If we use Playstation2 as our Nostradamus, then the Lakers should win 110-99 tonight.
The Raptors are the only team Iâ€™ve run across to list the results of a Playstation match up on their game preview page. But I guess it makes sense â€” with whatâ€™s left in Toronto, youâ€™d probably rather play a video game than watch your real team.
After the Vince Carter trade (which was about cap space down the line), here is your Raptor starting five: Rafer Alston at the point, Morris Peterson at the two, Eric Williams playing the three, Chris Bosh at power forward and Loren Woods at center. Only Alston, at 17.28, has a PER above the league average of 15. Only with Peterson on the floor has the team performed better than when any of the starters are on the bench.
The teamâ€™s biggest name player, Jalen Rose, was benched last week. He dealt with it in a classy fashion, showing up to the meeting with coaches dressed in all black â€” including black earrings. Reports said he â€œlooked disinterested while scoring just four pointsâ€ in the first two games after the switch, but in the teamâ€™s game two nights ago in Phoenix he came off the bench to play 29 minutes â€” more than all but one starter â€” and led the team with 19 points.
Maybe the Raptorâ€™s best player coming off the bench has been Donyell Marshall, who has a team-higher PER of 19.55 and is averaging 10.9 point and 6.5 rebounds per game. Coming out of a game where the Lakers got just 4 points out of their bench, and facing a team with Rose and Marshall, the Lakers need the back ups to step up.
As has been the case often in recent games, the best place for the Lakers to attack the Raptors is inside â€” they have very high oPERS of 18.8 at the four and 18.7 at the five. The Lakers need to get the ball on the block to Lamar Odom early and let him set the pace. Chris Mihm, who has worked hard in recent games, may get rewarded with some buckets to tonight.
That said, this should be another big scoring night for Kobe. For the season, the Raptors have been weak in guarding the two (15.9 oPER), although part of that was Vince Carter was often disinterested in playing defense. The problem for the Raptors is his replacement, Peterson, has an oPER of 18.7 against fellow off guards. Kobe should be able to take him off the dribble and get to the hole without any big bodies in his way (like he saw against Memphis and Miami).
Offensively the Raptors average about two more possessions per game than the Lakers but they are not terribly efficient with them â€” for every 100 possessions the Raptors average 101.6 points (the Lakers average 104.8). Both teams are near the bottom of the league in just about every defensive statistic.
Rafer Alston should have a good game as the Lakers continue to struggle with good point guards. And Alston is the kind of point the Lakers could use â€” a pure point with a great assist-to-turnover ratio â€” the Raptors average the second fewest turnovers per game in the NBA. Combine that with the Lakers being dead last in the league in creating turnovers and I think the Raptors may have single-digit turnovers tonight.
Iâ€™m not sure any December game can be a â€œmust win,â€ but the Lakers could really use this one. The reason is that after the first of the year, the schedule gets tough for a while â€” Denver, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Minnesota, Denver and Cleveland are the Lakers next seven. Or, look at this from Stats Pimp: Laker opponents faced so far have a combined 0.452 adjusted record, the 4th easiest schedule in the NBA. The next 10 opponents have a combined 0.545 adjusted record, the 5th most difficult stretch over the next 10 games across the league.
Tonight is the kind of game and match ups the Lakers should win handily. Whether they do or not will be a good test of their growing maturity, or lack thereof.