The first quarter of last night's 116–107 Knicks win over the Lakers was sort of surreal for anyone who has watched these two teams closely over the last fifteen years. The Knicks were the team with the overpowering superstar, the team whose offense was flowing, the team making the other defense exhausted/disinterested, the team that was in complete and total control. These are the Lakers, and even though they have a losing record and are clearly having a hard time getting their superteam together, they're still the freaking Lakers. It's sort of sad to see them like this, the way you might see a former flame who hadn't been kind to you in the past having a much harder time with life these days than you'd wished even in your most indulgent, darkest moments. The Lakers aren't supposed to look like this. But that's their problem — specifically, Mike D'Antoni's problem — not the Knicks'. After all, the Knicks have looked like this plenty.
That first quarter last night, in which the Knicks scored 41 points and Carmelo Anthony scored 22 on 8-of-9 field goals, was a fountain of cold water directly to the middle of the brain; the Lakers defense — which, we remind you, has Dwight Howard, one of the most dominant defensive presences in NBA history — looked to a man like some of the more terrible defenses during D'Antoni's run as coach of the Knicks. As we said yesterday, we have fonder memories of D'Antoni than his results necessarily might have merited, and we do think he might still get these Lakers turned around, but boy howdy, did that defense look terrible last night.
Also, Carmelo came out on fire. He might claim that he and D'Antoni get along fine, but he exploded in the first quarter like he wanted to harm D'Antoni and his immediate family. The whole team shot 74 percent in the quarter, and 66 percent for the half, and they might have even kept it going had Carmelo not sprained his ankle after being knocked down by Dwight Howard on a drive to the lane. The injury looked a lot worse at the time — and we never believe the Knicks on injuries, so you never know — and it certainly threw the Knicks off their game, allowing the Lakers (led by Kobe Bryant, who doesn't seem to be enjoying being on a terrible team all of a sudden) to make an ostensive comeback. But the Knicks were up by way too much; even losing Carmelo wasn't enough to let the Lakers catch up.
As for how the crowd treated D'Antoni, well, he was booed when his name was announced, loudly but not lustily. It wasn't a "look, Isiah's in the building!" boo. The "Fire D'Antoni" chant that popped up at the end even sounded sort of charming, almost tongue-in-cheek. But D'Antoni has far bigger issues to deal with right now than his Knicks legacy.
Meanwhile: The Knicks are 17-5, the second-best record in the NBA, and might just get to do this to the Lakers again on Christmas Day. Before then, they have five more straight home games. Carmelo may or may not be back for Saturday's game against Cleveland — more on that later today — but right now, the Knicks look like the Lakers, and the Lakers look like the Knicks.