LeBron James’ ejection Sunday against the Detroit Pistons overshadowed the fact the Los Angeles Lakers halted a three-game losing streak. The Lakers, who added Russell Westbrook to bolster their chances at another NBA title, sit at 9-9 and remain one of the league’s biggest disappointments. Four-time NBA All-Star Kemba Walker, brought in by the New York Knicks after a disappointing stint with the Boston Celtics, can relate to those Lakers’ struggles.
Kemba Walker ready for his first Knicks vs. Lakers showdown
When the Celtics signed Walker to a four-year, $141 million max deal in 2019, Boston expected him to be the quarterback of the offense for the foreseeable future. Instead, after two injury-filled years, the Celtics shipped him to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a trade for Al Horford this offseason. Walker’s time in OKC was short-lived as he made his way to the Knicks.
The Knicks are coming off their first taste of the playoffs since the 2012-13 season. Although they fell to the Atlanta Hawks in five games in the opening round, they have turned the corner and had a resurgence last year. Adding Walker to the mix should only help.
Walker and the Knicks take on the LeBron James-less Lakers on Tuesday, giving Walker his first taste of a Knicks/Lakers showdown.
“It’ll be cool,’’ said Walker, the Bronx native, to the New York Post. “It will definitely be fun of course. The Knicks-Lakers are always a cool rivalry.’’
Kemba Walker can relate to the struggles of the Lakers
Whether it’s adjusting to his new surroundings or dealing with his balky knee, Walker hasn’t quite lit it up as a member of the Knicks. He recently played in his first back-to-back games since the 2019-2020 season. Like the beginning of his Knicks career, it didn’t go very well.
He made three of nine shots from the floor, finishing with seven points in a 109-103 loss to the Chicago Bulls. He collected four assists. The seven-point outing was the eighth time in his last 11 games when he didn’t reach 10 points.
The good news, however, was that he experienced no pain in his knee. Walker chose to look at that as his bright side.
“I just wanted to play,’’ Walker said to the New York Post. “I knew I was playing. I’m feeling good. I’m doing everything I can to take care of myself. Training staff, give those guys credit. I’m putting in the work.’’
The Lakers enter having lose three of their last four games. The, too, have battled through injuries and find themselves trying to adjust to new faces.
Walker can relate.
“It happens,’’ Walker said of the Lakers’ struggles. “They haven’t had a full team all year. We all know LeBron is an incredible talent for years, they’ll turn it around at some point. LeBron is one of the greatest ones to play this game. I’m sure he’ll figure it out.
“I watched the game the other day. Those guys got like 13 new guys. It’s a lot of new guys to get adjusted to so things just don’t work out that fast. It just takes time. When it clicks it clicks. Everyone has to adjust, figure out new roles, new teammates. It’s an adjustment period.”
Walker isn’t the only player on the Knicks in a slump
Walker is averaging career-lows in points (11.7), assists (3.0), and minutes (24.6). He’s shooting 43% from the floor and hasn’t been able to get in a groove just yet. He’s not alone.
After earning that playoff berth last year, the Knicks were expecting to build off that momentum, but it just hasn’t panned out. New York enters Tuesday’s game with the Lakers having lost four of its last six games.
Evan Fournier, also brought in to help push the Knicks to the next level, is shooting 40% and averaging 12.1 points. Neither Fournier nor Walker has made an impact so far. Walker’s plus-minus is an ugly minus-106.
RJ Barrett is another one shooting poorly for the Knicks. He’s shooting at a 38% clip.
Despite the slumps, the Knicks (9-8) believe they will turn things around and make a return trip to the postseason.
“We’ll eventually figure out how to compete and play at that level every night,’’ Julius Randle said. “We won’t have to wait for a big game to get up and play like that. Eventually, we’ll get there. I know for sure we’ll be up for the challenge.’’