Gameday: Lakers @ Raptors, Jan. 20

Currently mired in a four-game losing streak that now includes the blowing of not one, but two 20 point leads, the suddenly hapless Raps (14-26) return home to the circus sideshow that is the Los Angeles Lakers (17-22), who are on a five-game road losing streak of their own.The Lakers’ struggles this season have been well documented, but when healthy (and it sounds like they will be today) they still boast an imposing starting lineup with five current or former All-Star talents. Their bench includes, well, Antawn Jamison.

We’ll get to the match-ups in a second, but the gist of this game, as it is with most teams playing the Lakers, is that the Raptors will be at a severe talent disadvantage when the Laker starters are on the floor, but have a significant advantage when it comes to depth. You’d have to think Alan Anderson (aka Kobe Junior) will be key in this one, particularly in that second-quarter stretch when the starters come out. The Raps will need Kyle Lowry to have a big game as well – not forcing the ball inside, but he’ll likely have his chances to get into the lane seeing as Steve Nash couldn’t stay in front of him on his best of days.

On defence, a major key will be finding a way to not let Dwight Howard run rampant inside. The Raps will have a significant size disadvantage, assuming Gray doesn’t get more than his usual 5 minutes, and it’ll likely fall on Amir to carry D12 on his back. Amir’s played very well lately, but uber-athletic bigs have torced the Raps on the boards this year (see: Cousins, DeMarcus), and Dwight can still be a load on most nights. Stopping Kobe will be key, as well: I expect Fields and Anderson to get most of the work on him defensively, but I think Terrence Ross might be a good option given his length and ability to contest jump shooters, which is basically all Kobe is at this stage in his career (albeit one of the best in the game).

But anyways, you all know the Lakers. Let’s get to the tale of the tape:

Tale of the Tape
O-Rating: Toronto 106.5 (11th), Lakers 109.2 (7th)
D-Rating: Toronto 108.4 (26th), Lakers 107.3 (21st)
Pace: Toronto 92.4 (25th), Lakers 97.4 (2nd)
Strength: Toronto ball control (2nd), Lakers rebounding (3rd)
Weakness: Toronto Freebies (30th in Opp FTA/FGA), Lakers bench scoring (30th)

Positional Breakdown
Point Guards: Kyle Lowry and Jose Calderon v. Steve Nash, Chris Duhon, and Darius Morris
Steve Nash always seems to have big games in Toronto, but Lowry and Calderon both have significant advantages over the pu-pu platter that’s backing him up. Lowry should be able to shred Nash on the offensive side of the ball, as well, though it’ll be interesting to see how he game-plans for the Lakers’ size once he gets into the lane. In any case, Nash is having a season similar to Jose from a statistical standpoint, and Lowry is far better than the Laker backups, so advantage Raptors here.

Wings: DeMar DeRozan, Landry Fields, Alan Anderson and Terrence Ross v. Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Jodie Meeks, and Devin Ebanks
When you see those names, it’s closer than you thought it would be, hey? Kobe and World Peace have been the two Lakers who haven’t been disappointing this year, though – as I said earlier, Kobe’s basically become the best spot-up shooter in the game, and World Peace is still an all-world defender and a sneaky-effective scorer who should eat DeMar’s lunch if he tries to play the mid-range game yet again. Anderson and Ross will be key off the bench, as the Raptors have a clear advantage in depth here (notice a common thread yet?).

Bigs: Ed Davis, Amir Johnson, Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray v. Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Antawn Jamison, Earl Clark, and Robert Sacre
It’s all about Dwight here, as he’s the only player without a real matchup equivalent on the other side. Gasol’s been very disappointing in the D’Antoni system thus far, and although it’s always nice to see another Canadian in the league, there isn’t a lot Robert Sacre can do that makes me think Davis/Amir will have issues with him. Expect Gray to get a share of the minutes with the expected size disadvantage.

The Picks
Vegas: Lakers -4.5
Hollinger: Lakers -2.5
Garrett: I’d love to say the Raptors here, but my gut says that Dwight goes crazy and the Lakers win by 7. Hopefully I’m wrong, though, and another struggling team is just what the doctor ordered to get the Raps back on track.

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