Records: Lakers 28-16 (6 seed); Raptors 25-20 (5 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.9 (6th); Raptors 111.4 (10th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.1 (8th); Raptors 107 (11th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladamir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Kwame Brown
Raptors: Jose Calderon, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Andrea Bargnani, Chris Bosh
Lakers Notes: Iâ€™ve said it before, you donâ€™t just lose ballgames on the last play. The Lakers had 17 turnovers in the first 19 minutes and they missed 11 free throws â€” those two things matter more to me than the last play.
That said, the last play was ugly and it was the second time in two games that the Lakers looked lost on a last-second inbound play. Letâ€™s walk through the last two possessions (Detroitâ€™s three and the Lakers miss).
First, the Pistons ran the high pick-and-pop with Billups and Wallace, and when he came off the screen the Lakers defense focused on stopping Billups (who was 5 of 10) and Wallace slid over, got the pass and took a three pointer with Kwame running at him. (For the record, Iâ€™m fine with the Lakers defense here, Wallace is a 33% shooter from three but itâ€™s a semi-contested shot). Lamar Odom on the weak side did the right thing â€” he boxed out Prince and got between him and the basket. The problem was this was a long rebound and Odom was close to the hoop, so Prince tracked it down. (Iâ€™m still okay with that, but from here on out is where the Lakers screw up.) Odom comes out on Prince in the corner, so Prince passes to Billups on the wing at the three-point line â€” but Fisher decides to gamble on a steal of the pass and when he misses Billups now has a clear path to the basket. Kwame Brown starts to rotate over, but Odom also collapses down off Prince to cut off Billups. Quick pass out to Prince for an open look three and the Pistons are up by one. (Prince shoots 38% from three, you have to let Billups take the good look two and not leave your guy there â€” know the personnel on the floor.)
Now the Lakers inbounds. You know, I know, Flip Saunders knows, Billups knows, the ballboy knows, even Lindsay Lohan knows Kobe is supposed to get the ball. The Pistons donâ€™t cover Odom throwing the ball in so they can double Kobe â€” Billups fronts him denying him the pass. (To me nothing is a surprise here, although Iâ€™d like to see Kobe off more picks to try to free him.) But hereâ€™s what I donâ€™t get â€” option #2 is to have Kwame Brown run out so he is 25 feet from the basket to take the inbound pass. So, you donâ€™t have to cover him anymore, he canâ€™t hit that shot in his dreams. (Why is Kwame in the game right now, exactly? If that is a shooter who runs out you have to cover him.) Kwame gets the inbound pass and gives it right back to Odom, but since nobody has to worry about Kwame both Wallace and Rip Hamilton go to Odom, the result being Odomâ€™s 19-footer with a hand in his face.
Yes, itâ€™s be nice if he at least draws iron on that shot, but if you know Kobe is going to get all the attention is that really your second best shot you can get? Iâ€™m not sure if this was a matter of execution or how the play was drawn up (Iâ€™d guess a little of both) but the Lakers need to come up with better decisions and options in crunch time.
All that said, it is a one-point loss on the road to an elite level team. Yes, the Lakers are 3-5 since Bynum went down, but while frustrating none of those are â€œbadâ€ losses â€” a loss to a weak team. The question really is, can they grow from that and win the games they should?
The Raptors Coming In: Right now it is 32 degrees in Toronto and snowing like mad. I have on short sleeves. There are things I really like about my life.
There are a few sites you should be checking out to get info on Toronto â€” they have one of the best collections of bloggers going. Ryan and the team at Hoops Addict are fantastic. But this time around we asked some questions of Adam at Raptors HQ:
1. Chris Bosh has been playing out of his mind the last few weeks, but he has been getting great support from Jose Calderon and Anthony Parker among others. What is Calderon doing right and who else should we be watching?
Jose has always been a great pure point guard. He’s gotten more and more comfortable with the role and Raptor fans figured he’d be able to step in for TJ no problem. In fact one of the biggest debates in Raptorland has always been “who should start – TJ vs. Jose?” Many argued that Ford was not the answer as a starter and he should be traded but interestingly, his injury situation has really opened some eyes in many ways.
First of all, it’s allowed fans to see just how good Jose is. We knew he could turn the corner off screens with the best of them. We knew he was a great passer and floor general. However what he’s shown this year that’s really blown everyone away, is just how deadly a shot he is! Jose has the chance to finish the season shooting over 90 per cent from the free-throw line, 50 per cent from the field, and 40 per cent from beyond the arc. The only other player currently shooting those percentages I believe is Steve Nash. And this was a player who only two years ago fans cringed to see shoot. It just shows you how far he’s come. Now teams can’t simply hug Bosh on screen and rolls or Jose will make them pay.
Second, as good as Jose has been, I think fans now realize how much the team misses TJ Ford as well. Jose can get up and down with the best of them but doesn’t push the ball as well as TJ, doesn’t defend as well individually, and is not the one on one player Ford is. The two form a lethal combination and with Ford reportedly coming back to practice soon, it bodes well for the rest of the season.
In terms of who else Lakers fans should keep an eye on? – Carlos Delfino. One of the team’s X factors and probably someone who will be guarding Kobe a lot in this match. Delfino is Toronto’s best on the ball defender and although streaky on offence, when he gets going it adds another dimension to the club.
