Knicks’ 9-game winning streak ends at hands of LeBron James, Lakers, 113-105

Knicks’ 9-game winning streak ends at hands of LeBron James, Lakers, 113-105

LeBron James dribbled between his legs as the clock wound down under two minutes. Across from him, Precious Achiuwa, filling in for the injured Julius Randle, playing the role OG Anunoby, also injured, might have filled as the de facto LeBron stopper.

James drove left, got just outside the restricted area, put a shoulder into Achiuwa, then faded away from the basket off one foot and got a line drive shot to fall to put the Lakers up by nine.

That shot was the dagger. LeBron smirked — his shot put the Lakers (26-25) back above .500 and paved the the way for a 113-105 victory.

The Lakers handed the Knicks their first loss in 10 tries and just their third loss since Jan. 1. James played 40 minutes and finished with 24 points, five rebounds and five assists on 10-of-19 shooting from the field, none of his shots more important than the fall-away jumper that put the Knicks away for good.

“I think with LeBron, it’s his skill set, size, power, speed, and then his ability to push the ball, attack before the defense sets, make plays, beat you with the pass, beat you off the dribble, beat you with his shot,” head coach Tom Thibodeau said postgame. “So it takes your whole team to be working together. You over help, he’s gonna make you pay. You’re gonna have to be disciplined and the size is a big factor because he can see over people and his decision making is unbelievable. He’s done it for a long time so it’ll be a great test for us.”

It was the matchup New Yorkers stuffed the stands to behold: David vs. Goliath — the 6-0 super guard Jalen Brunson hosting James, also known as The King, at The World’s Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden.

On this night, David fell short.

Brunson finished with 36 points, 10 assists and six rebounds on 15-of-31 shooting from the field, but the shorthanded Knicks didn’t have the firepower. Randle is out an extended period after he dislocated his shoulder against the Miami Heat, and Anunoby, a ball-hawk defender, also missed his fourth straight game with right elbow inflammation.

Ahead of tipoff, Lakers head coach Darvin Ham said Anunoby’s absence mightn’t make the Knicks much easier to score against.

“He’s one of several [lockdown defenders on the Knicks roster]: Donte [DiVincenzo], Josh [Hart], those guys are scrappy. Miles [McBride]. They have a scrappy ball club,” Ham said. “They’re second in the league in taking charges. Their activity level off the ball is at an elite level. Nine wins in a row. That’s a big part of why they’re winning the way they are. Having [OG] out, you’ve gotta be ready for the next thing. Knowing Tom, he’s got a lot left to throw at you.”

Donte DiVincenzo scored 26 points and Josh Hart added 12 and 11 rebounds, but the Knicks looked overmatched for the first time since their pair of starters went down after last Saturday’s game against the Heat.

Just like King James drew up.

Make no mistake, LeBron circled this game on his calendar: After sitting Friday’s matchup against the Celtics at Boston’s historic TD Garden, James recovered from a left ankle injury to play his 32nd game at The Garden of Dreams.

And after triple-doubling in each of the three previous matchups against the Knicks, James handed the Knicks (32-18) a loss that feels foreign for a team that won 14 games in a month for the first time in 30 years.

And his highlight of the night came in the first quarter, when he intercepted a Hart pass and tossed the ball up to D’Angelo Russell, who bounced an alley-oop off the ground for James to stuff with two hands.

The MSG crowd erupted. Few players can garner that kind of respect from one of the most raucous fan bases in all of basketball.

“To do it the way he’s done it, for that long, is a testament to the commitment he’s made. It’s really remarkable the way he’s taken care of himself and he always adds to his game,” Thibodeau said. “He’s like a pitcher who adds a different pitch, he changes speeds, has a great understanding of the game, the way he reads the game. He’s had an incredible career.”

Russell finished with 16 points, and Anthony Davis put up 12 points, 18 rebounds, five assists and four blocks.

The Laker bench outscored the Knicks’ second unit, 32-15.

The Knicks have now fallen to fourth place in the East behind the Cleveland Cavaliers, who defeated the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday.

Next up, they face the Memphis Grizzlies, who lost superstar guard Ja Morant to season-ending shoulder surgery.

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