Kobe. Mamba. Vino. Whatever you want to call him, it’s on as Bean Bryant and the surging Lakers host the Toronto Raptors tonight at 10:30 on TSN2. The Lakers have won 14 of their past 20 games to retire the TBJ Lakers Swear Jar at 31-31. More importantly, they trail the Utah Jazz by just a game and a half for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot.

I know the Lakers get a lot of hate, but I’d really like to see them make the playoffs. In terms of viewing and entertainment, the Lakers are a better option than the Jazz who, no offense, are fun but don’t provide nearly the match-up drama. The Rockets are two up on L.A. and I sincerely hope it’s not them who eventually fall out, because they’re just too damn fun to watch for them not to be in the playoffs. But Lakers-Spurs or Lakers-Thunder in round 1 in place of the Jazz? Sign me up.

And good news, Laker fans: the Raptors will probably help out the cause tonight! Finishing up their four-game road trip, the Raptors come in at 24-38 and having just snapped a five-game losing streak against the Suns. They’re not playing their best ball, to say the least, and I’m pretty confident the motivational gap between the teams will help boost Kobe & Co to their first above-.500 record since Nov. 20.

Tale of the Tape
O-Rating: Lakers 107.9 (8th), Raptors 106.1 (11th)
D-Rating: Lakers 106.8 (21st), Raptors 107.5 (24th)
Pace: Lakers 94.8 (3rd), Raptors 90.2 (25th)
Strength: Lakers Getting to Stripe (2nd), Raptors Hacking (30th)
Weakness: Lakers Forcing Turnovers (29th), Raptors Ball Control (3rd)

Well, at least the strengths and weaknesses match up! The Raptors foul a lot and the Lakers shoot a tonne of free throws, meaning that weakness should be magnified tonight. Of course, thanks to Dwight the Lakers shoot just 69.2% from the line, second worst in the league. On the other side, the Raptors rarely turn the ball over (yes, even without Calderon this has remained somewhat of a strength – the team turnover rate was an elite 13.7% before the deal and has been a roughly average 15.3% since) and the Lakers don’t force turnovers. If the Raptors can bang on the boards effectively and try to play disciplined defense, they may be able to carve out a few extra possessions to keep things close.

Who Guards Kobe?
Well, Rudy Gay, of course. At least he should, given that he’s the team’s “stopper,” but the Lakers play a big line-up at times that may force DeRozan on him since otherwise Metta World Peace will be free to post DeRozan up a fair amount. Let’s look at the options, though, just for checking Kobe.

Gay: In two games against Gay this year, Kobe had a 52.1 TS%, well below his 57.7% season average. However, it’s likely that Tony Allen took most of the defensive assignments, given the fact that Allen couldn’t as capably slide to the three against the big Lakers line-up. Gay is a pretty decent isolation defender and will, at the very least, get the opportunity to guard Bryant when the Lakers run their small-ish line-up with Steve Nash and Jodie Meeks on the floor with Kobe.

DeRozan: DeRozan has also been a pretty decent isolation defender this year and he was part of the team of guys that held Kobe in check last time out. Since he’s less likely to be able to slide to the three given Metta’s size advantage, he’ll probably work on Kobe for some stretches. It’s a bit of a scary proposition given the general narrative about DeRozan’s defense, but the team did okay last time without Gay in the fold so…maybe? I’m stretching here.

Anderson: Anderson drew the assignment plenty when the team’s last matched up and he acquitted himself pretty well. The bigger issue with Anderson is not trying to go shot-for-shot on offense. He’s a perfectly capable defender and if he’s gotta get run over Terrence Ross, this is the right game to do it in, I guess.

Fields: Landry has proven himself a versatile defender this year and played Carmelo Anthony pretty well in their meetings. The question with Fields becomes whether he can offer anything at all on offense, as he’s averaging just five points in about 20 minutes since returning from injury. Fields played 38 minutes against the Lakers last time, and I’d bet he has coach Dwane Casey’s trust for the assignment.

