Records: Lakers 46-18 (1st in West), Raptors 32-29 (6th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 108.6 (11th in NBA), Raptors 111.0 (5th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.2 (2nd in NBA), Raptors 112.4 (30th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Raptors: Jarrett Jack, DeMar DeRozan, Hedo Turkoglu, Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani
The Lakers Coming in: There are a couple of different perspectives that can be taken with this Lakers team right now. They’re sitting on a three game skid and that must mean something, right? Well, kind of. Losing three games in a row, while being a rare thing for this Lakers team, is not that rare for the rest of the league. The current longest streak of not dropping three in a row now belongs to Denver at a whopping 31 games. We saw Cleveland lose three in a row just two weeks ago when they lost to Denver in Cleveland and then traveled to Charlotte and Orlando and lost in those team’s arenas (sounds kind of familiar, eh?). So, on the one hand, you may just be able to chalk up this losing streak to the same factors that affect every other team for a stretch of games at least once a season.
However, the other side of that coin is that it’s easy to recognize that the Lakers are not playing well right now. We’ve discussed their lack of execution on offense a lot around here recently and while their defense is still one of the very best in the leauge, there have been struggles on that end of the floor as well. Clearly this team is not playing up to its potential and at this point in the season it’s worrisome. So, as the team comes into tonight’s game I’m sure their quite ready to put their losing ways behind them and play much better than they’ve shown. It was just a week ago that this team waxed the Pacers with one of its more complete performances of the year. Tonight, I’m sure the Lakers are looking for a repeat performance from last Tuesday. And if that isn’t possible, at the least the Machine is back. (All joking aside, I’m happy that Sasha is back just because of the depth issues that we’ve had. He’s an extra body to play SG for us and since Shannon’s also been banged up with his thumb injury we could use the extra help backing up Kobe. Plus, if he is making shots, this offense could really use another guy doing that. Or any guy doing that, really.)
The Raptors Coming in: Toronto is a team, like many others in the East, that is up and down and just looking to play some consistent ball that nets them a post season birth. The Raptors currently hold the East’s sixth seed and are surely looking to hold off the teams below them as they stand only 2 games ahead of the Bobcat’s who are the current ninth seed. However, with that being the goal, losing 5 of 6 is not the way to get it done.
The Raptors have been a bit “banged up” lately and I’m sure that has contributed to their recent slide. Chris Bosh just returned on Sunday after missing seven games with injury and illness. Hedo Turkoglu suffered an ankle sprain that had him not return in the game the injury occurred, play ineffectively the next game, and then sit out the game on Sunday that saw Bosh return to the lineup. Obviously Hedo and Bosh are two key players for the Raps who are needed in the line up if this team is going to sustain any success. Tonight, both players are expected to suit up, but it remains to be seen how effective both players will be.
Raptors Blogs: Like Phillip mentioned earlier, Raptor’s Republic is one of the better NBA blogs out there. Go check it out for insight on today’s match up, but on other days as well. There’s always a good read on that site.
Keys to game: The last time these two teams met, the Raptors came out on top so there should be a bit of revenge on the Lakers’ minds. Combine that with wanting to end this mini losing streak and this should be a game where we see a strong commitment to determined play and execution by the Lakers. But talking about it is not enough. It must also show on the court. So to that end…
On offense the Lakers should be able to attack this Raptors team from everywhere. They are the last rated defense in the league for a reason. Their big men are not physical players so the Lakers should be able to attack inside. However, the Raptors are a team of long athletes, so look for some fronting of the post and some zone defense to try and limit the Lakers advantage inside. The way to beat the zone is through ball movement, but also to make the zone play our guys with man to man principles. That means the ball needs to go to the strong side more (to create an overload) and should even go to the corner to make the strong side forward in the zone defend the ball. After that, the ball can go into the post easier by either direct entry or from high low action when the weakside big flashes to the FT line to receive the pressure release pass. The Triangle is acutally an offense that should flourish against a zone, not because of the three point shooting that results from the spacing, but because of the ample opportunities the offense gives players to penetrate the ball via the drive or the pass. The Lakers must move bodies and the ball to make the zone overreact and then take advantage of a scrambling D. These same principles work against a fronting post defense so move the ball and attack.
The Lakers should also be able to work the offensive glass. Toronto is in the bottom quarter of the league in defensive rebounding rate as Bosh is their only reliable defensive rebounder. Bynum and Gasol should have ample opportunities to play volleyball on the offensive glass and get easy putbacks or draw fouls. Odom should also find a lot of space to slice to the rim as the Raptor’s D focusses its attention on Kobe and our other bigs (in both man and zone schemes). So, crashing the boards should result in some easy points for our bigs and I’d like to see our guards/wings (that means you Kobe and Ron) get some put backs as well by aggressively going after the offensive rebound. Like I said earlier, Toronto is a bad defensive team so if there is any night to get our offense back on track tonight is it.
On defense the Raptors are going to be a difficult team to truly hold down. Just as the Raps are bad on defense, they’re quite good on offense. They have a variety of weapons and shooters at almost every position so tonight will be a night where the Lakers will need to be very aware of the three point line and that holds true for every defensive player on the team. The Raptors love the play P&R and will do so with both their PG’s (Jack and Calderon) or Turkoglu as the ball handler. The Lakers need to understand that Jack loves to get into the lane and use his strong body to finish in the paint while Calderon wants to shoot the jumper coming off the pick. That means going under screens on Jack until he proves he can beat you with the jumper and chasing hard over the top on Calderon. On Turkoglu, just try to fight him and body him off the screen and make him go to his right hand and into traffic. Hedo is a shot maker supreme, but he’s much more comfortable going left to take his step back jumper. The other component to the P&R is the screener and Toronto has two guys in Bosh and Bargnani that can do a variety of things after setting the pick. Both are good jumpshooters and both can roll and finish in the paint (this is an underrated part of Bargnani’s game as he doesn’t do it often but is capable). So, another night where the Lakers will need to show some sharpness on defending the P&R with big guys that can shoot where helping the helper is going to be key. But when not a screener, the Raps run a lot of isolations for Bosh. In the last meeting, he was quite good at making his jumpshot in both spot up and isolation but was held without a FT attempt for the entire game. To effectively defend Bosh, the Lakers should give up the jumper and lay off him to entice him to shoot rather than drive. Bosh is a gifted offensive performer, but he’s not one to force the action and will typically make the fundamentally sound play. So, I’d be perfectly content if the Lakers defended him in the exact manner they did the last time and call it a day.
Also, another note of defense is containing the Raps’ bench play. In the last outing, both Amir Johnson and Marco Belinelli played good minutes off the bench and gave the Raptors a spark on offense. Johson is another player that will be a screener in the P&R, but will mostly be a dive man and try to finish at the cup. He’s also adept at running the floor so he will need to be marked in transition. As for Belinelli, he’s a pure shooter that got hot against us the last time. He loves to run to the 3 point line in transition and is a guy that comes off screens ready to shoot in the half court. He must be paid more than just casual attention too as once he gets it going it can lead to points in bunches. If the Lakers are able to guard the three point line while also recovering in pick and pop situations they should be fine but all of that is easier said than done against an offense like the Raps.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start on the West, nationally on NBA TV and locally on Fox Sports West, also on ESPN Radio 710am.