After losing to the shorthanded Timberwolves, the Lakers are at the low-point of their early season. As I mentioned in the game preview, that was a game that the Lakers needed to win simply from the standpoint of them seeing themselves are better than their record. By losing, however, it is much easier to say that the Lakers are what their record says they are: one of the worst teams in the league. Their star shooting guard may not like that and their head coach might not either but, again, you are what your record says you are.
Speaking of the head coach, after the game several reporters on site tweeted that Byron Scott was as upset as he’s been all season. He spoke of “boneheaded mistakes” and “players not ready to play” while using an expletive (or two) to emphasize his point. On the one hand, I can understand Scott’s frustration. His team just lost to one of the lesser teams in the league — a team missing three key rotation players — and did so by giving up an astonishing number of points considering the circumstances. If I were him, I’d be mad too.
On the other hand, this is at least the third time that Scott has used these adjectives to describe his team and one has to wonder when he will acknowledge his role in getting them ready to play or making some adjustments to get players on the floor who won’t be “boneheaded” and that are, actually, “ready to play”. After all, as the head coach one of his job descriptions is to get them “ready to play” and to manage players’ minutes in a manner that promotes what he wants to see from his team on the floor. In other words, maybe Scott should start to look in the mirror after some of these losses rather than consistently calling out his players. Because a team doesn’t get to 3-13 with only the players doing poorly.
As for tonight, the Lakers host an excellent Raptors team who boasts the eastern conference’s best record. Their 13 wins to only three losses is the inverse of the Lakers’ horrid beginning to the campaign and they really have been the class of the conference. And while they will be without (and miss) starting shooting guard (and L.A. native) DeMar DeRozan, they still have plenty of good players to give the Lakers fits. It starts, of course, with point guard Kyle Lowry. The bulldog of a lead guard has finally found a home in “The 6” and his game is flourishing. Not only is he still able to score and set up his teammates while defending his position well, but his game has found that maturity that allows him to recognize when it is time for him to put his foot on the pedal and take over.
Beyond Lowry, and with DeRozan sidelined, the Raptors will turn to several of their role players and look for them to step up. Prime candidates are Lou Williams and Terrance Ross. Both are capable of picking up some of the scoring load and both can give the Lakers’ fits with their ability to hit shots from deep and then use the threat of that shot to get into the paint where they can score or draw fouls. Beyond that backcourt duo, the Lakers must also look out for big men Amir Johnson (another Los Angeles product) and Jonas Valanciunas. Johnson’s ability to play 18 feet and in while running the floor for easy baskets is a skill set the Lakers have had trouble with all year. And Jonas is just a massive man who can be a real threat in the P&R and can do good work in the paint as a finisher both as a roll man or in straight post ups. His size will also need to be managed on the offensive glass so Hill and Ed Davis will have their hands full.
The Raptors go even deeper than these players, however, and on any given night any of the above can be outshined by Grevis Vasquez or Patrick Patterson or even James Johnson should they have a good night. This is why this team has only lost three games all year and why the Lakers will be lucky to be in this game by halftime. Their depth can devastate good teams whose benches can’t keep up and against a Lakers’ team who consistently has trouble keeping defenses honest when Lin and Kobe go to the bench, tonight will be extra difficult when substitutes from both sides are on the floor.
From the Lakers’ end, then, the best they can hope for is that their offense finds enough of a groove to keep the game close and that their defense can put the Raptors into end of clock situations where they have to over-rely on Lowry to create a shot against a defense that is gearing up to stop him. This, of course, is a bit of a long shot. But in a season where the Lakers aren’t very good, long shots is all they have against top notch opponents.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.