Other Match-Ups
Kyle Lowry and Steve Nash – Lowry, get after it man. Nash has been especially poor on defense this year due to age and injury, and Dwight Howard isn’t quite the interior defender he came advertised as, perhaps also due to injury. Opponent point guards have a 15.4 PER against Nash, but perhaps more telling is that the Lakers are 2.5 points per 100 possessions worse defensively when Nash plays. Lowry can get into his poor-man’s-Westbrook mode and give the Lakers fits. Lowry dropping 20-plus efficiently is about the only chance the Raptors have, with no advantages elsewhere.

Dwight Howard and Aaron Gray – The two best centers in the league go toe-to-toe. In seriousness, Gray will get some time on Dwight. He played 16 minutes in their previous meeting (which the Raptors won 108-103 by the way, thanks to Bryant shooting 10-of-32). Valanciunas wasn’t healthy for that one but I say throw the kid out there tonight and let him pick up the fouls learning to bang with the best of them. Even though the narrative is that Howard is having a down year, he’s still averaging 16-and-12 on 57% shooting, so he’s a good test for the young Lithuanian.

Alan Anderson and Kobe – Who can take more shots per minute? For the season, Anderson shoots every 2.4 minutes while Bryant shoots every 1.9 minutes. We know Anderson thinks he’s Kobe, and this is his chance to prove it.

Earl Clark and Amir Johnson – The two hustle heroes will get the chance to go head to head with Pau Gasol still out, racing to become so overrated their underrated and then overrated and then underrated again.

The Picks
Vegas: Lakers -7.5
Hollinger: Lakers -5.5
Blake: Lakers by 12. Sorry, I just don’t see it. The motivation the Lakers have right now and the fact that they’ve been playing very well, plus the fact that Kobe needs to “avenge” his performance last time out (and you just know the guy thinks like that), all adds up to make me negative about the Raptors prospects in this one. Kobe drops 35 and the Lakers cruise to victory. Sorry folks.

  • hateslosing

    I’m not sure we lose this one. This new Raptors team is even streakier then the one we had pre Rudy. Coming off the blow out and up against a superstar riddles Laker team, I think the Raptors are going to give the Lakers a run for their money. You know Gay and DD want to torch Kobe if they can. Lakers are playing well, but the Raps can be dangerous.

  • GoingBig

    I keep remembering the games against the Knicks.  The Raps played ugly overall but very strong defensively.  Gay can do that style as he did against Carmelo Anthony(with help) – but every Raptor has to play that way 

    But I don’t think the Lakers will play that ugly.  Lakers’ll take it but I hope for something enjoyable.
    As a west coast Raps fan, I don’t get to see the start of games unless they’re on a western trip – this’ll be fun

  • FLUXLAND

    “We know Anderson thinks he’s Kobe, and this is his chance to prove it.”

    LOL. I have no issues with AA,  but the above may be true.  I don’t know if RR just didn’t trot this out because there’s too many detractors of his on here or it was missed, but this is pure gold:

    “After a 3, Anderson will take his left hand and run it once up and down
    his right arm. I asked him a few weeks ago what that was supposed to
    signify. The answer: Anderson is pantomiming the act of reloading a
    rifle or shotgun, since he has nicknamed his jumper “The Gun.””

    This is beyond awesome on so many levels, I love it. LOL.  Alan “The Gun” Anderson vs Kobe “The Black Mamba/Vino” Bryant. If nothing else is alike, at least they anoint themselves nicknames.  

    • Statement

      Alan Anderson sux.  Good value at $800,000, but then again, who wouldn’t be?

      • FLUXLAND

        Only this fanbase would keep excusing DeEfficient DeAthlete (23) while continually banging on AA (30). 

        (I dunno; The Gun may be the one bright spot (for me) this year.   He’s done what Apollo13 should have done with his NBA stint.

