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Gameday: Lakers @ Raptors, March 14

Like all good and thoughtful people I have greatly enjoyed this Lakers season.  I have appreciated how every win was a sign of righting the ship, and every loss was surrounded with questions.  And yes, it is a crime against the sport to waste a year of LeBron’s career with the likes of Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, Michael Beasley (now traded), Tyson Chandler, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Basically every off season move they made outside of LeBron was rightfully mocked at the time and should have likely been ridiculed even more than it was.  It’s pretty wild to have a bad offseason despite signing LeBron James.  Huge accomplishment by Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka.

On top of the disappointment surrounding the terrible veteran cast around LeBron, the Lakers have also dealt with up and down production from young players in Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Kyle Kuzma.  With both Ingram and Ball missing the remainder of the season due to injury.

Basically, life in Laker Land has been a train wreck to watch this year, with LeBron being the only relatively bright spot.

LeBron’s first season in LA has not gone according to plan for him.  Not only is his streak of 8 straight NBA Finals ending, he will also likely miss the playoffs for the first time since 2004, his second season in the NBA (Note: LA is not yet statistically eliminated from the playoffs, but being 6.5 games back and only 15 games remaining it is highly unlikely they can leapfrog the three teams it will take to claim the 8 seed).

Despite the team failures LeBron remains the same man who has terrorized the Raptors the last 3 years in the playoffs with season averages of 27.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 8 assists, and 1.4 steals.

He spun a ball on his finger mid-possession just to screw with the Raptors, he pretended to drink a beer courtside during a game, and hit repeated winners in the few games that were close near the final buzzer.  LeBron is haunting, and there is a reason he earned the nickname LeBronto.

The good news is that the Lakers are just riding out the season at this point.  Before beating the lowly Bulls on Tuesday night the Lakers had lost their previous 5 games, including a 118-109 loss to the Phoenix Suns.

That’s the problem wth the Lakers right now.  They have some quality wins against Houston and Boston (we’re still calling those quality wins, right?), but have also found ways to lose to the dredges of the league.  They are entirely hit and miss and the Raptors need to be prepared for their best punch just in case.

Along with the Lakers sucking, one other factor that could play into the Raptors favour is the impact of a night in White Vegas.  Opponents generally love coming to Toronto for a night on the city, but LeBron made the most of his evening in T.O. last night in hosting a party:

With the absence of Serge Ibaka due to suspension (Cook something and chill, Serge) the Raptors are forced into making the right decision by putting Marc Gasol in the starting line-up.  It’s a small sample size (62 minutes), but the 5-man unit of Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, and Gasol has been building some good chemistry together which will be needed come playoff time.

This 5-man unit has an offensive rating of 118.1, a defensive rating of 107.1, are assisting 71.9 percent of their buckets, and have a true shooting percentage of 68.4.  Simply put, they are good and getting better.

After Gasol it will be interesting to see what Nurse decides to do with his centre minutes.  We are likely to see some small-ball line-ups with Siakam as the sole big (I’m partial to the idea of pairing him with OG at PF) in preparation for this potential playoff look, as the only other pure centres on the roster are Chris Boucher and the recently signed (10 day contract) Eric Moreland (no word whether he will be available tonight).

The Raptors last saw the Lakers on November 4th, ending in a 121-107 Toronto victory without Kawhi Leonard in the line-up.

We already got embarrassed by Cleveland this week, here’s hoping the Raptors make amends and beat LeBron for a bounce-back win.

Prediction: Raptors 116, Lakers 103

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