Gameday: Raptors vs 81

Filling in for Sam for the next couple weeks because some travel agent convinced him that now would be a great time to visit Europe, what with the snow and all. I advised him against it but he wouldn't listen, so right now he's sitting on a freezing plane at Heathrow using some guy's trousers…

Filling in for Sam for the next couple weeks because some travel agent convinced him that now would be a great time to visit Europe, what with the snow and all. I advised him against it but he wouldn’t listen, so right now he’s sitting on a freezing plane at Heathrow using some guy’s trousers as a blanket. We on the other hand, get to see Kobe.

A win against the Nets to snap a two-game losing streak doesn’t usually result in momentum, but given the performances of Andrea Bargnani, Linas Kleiza and Jose Calderon, it served as a perfect platform to get ready for the Lakers. The Raptors are going to need all their guns firing to have a chance in this one, just like last year when they got strong performances all around, especially by Marco Belinelli to win the home end of this fixture. The same needs to happen this time around as well – total team effort and a little bit of luck.

This is the final one of a 7-game road trip for the Lakers on which they’ve only tasted defeat once – against the Bulls. The victims have been the Clippers, Nets, Washington, Indiana and Philadelphia, so in other words they’ve lost to the only half-decent team they’ve faced so far. The last two wins haven’t exactly come easy either, they were in a tight game against Indiana and were down heading into the fourth against Philadelphia, so to say the Raptors don’t have a chance is a mistake. The line currently has the Lakers favored by seven, and if the previous game against them is any indication, it’s good to take the Raptors to cover.

Since I just finished watching Black Swan, my head is filled with nothing but that scene between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, so I don’t have the concentration to go through these matchups in great detail. On with it:

Big Man One: The diversity in Pau Gasol’s post-game can get Andrea Bargnani (game-time decision, who are we kidding, he’ll play) into trouble and on his heels. Gasol has enough moves in his arsenal that he can get a decent shot off at any point while in the post, he’s got the jump-hook, the up-and-under, the fade, the sky-hook, the list goes on. I can already see Triano thinking ahead and perhaps switching Amir Johnson on the offensive rebound hungry Gasol, leaving Bargnani a slightly easier (debatable) matchup with Odom. Of course, this relies on Johnson not picking up silly fouls and Bargnani staying with Odom on the perimeter, should be interesting. Offensively, I can see the Lakers putting Odom on Bargnani to neutralize his mobility, and in response Bargnani should take him on the block and use his 20 lbs and 2 inch advantage. Note to Calderon: re-post the ball and use hi-lo to get him his touches, it won’t be easy, going to have to fight for them.

Big Man Two: Technically speaking, this is Amir Johnson versus Lamar Odom which I don’t think will actually happen given the cross-matchups that’ll we’ll see. Johnson had 12 points and 15 rebounds including 9 offensive earlier in the season in Los Angeles. You have to think Phil Jackson will have planned for this and will make it a point of emphasis to put a body on him, and even perhaps make him defend on the perimeter to get those cheap fouls that send him to the bench early. Joey Dorsey could be an option against the relatively skinny frontline of the Lakers, if he brings the tenacity and work-rate, he will get his rebounds. Both Gasol and Odom average 10+ rebounds and have a nose for the ball, boxing them out is essential, last time around they were held to 16 rebounds combined as the Raptors dominated the glass 49-31 in a five point loss. It’s really what kept them in it.

The Point: Calderon/Bayless versus Fisher/Blake. The guy I’m scared of is Steve Blake because he’s a clever player that can make you pay for not paying attention on defense. He moves well without the ball, can nail an open jumper and plays enough defense to get under your skin. Both Blake and Calderon (another game-time decision but not really) had strong games earlier in the year off the bench; now that Bayless will be guarding Blake, I expect him to test out Blake’s 30 year old legs, draw in the always aggressive Laker interior defense, and make catchable passes on the kick-outs. The recipe for dealing with Derek Fisher hasn’t changed much – don’t leave him open in the fourth quarter. Bayless will have a chance to step-in and make a mark by influencing the tempo of this game, he has to take advantage.

Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan sort of went at Kobe last time around, finished going 7-18 and didn’t look scared. Bryant’s coming off his worst game of the year, a 3-11, 9 point performance against Philadelphia so he’ll be looking to bounce back. He did injure his finger in the game but will play so we’ll see just how much it affects him. This year has seen him defer a bit more to his teammates as his field goal attempts are at 20.0, the lowest since the 2003-04 season. Expect Bryant to provide for the Lakers on an as-needed basis instead of trying to assert his dominance. If you’re going to evaluate DeMar today, do it on the defensive end. There’s always Julian Wright if you want a spark of defense or a different look, it can’t hurt.

Small Forward: Linas Kleiza going up against Ron Artest. Artest tweeted this yesterday:

I’m amazed Toronto would honor me. I’m overwhelmed.

Two things you’re probably wondering: 1) Is that the most incorrect usage of the word overwhelmed you’ve ever seen? 2) Why on earth would Toronto “honor” him? I can answer #2 for you.

I’d like to see how far Linas Kleiza gets with posting up Artest, I’m guessing not too far. See, Kleiza is a simple guy who is effective when he keeps the game simple. Examples:

  1. Catch the ball in the post, two dribbles and a hook or a kick-out.
  2. Catch the ball on the perimeter, shoot it.
  3. Catch the ball on the wing, dribble hard right – if there’s a lane, take it, if there isn’t, pass it out.
  4. Come off a screen, catch the ball and shoot it.
  5. Use the bulk to muscle rebounds awawy against other threes.

That’s the kind of stuff Kleiza can do for the Raptors and since his jumper is working as well as ever, he has be useful at times. Unfortunately, he gets exposed a bit much in help-defense situations, and always seems to be on the court when the sh*t hits the fan. I can’t explain it, it just happens, he’s always there. The Raps are playing like crap and suddenly all you see is five Linas Kleiza’s on the floor. Can’t explain it.

The injury report:

Peja (pronounced paid-ya): Out with a hot wife.
Evans: Out trying to sell tickets.
Weems: back spasms, carelessness, game-time.
Bargnani: left knee, right ankle, game-time.
Calderon: ankle, game-time.

For them, Theo Ratliff is out.

Roll Call coming up later, swing by for the live chat.