        It may be a bit of my MSU bias (he did it ALL there), but
        in no way does AA suck, if you’re a ball junkie.  He may be playing too
        big of a role on this team, at times, that’s true, but what he brings
        to the locker room and the fact he would play like this if it were you
        and him in your backyard, is more than good value. It’s a bargain, it
        may even be a steal with some of his performances! The guy is a real
        basketball player, maybe not uber talented, but a baller. 

        We don’t have enough of those on this team, but yeah in TO we’re gonna slam senior journeymen ballers, not praise them for their perseverance, leadership and bringing it every minute regardless of score attitude. No, we’re gonna talk about how the athletic arm flapper, who thinks he’s a top 10 player in the L, needs to get to the line while watching him disappear during games or spin-move into a turnover in the closing minute, like the other night.  HONK! HONK! )

        Anyway, it was more about getting this The Gun thing out, I’m dying for a Devlin like: ” Aaanderson for threeeee….aaand NO!  I guess the chamber is empty tonight, Leo.”  or  “Looks like the gunslinger brought The Gun tonight, Jack.”

  • Raptor11

    Jonas vs Dwight is the biggest matchup of the night.. and wasn’t even talked about.  Lakers are still terribly defensively, I don’t know why you think this game is a given to the Lakers

    • cdub

      does that include the 4th q when hes riding the pine?

      • Raptor11

        Well he’ll likely have more mins than Gray lol

  • unknown guest

    Uh, Kobe takes a night off due to, uh, fatigue and injury.

  • Lo

    Raptors by 9. 30 for Demar

    • BoshRawr

       Not sure if the raptors win, but I agree that Demar might go for thirty, seeing as its his homecoming and all.

  • GoingBig

    1st Quarter in the books: 37-25 for the Raptors  
    Raptors shooting 74%   Lakers 42%

    Fun while it lasts

  • cdub

    caseys subs are killing me arghhhhh.  all we need now is ross and a kleiza sighting (hes dressed) and casey will have played the whole team.

  • Guest

    All I can think is, if only Demar had a jump shot…..put your legs into it man!

  • cdub

    derozan is on fire and casey just lets AA chuck away…..even the tv guys are calling out his crap now.

    • Stevia

      so many good real head coaches available. Raps have to look at getting one before it’s too late. JV going to play anymore in this game or will he be tied to bench as usual a la Casey move

      • cdub

        looks likes hes opted for gray..  wow….the raps look like they might win in spite of casey somehow

    • Jonn

      Sit AA down already> Tough watching Casey coach games anymore.

      • VanGundy

        Exactly! Let’s see if he makes any moves in the last 5 min of game. Totally insane watching this game.

        • GoKnicks

          History tells you that he only makes moves if someone fouls out but don’t worry Jonas will keep bench nice and toasty regardless of what’s going on floor.

        • Heat2Repeat

          JV: 6-8, 12pts and 6rebounds in 17min. Fire Casey please.

      • Boshrawr

        Relax with the AA stuff. Are you watching the same game I am? I can understand it in other games but there’s no need for that today. Dude kept us in the game while Gay was single handedly shooting us out of it. It was skullduggery the fact that Casey had the slowest guy on the court AND PROBABLY IN THE WHOLE NBA (Gray) come over as a help defender on Kobe while all he did was screen Anderson from covering him. Like tonight he was justified in keeping Ross glued to the bench, although he could have given him a little run here and there. Could have and SHOULD have seen Val in there once Amir fouled out. How is the guy gonna learn?

  • Guest

    Couple thoughts…

    Wish Colangelo could do a media scrum after a game like this…would love to hear his spin on itAny else notice how DD went right over to Bryant at the end of the game……you’d think after a loss like this he’d be headed right back to the locker room…but to go over to Bryant almost immediately?  wtf?

  • KJ-B

    Any way to trade Rudy Gay back to Memphis??? 7 for 26 with six turmovers??? Guy has zero conscience…The new -22