Records: Lakers 5-0, Raptors 1-3
Offensive ratings: Lakers 117.0 (1st in NBA), Raptors 106.8 (15th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.7 (10th in NBA), Raptors 108.1 (21st in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Raptors: Jarrett Jack, DeMar DeRozan, Linas Kleiza, Reggie Evans, Andrea Bargnani
Injuries: Lakers: Andrew Bynum (out), Luke Walton (questionable); Raptors: Ed Davis (out)
The Lakers Coming in: A 5-0 start allows the mind to start to go off tangent some. Not with the players, but with the fans. You see, the Lakers are playing so well right now that the topic of Andrew Bynum’s return and what it means to this team has begun to surface. Again. It wouldn’t be a Laker season if this topic didn’t get addressed at some point or another as it’s nearly inevitable that Bynum misses some games (we’re now going into the 4th straight season where Bynum has missed significant games in a season) and that Odom steps up and plays well in his absence. Thus, the debate rages on about who should start and what these players’ roles should be, etc, etc.
My two cents are that Bynum should start. First and foremost because he’s the Lakers starting Center. While Pau can fill in that role quite well, that’s Andrew’s job and when he’s healthy enough to do it he should resume that role. This allows Pau to play PF and the dominoes to fall, creating the versatile front court rotation that’s led to consecutive NBA titles. Fiddling with that, even with evidence showing good results, isn’t really the prudent thing to do. The other main reason that I think Bynum should start is that he’s the defensive post presence that allows the Lakers to really be aggressive on the wings by denying passing lanes and pressuring ball handlers. Earlier this week when Phillip wrote on defensive adjustments, one thing he initally focused on was the Laker wings getting beat on back cuts. The point that went mostly unsaid is that when Bynum returns there will be a 2nd seven footer patrolling the paint to contest the shots that come on those back cuts. Understand that the Lakers want to pressure the wing. They want to chase players off the three point line and funnel them into the paint where they have to finish over size. This is a strategy that is at its best when Bynum is around to contest those shots.
This won’t be an issue for another month (give or take a few days), but when ‘Drew is back I hope to see him in the starting line up (which based off what Phil says, will be the case) and have Odom return to his role as the super sub that plays with both bench players and starters and helps both units build and extend leads.
The Raptors Coming in: The Raptors are 1-3 and it doesn’t seem to be looking up for them. Their lone win came in the “shunned bowl” against the Cavs and they’ve since lost two in a row against the Kings and the Jazz. After losing Bosh, this team is mediocre on offense and hasn’t seemed to improve on defense from one of the lesser teams on that side of the ball last season. If ever the term transition year applied to a team, it’s this group right here.
That isn’t to say that this team doesn’t have some talent. Andrea Bargnani is a former #1 pick that has scored at a good clip this season (24ppg) but still struggles to rebound and defend the paint. Former USC Trojan DeMar DeRozan has made strides in his second year as he’s added some polish to his raw athleticism. They have a point guard duo in Jarrett Jack and Jose Calderon that on paper is one of the more solid groups around the league. Linas Kleiza is back from Europe and showing that he really is an NBA talent that can score well and Barbosa was acquired in a trade with the Suns to help fortify their bench. But so far the results aren’t there. They don’t rebound or defend well enough to consistently slow teams down and their offense is just middle of the pack in too many areas to carry them to wins when the defensive stops don’t materialize. Sadly for Raptor fans (a dedicated bunch, by the way), this is the team they have right now.
Raptor Blogs: Sam Holako and the crew at Raptors Republic are holding it down in the T-Dot and have all the Raps news you could ever want.
Keys to game: The Lakers have a much more talented team and seem to be on a mission to start games fast, build a comfortable lead, and then close the game by extinguishing any final run that the opposing team puts together in the fourth quarter. This game could easily follow this template and no one would be surprised. However, if the game is close it will be because the Raptors are exploiting the Lakers’ lackadaisical rebounding and taking advantage of the Lakers’ P&R defense by running pick and pops between Jack/Calderon and Bargnani. The Lakers have yet to face a big man like Bargnani – one who can space the floor all the way to the 3 point line and hurt you by burying the long ball. Sure, the Lakers have faced bigs that are likely better overall (Yao, Lee, Cousins, Gasol), but not one in the mold of Bargs. This means the Lakers’ help and recover defense will be tested early and often with the appropriate response being quick, disciplined rotations that chase the Raps off the three point line.
As for the rebounding battle, the Lakers have enormous size advantages over the Raps, but Reggie Evans is an aggressive rebounder who chases every loose ball. If the Lakers are lax in chasing down long rebounds or don’t box out, they will allow the extra possessions that can make this game closer than it need be.
From the Lakers’ perspective, I expect to see the ball go inside the majority of the night to both Kobe and Gasol. Both DeRozan and Bargs are capable one on one defenders but tonight they face two of the best post players in the league and the Lakers should test them to see if they’re up to the task. Eventually the Raptors will need to help down on the block and if the Lakers can continue to shoot the long ball as well as they have, this can get ugly pretty quickly.
One player I would like to see get going is Ron Artest. During the exhibition season we all remarked how well Ron was shooting the ball and discussing how if it lasted the Lakers would be nearly unbeatable. Well, even though Ron is showing much more comfort in the Laker sets, the results from the preseason have not carried over. Against the Kings things started to turn around but one game does not a trend make. Here’s hoping he can get a couple of easy buckets tonight, get his outside shot going, and we then see a second consecutive good game from Artest. It’s obvious that he’s worked on his game and that he’s really understanding where his shots will come from. If they start falling it will be one more weapon that the Lakers have in their arsenal.
Where you can watch: 7:30 start time in the West on Fox Sports. Also listen live on ESPN Radio 710am.