Thanks to the wonders of dynamic ticket pricing, the Raptors Sunday afternoon game against the Lakers was the most expensive ticket of the year last season. We’re talking $90+ for back row fan zone seats where you’re squinting just to see the jumbotron. Kobe, Dwight, Nash, purple and gold put fiscally enthusiastic fans in the stands. Flash-forward a year to a present day Lakers team sans the aforementioned main card attractions of Black Mamba, Clark Kent and Kid Canada. Instead the Lake-show’s leading attraction is Nick “Swaggy P” Young and Mike D’Antoni’s moustache-hidden frown. So surely this game is one of the cheaper tickets of the season, right? Nope; double price for fan zone nosebleeds. Turns out people were paying more to see the purple and gold jerseys than they were the names written on them. Brand power yo!
The Raptors are coming off of a win over Minnesota that explains exactly what this team has become. The Raptors played very solid defense, for the most part, and enjoyed some flashes of good team offence that was buoyed by a couple of great individual performances, with Lowry 3 pointers and Amir Johnson put-backs and free throws as a result of offensive rebounding in particular. But none of that is what stands out in explaining who this team is. What wowed me about last night’s game was that the Raptors did not even play particularly well, and despite the score being close—even late—the game never felt in doubt. They were clearly the better team on the court, and they were confident in that knowledge. And they were playing against a Western Conference team with (albeit delusional) playoff expectations. That says a lot to me about who this team has become, and how they see themselves. They believe in themselves and at this point, so do their fans. Most importantly, both parties are justified in doing so.
This Lakers defense is exactly what the doctor ordered for fans of ball movement in the Toronto offence. While not nearly the midrange, iso-heavy offence of the early season, the Raptors are still prone to a lack of dynamic fluidity and creativity on the offensive end. See last nights plodding win over the Timberwolves. The offence did what it had to in order to win, but the Raptors won because of great defense and Kyle Lowry using game genie cheat codes to hit every deep 3-point shot with time expiring.
Tomorrow’s game against the Lakers should provide the perfect practice dummy for Toronto’s improving offence. Mike D’Antoni’s defenses are always bad, and it’s not just an outcome of pace. Giving up 108.7 points per 100 possessions is exceptionally bad at any pace. Ex D’Antoni players have revealed flabbergasting stories of Coach D teams not even bothering to prepare defensive game plans for playoff series. For this Lakers team, defense is simply the interlude between offensive sets. They give up a 29th ranked 25 assists to opponents per game while only generating a 28th worst 13 turnovers per game. They surrender a league worst 17.2 fastbreak points per game. Put simply, they give up easy points, and their defense completely breaks down in the face of ball movement out of the pick and roll. The Raptor’s bad habits of chucking long jumpers when nothing develops and getting stuck in the early motions of an offensive set are going to have a solid opportunity to set themselves straight against this Lakers team who plays NBA defense like it’s Timbits hockey.
When the Raptors can get flow on offense and use their defense and athleticism to score in transition they’ve proven to be a team that can hang with if not beat any team in the league. The Raptors are a young, enthusiastic team composed of young players trying to prove themselves and veterans who are almost all playing for new contracts next season. Another reason why this team has done so well lately is because they don’t take games off against lesser opponents the way more established, undisciplined or aging teams do. Plus, teams across the league are really enjoying a chance to beat up on the all-powerful purple and gold. Shake up the magic 8 ball and ask if the Raptors are going to win, and the card reads: “You may rely on it.”
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