Knicks coach David Fizdale can’t say he is surprised LeBron James and his purple-and-gold gang arrive at the Garden for their lone visit bruised, battered and out of the playoff race.
James will face the Knicks in a Lakers uniform for the first time Sunday at noon. In initial meeting in January — a Knicks win — James was out with a groin strain.
After advancing to eight straight NBA Finals, James will have lots of time on his hands in April, May and June to surf, possibly hire a new coach and wonder if July will get any better via free agency.
Nobody important is clamoring to join a 34-year-old James in Los Angeles. The Pelicans reportedly are hesitant to place Anthony Davis in Hollywood.
“This league is tough,’’ Fizdale said late Friday night in San Antonio after the Knicks posted their season-low for points in a 109-83 thumping. “A lot has got to go right for everything to work out. I just know this league will beat you up and spit you out if you’re not totally on board and connected throughout. This league is brutal.’’
It will be the Lake Show vs. the Tank Show, as both famous franchises head for their sixth straight season out of the playoffs. The NBA has survived, but embattled Lakers coach Luke Walton is not expected to. James himself has also been rumored to be on the trading block.
At 31-38, the Lakers enter on a five-game losing streak. The Knicks, owners of a league-worst record at 13-56, have lost eight straight and have yet to post a victory in March.
But at least the Knicks have a 14 percent chance at Duke’s magnificent forward Zion Williamson. A lefty LeBron, if you will.
The Knicks also have a much greater shot at landing Kevin Durant than the Lakers. Durant recently said stars might not seek playing with James because no matter what happens, The King will get the credit because of his media friends. James lobbying for Davis also didn’t help his standing with new, young teammates.
Fizdale has remained on James’ side as they teamed together during their Miami championship days. Fizdale was a Heat assistant.
“He’s like family,’’ Fizdale said. “His wife and he and his kids are like family to me. We always kind of make sure we stay in touch and touch base. Obviously this year has been a crazy year for all of us. But I’m wishing him well. I hope everything works out, just not against us.”
Fizdale has every mind to have Knicks rookie lottery pick Kevin Knox take his turn guarding James. Not a strong defender, Knox has faced all the stars this season — except James.
“He has to,” Fizdale said. “He’s got to get a taste of that. Absolutely. That’s the whole point of this thing is letting him get beat up by the best. He’ll get his fair share of opportunities.”
For his part, Knox wants the challenge.
“I think a lot of players want to be on the court with one of the legends,’’ Knox said. “To be able to guard him is another. You always just try to learn, take moves from him, just go out there and play hard, play physical. He’s one of the greatest players to ever play the game so to get the opportunity to guard him is definitely great.”
James’ defense has slipped, but he’s still posting monster numbers — averaging 27.4, 8.6 rebounds and 8.0 assists.
“You’ve just got to play physical with him, get up in space and got to play with a high motor because he’s going to be active offensively, moving around. We all know he’s a strong dude.’’
When the teams met previously, Fizdale attempted to get James to speak with Knox, but he was injured and it didn’t materialize. Knox and James never saw each other during All-Star Weekend. Perhaps the third time will be the charm.
“I’d like to try,’’ Fizdale said. “I’ll just be happy to see him. If we could pull it off, I would love to do that.’’
Though a lost season for the Lakers, James probably would like to stage one emphatic Garden performance now that he gets to play there just once a season. He’s called the place his favorite road arena. However, it’s become even clearer he barely considered New York in 2010. In a radio interview this week, owner James Dolan said James was “disengaged’’ during their meeting.
“He’s had some great ones in there, that’s for sure,’’ Fizdale said. “I think a lot of the stars come in there trying to have great games. So we’ve really got to be locked in against him and really bring a competitive edge.”
Next time the Lakers and Knicks compete will be in the lottery and possibly for Davis.
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