The thing that bugs me about these big games is the cheers players like Kobe receive when playing in opposing arenas. Take notice tonight when he’s introduced or scores a basket, there will be a wave of cheer that transcends the crowd and I never understood it. Let’s put an end to this nonsense now and work on making ACC an impenetrable fortress. Well, that’s probably too much to ask so maybe we’ll start with trying to make it a tougher place to play more than a home away from home. I suggest dimming the lights in the upper bowl and the further part of the lower bowl ala Staples and MSG, give it a more theatrical feel rather than a commercial setting just so some girl can take over the public address system to sell us BMO savings accounts. The main reason I stopped buying a ticket.

The Lakers blew out the Knicks at MSG a night after losing in Cleveland because of Pau Gasol blowing two FTs late that would’ve tied the game. He also missed two FTs in Sacramento a few weeks back in a similar situation. This is the third of an NBA-high eight game road trip for the Lakers which ends on February 1st. The game gives us a chance to look at Andrew Bynum, a name mentioned in a Bosh rumour last week. I was always a bit surprise that Bynum fell to #10 in the 2005 draft. Given the infatuation with young 7′ centers, I thought somebody would take him in the top 7 but he was passed in favor of Ike Diogu, Charlie Villanueva and Martell Webster. Would you do a Bosh-Bynum swap? I’d hesitate to, because as good as Bynum can be he’s not as good as Bosh at this very moment. If the braintrust’s plan is to do a rebuild then I could be sold on the idea, but in that case we’d have to do some housecleaning and get rid of some contracts.

Back to matters at hand, the game is a tough one and needed to avoid a 1-3 week which would be a huge disappointment after how well it started off in the first half in Cleveland. Those gritty Bucks really burst our bubble with their come-back win and their resilient three quarters on Friday. The way the Raptors played on Friday was a cause for concern, they were outhustled and if it weren’t for some key Buck turnovers and some great play by Jarrett Jack, things would’ve looked very gloomy right now. If we bring the same level of energy to this game, the Lakers will put us away after 12 minutes just like Boston did. Good teams smell weakness and attack right from the get-go.

The triangle is a system (like all others) that can punish you if you don’t communicate on defense and for the last few years, we haven’t been doing that. We have lost 14 of 16 against the Lakers and 5 straight at home. We’ve allowed an average of 115.4pts in the last five played against them with the average margin of defeat being more than 15 points. It hasn’t even been close. The Lakers are only 15th in the NBA in blocks, but that stat doesn’t show the amount of disruption Bynum and Gasol cause. Their defense almost encourages guard penetration as they funnel them straight to their tall trees who are great at contesting without fouling (take note Amir). The length of their wing defenders (Kobe, Artest, Odom, Fisher) makes it very hard for drive ‘n kicks to thrive as passes are constantly being deflected and stolen (7th in steals with 7.6, Raps are 29th with 5.7).

If Bargnani plays, he’ll force Gasol and Bynum to come outside and that is something both are extremely uncomfortable doing. We’re usually begging Bargnani to post-up more, but this is a game where he’s best suited bringing it form outside and relieving the congestion in the paint, thus allowing Calderon, Jack and Turkoglu to go about their business. This of course assumes that Turkoglu actually wants to go about doing his business. Check the raptors.com front page at the time of writing, they really don’t get how bad that commercial has been for him. It’s also very likely that if Bargnani does get off to a good start, the Lakers will be quick to switch Lamar Odom on him, a task he can perform well.

Turkoglu’s problems can be summed up in one sentence: the guy doesn’t play hard. I finally saw him break a sweat when he D’d up Delfino to cause a turnover late on Friday, but other than that he’s just too casual and almost blasé. We suffered through a few years of Mo Pete shooting bricks but that was excused because the guy played the other end of the floor, Turkoglu doesn’t do that and makes three times the money which rightfully infuriates fans. His play is an example of how guaranteed contracts have ruined sports. There was a thread in the forums which talked about Bosh being upset with Turkoglu over his effort and whispering something to that effect to someone in the media. Therein lies the problem – leadership. A true leader of this team would step-up to Turkoglu an call him out either in private on in the locker-room, not just gossip about it.

Our man Paul Jones is hailing the Turkoglu-Jack-Calderon lineup as it was on the floor in the final minute against the Bucks. Problem with that line of thinking is that it ignores the fact that the real damage when those three were playing was done by Belinelli and Bosh, both making key plays to ice the game. We saw how valuable Belinelli was on offense against the Bucks on Friday, but Triano benched him in the second quarter on Wednesday for conceding a couple offensive rebounds to Stackhouse and watched the offense choke. You can’t keep a straight face and tell me that Belinelli shouldn’t have played in the second half on Wednesday, it very well could’ve cost us the game.

DeRozan’s going to be tested against Kobe and you’d think Triano will call on Wright to at least make an attempt at slowing him down. Off the bench, we have no answer for Lamar Odom. I’m trying to think of any potential mismatches that we could exploit but nothing comes to mind; unless Chris Bosh abuses Gasol in the early going, the Lakers don’t have much to worry about. With Odom, Gasol, Walton and even Artest at their disposal, they have enough Bosh neutralizers as evidenced by Bosh’s 12/7 average against the Lakers last year. Honestly, Bargnani’s versatility is the only true threat. You could make a case that Jack and Calderon are superior to Farmar and Fisher, but the Lakers defense doesn’t leave their guards hung out to try like ours, they have help schemes that make up for individual deficiencies.

Things that we can do to keep the game close:

  • Defensive rebound. The Lakers are #2 in rebounding and since they have so many offensive threats, we stand no chance if we give them more than one opportunity to score. Bargnani and Bosh will both be tested and Johnson will need to play good minutes against Gasol. Rasho could even find himself in the mix.
  • Establish Bosh and Bargnani on the offensive end. With some luck, we could pick up a few fouls on their bigs and hope Kobe decides to take it upon himself and has a bad game. Our bigs will have to play well to win this game, small ball won’t work here and if we try that we’ll get punished on the boards.
  • Defend the interior and Kobe with a purpose. See how far DeRozan and Wright can take you guarding Kobe one on one, ideally you don’t want to send a double for Kobe and for their bigs. If Bosh and Bargnani can handle their checks without any help, we’ll have a better chance at stopping Kobe’s scoring and creativity. He averaged 6.5 assists against us last year, 2 above his season average.
  • Play like you give a s**t. Not like you did for three quarters against Milwaukee.

Let’s go Raps.

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