10 things from Raptors-Lakers

Here’s 10 takeaways from the Raptors’ 111-98 victory over the Loss Angeles Lakers.

One – Hollow: It feels strange to feel nothing about beating LeBron James in March. We used to invest so much into these measuring stick games, but now they’re irrelevant because James got tired of dominating the Eastern conference and decided to take early vacation in Los Angeles. It’s a shame, too, because the Raptors finally built a team tough enough to seriously challenge those Cavaliers teams, but now they won’t even have that chance.

Two – Switch: Perhaps it was just a function of it being a nationally televised game, but Kawhi Leonard actually took the most difficult assignment by checking James. Like most players, James mostly avoided Leonard at all costs, and did most of his damage working mismatches and in transition. Leonard gave James the same courtesy on the other end, as he largely settled for jumpers instead of taking it to the rim. Overall, the Leonard vs. James match-up failed to live up to the hype, but that’s understandable given the stakes.

Three – Assertive: Marc Gasol filled in for the suspended Serge Ibaka and finished with a respectable 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Gasol made more of a point to launch his set-footed jumper, and there’s no reason why he can’t continue to do so with everyone back in the lineup. This was the first game in which Gasol attempted four triples (he made two) but that should be the norm going forward. The playmaking and the positional defense is nice, but the Raptors need Gasol to space the floor more than anything else.

Four – Strange: Despite having a solid game, Gasol didn’t see any action in the fourth. My suspicion was that he got banged up while fighting off Kyle Kuzma for a loose ball in the third, but Nick Nurse said after the game that Gasol was fine and that he just wanted to get a look at Eric Moreland, who had just signed a 10-day deal. It didn’t really hurt the Raptors in the end, as the Lakers never once tried to seriously stage a comeback, but that sounds suspicious. Who wants to see Moreland that badly?

Five – Variance: Norman Powell was sensational as the go-to option off the bench as he finished with 20 points and eight rebounds. He started hot early by drilling his first three triples, and filled the lanes in transition en route to his best performance of the season. It would be great if he could play like this consistently, but unfortunately the Raptors only play the Lakers twice a year.

Six – Doing his best: Jeremy Lin got another chance to shine as he filled in for the injured Kyle Lowry, but it was another underwhelming performance. Lin was in the right place to scoop up a handful of the Lakers’ misses in the first quarter, gave great effort on defense, and got to the rim for a few driving layups, but he remains iffy on the catch-and-shoot threes. Lin did eventually hit one after Gasol passed up a good look to set Lin up for a wide-open shot, but otherwise Lin continues to be unreliable when the ball swings to him and quite frankly, it has the same feeling as when Patrick Patterson or DeMarre Carroll would brick those easy attempts.

Seven – Hustle: Pascal Siakam had an underwhelming night in terms of his scoring (16 points on 3-16 shooting) but in all fairness, he was also saddled with the added responsibility of playing backup center with the bench unit. Siakam collected a pair of impressive swats, and consistently came up with deflections that got the Raptors into their transition game. Siakam hasn’t needed to log any time at center since the addition of Gasol, but that’s always a change of pace option that Nurse can use to surprise teams in the playoffs.

Eight – Shifty: Pat McCaw is another wild card that could see time in the playoffs. McCaw was assigned to pressure Rajon Rondo the full length of the floor, and while it wasn’t quite Fred VanVleet picking off Chris Paul last March, it was still a commendable effort. McCaw is arguably the Raptors’ second-best on-ball defender outside of Leonard, and Nurse clearly sees value in McCaw’s ability to hound a ball handler for limited stretches.

Nine – Listen to this: It’s going to bring a smile to your face.

Ten – Thank you Toronto nightlife: LeBron looked like a zombie out there. The Raptors, by the way, completed a sweep of the state of California and of the Pacific division as a whole.

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