the Lakers to shoot 71.9 percent in the first half — the most stunning statistic was their sickly point total.
“The Lakers are good and we’re awful,” Coach Mike D’Antoni said testily. He added, “We got to score. Our guys are fighting, they’re playing hard, we just can’t make a shot. And we’re not having very good rhythm out there.”
That is an ongoing theme now, the product of a short training camp, wholesale roster changes and the lack of a quality point guard. Anthony handled the ball more Thursday than he has at any time with the Knicks, and D’Antoni said it may be wearing him down.
“To whom much is given, much is expected,” Anthony said, adding, “We have to do what we have to do to win basketball games. If that’s wearing myself out to try to win games, I’ll do it. That’s why I worked hard this offseason getting in the best shape.”
Everyone seems certain that they can work out the kinks, and Anthony noted, “It’s super early.”
But the anxiety was palpable after a second straight loss and Anthony was moved to label the Sacramento game “a must-win.”
“It’s three games into the season, and we will get better,” he said.
Stoudemire had 15 points but again struggled with his shot, settling for long jumpers while going 4 for 17 from the field. He twisted his ankle late in the game and went to the bench with 4:58 to play. Chandler had his strongest overall game as a Knick, with 13 points and 11 rebounds, while battling Pau Gasol (16 points, 10 rebounds).
The Knicks trailed all night but hung around until the fourth quarter, pulling within 11 points. Then Bryant found Steve Blake in the corner for a 3-pointer to start another run. Moments later he found Blake and Matt Barnes for consecutive 3-pointers as the lead ballooned to 97-75.
Bryant had 13 points in the third quarter, including a 4-point play, as the Lakers built a 15-point edge. A surge by Anthony and a late 3-pointer from Steve Novak cut the deficit to 80-72 by the end of the period.
When they were not battling the Lakers, the Knicks’ stars were battling their own testy impulses: Chandler, Anthony and Stoudemire each picked up a technical foul Thursday night. It was the third this week for Chandler, who has had one in every game, and the second for Stoudemire.
The Knicks offense had been abysmal in Oakland a night earlier, leaving D’Antoni shaking his head and searching for answers. His solution Thursday was to hand the ball to Anthony and hope for the best.
Anthony played point forward for much of the night, usurping the ball-handling duties from Toney Douglas, who has been overmatched as a point guard. Playmaking has never been Anthony’s forte, but the ball moved a bit better and, at times, the offense hummed in the first half.
Anthony had 18 points in the half, outscoring Bryant (15), but the Lakers took a 63-51 lead into halftime.
Eventually, the Knicks hope to have Baron Davis running their offense, leaving Anthony to his scorer’s role. Until then, the Knicks may struggle. When D’Antoni was asked before tipoff about his team’s ball movement, he paused, squinted and gritted his teeth. Words were unnecessary.
Opponents are noticing the same issue.
“They need a facilitator on the floor,” said Lakers Coach Mike Brown, who said the loss of Chauncey Billups — who was waived to make room for Chandler — “really hurts them.”
But, Brown added, “When you have a guy like Baron Davis sitting in the wings, their time will come, if he can get healthy.”
That may be the Knicks’ mantra for many weeks to come.
Although the Lakers pursued Baron Davis, they never met with him or made a formal offer, Coach Mike Brown said. “I think he was leaning to New York from the beginning,” he said. …Brown was notably pleased at the Knicks’ other major acquisition, Tyson Chandler, who left the Dallas Mavericks, weakening a major Lakers’ rival. “It was great,” Brown said. “I thought about taking my wife to dinner, busting open a bottle of champagne.”