2. Bargnani, why does this guy look like a bust? Why is he not living up to his potential?
It no doubt has been a tough year for Bargs. He’s starting to show signs of life lately though and hopefully by the time the playoffs hit, he’ll be back in peak form. It’s way too early to give him the Kwame label yet, but he certainly does need to get his confidence back.
Things went wrong pretty much right from the get-go with Bargnani as early in the year he struggled to get used to the starting line-up Sam Mitchell had trotted out. With Anthony Parker AND Jason Kapono starting, it seemed that Bargs was lost on offence as there were too many 3-point gunners. He still has no low-post game to speak of so if he’s not hitting the outside shot, he’s not very effective. Therefore he just sort of became a liability as without scoring, nothing was counter-balancing his lack of rebounding and defence.
So Toronto put him on the bench and had Rasho start. The result â€“ more wins, but less time for Bargs and his confidence seemed to take a major hit. It got to the point where Kris Humphries was getting more minutes on a regular basis. Sam Mitchell talked to Bryan Colangelo and they decided to re-insert Bargs into the starting line-up. Unfortunately it did little to change his play as he’d pick up two quick fouls and have to sit. I talked a lot on the site about how the Raps needed to make a decision with him at this point; did they want to develop their top pick at the cost of wins, or sit him, let him figure things out in limited minutes, and try and win as many games as possible.
People need to remember too though that he’s trying to learn a completely new position. In Europe and last year he was always a Dirk-like 3/4 so to get used to playing the 5, it’s going to take some time. That’s why his recent play is encouraging and hopefully this off-season, he’ll round out some more of his game. (AKA head to Pete Newell’s “Big Man” camp.)
3. Why should we all catch Jamario Moon Mania
Jamario Moon is one of the craziest stories I’ve ever seen/heard following basketball. We’re talking about a kid who listened to all the wrong people heading towards college, declared early for the draft, was undrafted, played in minor minor leagues for stints (we’re talking IBL not even NBDL), played for the Globetrotters, you name it. Finally he gets noticed and invited to the Raptors free-agent camp last summer, and the rest is history.
Yes we’ve seen kids listen to bad advice, make it from the minors etc, but there aren’t many guys in the history of the league who’ve gone from the Globetrotters to starting for a solid NBA team ha ha.
Now Moon is no Kobe Bryant yet…his jump shot is somewhat suspect and for someone with his unworldly athletic talents, he settles for it far too often but that stuff should come. He’s a very impressive shot-blocker, great help and man-to-man defender, solid rebounder, and is sort of like Gerald Wallace, a guy who can come in and do a bit of everything. Ironically, Wallace and Moon were the two best players out of Alabama when they were coming up.
Therefore Moon mania in my books is about a great underdog story, and Bryan Colangelo yet again finding the proverbial diamond in the rough. I was at the Raptors’ free agent camp covering it for the site and Moon just seemed to always be in the right place at the right time in games. Yes, he’s an incredible athlete, and a great marketing pitch for the NBA’s developmental leagues, but really to me Moon mania is a celebration of hard work and perseverance paying off.
4. What are the Raptors doing right when they win? Or, what should we be hoping they don’t do against the Lakers?
This one is a pretty easy answer – the Lakers should hope that Toronto has a poor shooting night.
It’s pretty rare that a team can win when it gets outrebounded, outscored in the paint and turns the ball over a lot more then their opponent but Toronto did just that against the Celtics recently by shooting about 70 per cent from beyond the arc. Wednesday night against the Wizards, Toronto hit nine of their first 11 3-pointers and the game was over before the fourth quarter. This kind of offensive barrage is extremely disheartening for opponents and the Raptors can put teams in a hole pretty quick.
So if hot shooting is what Toronto is doing right when it wins, what is it doing wrong when it loses? Well, the team is much improved defensively this year but on offence when shots aren’t falling, the Dinos have nary a player who can create his own shot besides Chris Bosh. If teams double up on him and force the rest of the Raps to score, things can dry up quickly. This is also a poor rebounding club so in close games this has at times been the difference. The Lakers need to hope Bargnani struggles, play physical with Bosh (ahem Kwame) and force the Raptors’ wings to put the ball on the floor.
Oh…and you seem to have someone named Kobe Bryant. Yeah…for some reason I think he enjoys playing Toronto…
Keys To The Game: You know why this game worries me? Because to win the Lakers have to stay disciplined on defense â€” Toronto absolutely kills it from the three-point line (Bosh, Calderon, Parker, Delfino, Kopono all shoot better than 40% from there), the Lakers CANNOT collapse on guys in the paint at the expense of leaving a man for a good-look three. Ask Boston how that works. Of course, to avoid collapsing on defense means defending the pick-and-roll well in the first place.
The Raptors live on the perimeter â€” Bosh is the only true inside guy and he is happy 20-feet out running pick-and-pops. That means the Lakers can and should dominate on the boards. If the Lakers win tonight I think it will be in part because they got some easy offensive rebounds and put backs.
On offense, the Lakers jump shooters will get their shots tonight â€” if Kobe, Fish, Sasha and Radmaovic are on tonight the Lakers could have a big night.
Also, Iâ€™m looking forward to watching Bosh tonight, a personal favorite and maybe the best player in the NBA the last couple of weeks. Iâ€™m not sure how the Lakers contain him, but Iâ€™d like to see more Ronny than Kwame.
Where you can watch: Game time is 4 pm (Pacific) but again the Los Angeles KCAL broadcast doesnâ€™t start until 5:30. Rumor is you can get live game streaming at Raptors Nation tonight.