UPDATED: Gameday: Raptors vs Lakers – Mar. 9/10

Raptors roll into Los Angeles to face the Lakers on the first night of a four-game Western road swing.

What infuriates me about this Raptors team is that if they somehow pull out a win tonight against the Lakers, I wouldn’t be surprised, but a loss to the 76ers blows my mind. It’s not so much that they lost, well it is, but mostly how they lost. You get your franchise player back after he goes down for two weeks with an ankle injury, and you come out flat. Everyone was flat, even Jay wasn’t arguing calls with the zeal he normally does.

The Sixers are an athletic team, and the Raptors aren’t. Frankly, I would have picked them to be doing better than they are, at least be fighting for a playoff spot. As things happen, they are out of the playoff picture, and the Raptors are two games out of the lottery.

Over the last 6 games, the Raptors are a dismal 1-5. They haven’t been playing with any sense of urgency, energy, determination, heart, grit, honour, pride….they’ve been playing like the Nets, but with better players. I’m not sure what’s worse.

The Lakers are on a three game losing streak of their own; but there’s no remedy better than going home after a tough loss to the Magic on the road. A game where Kobe took 30 shots to score 34, Gasol put up 20/15 and Odom & Artest combined for 16pts 12rebs 5ast. Needless to say, the highlight of the game was Artest’s hair.

I bet the Lakers had this game circled on their calender after Turkoglu won the game at the line, with 1.2 seconds left in the game back in Toronto. Kobe had plenty of time to take the winning shot, but Antoine Wright played him perfectly defensively, only allowing an aggressively-contested shot that rimmed out.

What’s exciting is the game the Raptors played put themselves into a position where they could win the game at the line in the dying moments. Defense was solid, even though the Lakers dropped 105 points. Their tight man defense and crisp rotations in the 4th quarter forced bad shots/turnovers, then they capitalized on the other end with big shot making. Jack kept Farmar in check, Bosh and Bargnani would collapse on Gasol, even Calderon forced a couple turnovers.

The other key for the Raptors was getting to the line, and hitting their free throws. The Raptors need to replicate both of these efforts to even have a shot at a win here. Sadly, I’m hardpressed to think of this as anything but a spectacular loss to a team out for blood. Almost like Tom Liston furiously refreshing his browser until Amir Johnson’s adjusted +/- for the last three years is updated online.

Remember this?

Lightning wont be striking twice.


Better late than never, but I had checked in with Andy Kamenetzky from Land O’ Lakers, the ESPN Los Angeles Laker blog he runs with his brother Brian (you can also catch them on Twitter) and asked him a few questions about the Lakers heading into tonights game:

Q. I thought that replacing Ariza with Artest was an upgrade for the Lakers. Was it really? How has Artest worked out? Living up to expectations? Comment about his latest hairdo?
A. All in all, I do consider Artest an upgrade. Offensively, he’s been inconsistent, but so has the team in general for reasons varying from injuries creating a lack of continuity to a pure lack of focus. The issues aren’t Ron’s alone and he’s hardly the cause. These problems would exist if Ariza were still around, so you have to ask how much would Trevor be able to help. Judging by how he’s performed in an increased offensive role in Houston, my guess is not much.

In the meantime, the Lakers defense has become, rather under the radar, among the league’s best, which I think has a lot to do with Artest. He plays EXTREMELY hard and the team often feeds off his energy. Not to mention his pure skills. While Ariza was capable of disrupting teams with his length and is certainly a solid defender, Artest often wrecks guys one-on-one. He hounds the likes of ‘Melo, Pierce, Joe Johnson, and Granger relentlessly, leans on them, pokes away balls and often prevents them from even taking shots, much less forcing a miss. The Lakers undoubtedly miss Ariza’s speed at times and the flexibility of putting him on someone like Tony Parker, but TA also can’t cover guys without help for as long of durations. I’d rather have Artest, because that ability to go solo allows everyone else to better concentrate on their man.

Ron Ron’s “Demolition Man” ‘do was both interesting and short-lived. He’s now chrome dome, although the dye remains seeped into the skin. Always something there to remind me.

Q. I recently read that Lamar Odom eats excessive amounts of chocolate, and passes out in bed. Does it concern you that a major cog for a team with championship aspirations has this problem? How is his conditioning otherwise?
A. Considering Lamar ate plenty of candy last season when they won a title, no. He’s also been eating more oranges this season (another reason Artest has been a positive addition), if that eases anybody’s concerns. But unless he quite literally overdosed from a chocolate excess (as opposed to simply falling drifting off and the treats happened to be part of the equation) I consider this a non-story.

Q. Does Cleveland adding Antawn Jamison worry you guys come the finals?
A. In theory, yes, although Cleveland now has injury issues of their own and it remains to be seen how they’ll perform once Z returns and the entire roster is available. But to the original question, yes, he does concern me. I think Jamison was a better fit for Cleveland and easier to work into their system than Amar’e Stoudemire, their other debated acquisition. Particularly on the fly, which became even more of the case than originally expected. But assuming everyone is presented and accounted for, Jamison makes the Cavs better. He’s a tough cover and, by all accounts, a very good teammate. You can never have enough of the latter during the pressure cooker that is a playoff run.

Q. What is Phil Jackson’s status going forward?
A. Nobody knows for sure, but it’s certainly been a point of local gossip and rumors. Speculation Dr. Buss will ask PJ to take a pay cut next season, particularly if the Lakers don’t win it all. Speculation the team is tempted to bring in Byron Scott and start writing the franchise’s next chapter. Speculation old family wounds and divides have resurfaced to complicate the issue. Speculation PJ’s unresolved status could somehow jeopardize Kobe staying on board. And as the team plays below expectations, even while winning, even more speculation results.

Having said that, let’s be honest, isn’t that what we do in Laker Land even when everything is peachy? The Lakers and drama go hand in hand even during the brightest of times.

Personally, I think Jackson will return next season, assuming he remains in good health. But I guess you never know until ink and paper meet.

Q. Thoughts on the cause for your 3 game losing streak?
A. It’s still odd at times for me to type this, but the Lakers have been increasingly struggling on offense, which was certainly case during the three-loss roadie. Beyond not scoring with ease, they’re not doing much of anything efficiently. The ball doesn’t move and when it does, it’s often in the process of creating a turnover. They’re missing free throws. Players (Pau Gasol in particular) are having trouble hanging onto the rock. Too much iso play around the arc. Too much iso period. Ironically, the defense has often been very good, but when you’re both unable to score and constantly giving the ball away, there’s only so long the D will hold. According to research provided by Elias, the Lakers surrender 15.2 ppg off turnovers this season. During March, it’s hit nearly 19. For obvious reasons, that can’t continue.

I actually wrote about the streak ending on the Land O’ Lakers blog. To me, it felt emblematic of issues rising throughout the season and finally catching up to them over three consecutive games. This is still obviously a very good team, but there pressing issues in need of fine-tuning and they’re running out of time to hit stride before the playoffs.

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