At long last, meaningful basketball with the Toronto Raptors will make it’s way onto your television/laptop screen. Better yet, they’ll be playing one of the best teams in the league, the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers, who lost to the Lowry-less, Ibaka-less Raptors earlier this year, due to a triumphant run from the Raptors role players to close out the game. This was one of the earliest indications of just how formidable the Raptors team defense truly was, and for a lot of people a significant highlight of the season. And now, they’ll meet under the bright lights in Disney World’s bubble, to do battle as part of the 8-game regular season wrap up. Here’s Es with the 3 points:
Even though the Lakers are playing without Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo, the defensive stylings of Kyle Kuzma and LeBron James were strong enough to help them past the Clippers in their first game. That, along with an overpowering performance from Anthony Davis against the Clippers currently shorthanded front-court really got the Lakers through the tough stretches of the contest. Today, ‘AD’ and James will try to unravel the Raptors defense in ways they couldn’t earlier in the season.
The Raptors, coming off of a 2-1 performance during the NBA’s scrimmages (wins vs. Portland and Houston, a loss to Phoenix) are seemingly healthy for what will be one of the first times this season. Even though the game against Phoenix was a bit of a slog, especially defensively, the Raptors wholly represented the team we remember so well during their scrimmages. Lots of transition, smart defense, across the board contributions. Classic Raptors basketball.
Most of the possessions guarding James in the earlier matchup were split between OG Anunoby and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. I’d expect some heavier Anunoby minutes in this one, as ‘RHJ’ isn’t a staple of the Raptors 8-man rotation like he was earlier in the season – but he is above the 95th percentile as a 1-on-1 defender, so there’s utility if there if the Raptors want to give him a stretch. Offensively, as ever, Pascal Siakam will need to be diligent in seeking out mismatches and switches off of Davis. In the previous game, Siakam shot 9/25 from the floor, but a sterling (absurd actually) 7/7 for 18 points against Kuzma. Lowry and his pick n’ roll wizardry should provide some nice offensive punch to the Raptors lineup, and his 3-point shot + rapid relocation game should make spacing the floor a little bit easier against the Lakers jumbo lineups.
A lot has been made of the Raptors jumbo lineup (Lowry, OG, Pascal, Serge, Gasol), and there might be an opportunity for that platoon to get some minutes against high quality lineups on the other end. Either way, Gasol and Ibaka – both shoot 40-percent from beyond the arc – will hopefully be effective in pulling Dwight Howard and Javale McGee out of the paint. And if not, making it rain from outside. Both big men are valuable outside of what they provide in spacing, but when they’re able to make teams pay from behind the line, it creates an easy avenue to high efficiency offense for the Raptors.
With the guard rotation, it’s safe to assume we’ll be looking at the usual suspects in the backcourt (Lowry, VanVleet), with Norman Powell and Terence Davis II carving out minutes off the bench. There’s always a chance we see some Matt Thomas as well, especially since he flashed some ball handling chops in the scrimmages and shot the ball well, too. Patrick McCaw is doubtful for the game, so Nurse will probably be able to keep the guard situation pretty simple. Lowry’s pick n’ roll game should be intriguing to watch. The Lakers really limit rim runs, but Lowry is just so damn good at leading his big men to the hoop.
All in all, two very good teams are about to go at it, and we all get to watch. Raptors basketball is back baby.
Tipoff: 830pm EST | TV: Sportsnet ONE, Citytv | Radio: TSN1050. According to the current NBA odds the Lakers are a four-point favorite.
Patrick McCaw (undisclosed), and Oshae Brissett (right knee soreness) are doubtful.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Terence Davis II
SG: Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Matt Thomas, Paul Watson
SF: OG Anunoby, Malcolm Miller, Stanley Johnson
PF: Pascal Siakam, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris Boucher
C: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Dewan Hernandez
Avery Bradley (opted out of the season) is unavailable, Rajon Rondo (thumb) is out.
PG: LeBron James, Alex Caruso, Quinn Cook
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Dion Waiters, JR Smith, Talen Horten-Tucker
SF: Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma, Jared Dudley
PF: Anthony Davis, Markieff Morris
C: Javale McGee, Dwight Howard
Have a blessed day.