Preview and Chat: The Toronto Raptors

Kurt —  February 9, 2007

A word or 75 on Detroit. Some teams just have your number, teams where the matchups all seem to be in the other guy’s favor. The Pistons are apparently that for the Lakers, because the two Laker games against the Pistons may have been their two worst this season. All you can do in these cases is forget it and move on. If we have to face them again, well, by that point we’ll all be in a really good mood.

Speaking of moving on… The Brian Cook incident at the start of the fourth, well, that’s a guy wanting to play venting. That happens over the course of the season, professionals let it go and move on. And I think everyone involved is professional.

Is there a bigger surprise in the NBA? Toronto is pretty good — and pretty good is more than enough to lead the Atlantic by 3.5 games. But take away the division lead and they still have the fifth best record in the East, and that is far better than one would have thought.

So how are they doing it, particularly with a coach that everyone thought would be in the unemployment line by now? I asked someone who watches a lot of Raptors games, Ryan from Hoops Addict. And credit due to Brian Collangelo:

I think the driving force this season has been a combination of Chris Bosh playing strong, a legit supporting cast and Sam Mitchell finally having players that can run his offensive and defensive sets. If you look at some of the players the Raps relied on heavily last season (Charlie V, Matt Bonner, Mike James, Loren Woods, etc) a few of those players aren’t in the NBA anymore and others are performing much worse than they did with us. I think the additions that Bryan Colangelo made this summer were huge!

The other huge change in Toronto this year is they are playing solid defense. And again, Ryan credits Collangelo.

I think a big reason why the Raps are playing better team defense is they are communicating better and they have players that are willing to play hard on both ends. Last year Mike James was only worried about padding his stats and rookie Charlie V (even though he’s a personal fav) was horrible on D. With players like Rasho and Anthony Parker improving the D and Bosh and Mo Pete maintaining their defensive intensity it’s allowed the Raps to make big gains on that side of the ball.

Bosh is a stud. He’s shooting 51%, scoring 23.3 points per game, grabbing 16.6% of the available rebounds and is the driving force of the Raptors offense – they are 8.1 points per 100 possessions worse when he sits. What makes him dangerous is you can’t just leave him on the perimeter; he’s shooting 37% from three and a respectable 42.3% on all his jumpers.

Still, you’d rather have him shoot jumpers than get in next to the basket, so Andrew has some work to do tonight.

My new personal mantra: Nobody tells this Wookie what to do!

Things to look for: The best place to attack the Raptors is inside, they’re weakest defensively against the three, four and five. So, pound the ball inside early. Kobe and Smush take it to the hole. Try to get a foul or two on Bosh.

Defensively, try to get someone other than Bosh or the two-headed point guard to take the shots.

But what matters most is which Laker team shows up last night. Do they go into a funk or do they pull out of it – and if they are slow to come out Kobe needs to just take over and drag them out of the funk.

And one glimmer of hope: This is the third back-to-back on this road trip, in the previous two the Lakers lost the first game and won the second.