The Lakers come off a much needed few days off to play the Raptors tonight in Los Angeles. After a rough stretch of 7 games in 11 days with 6 of those 7 on the road, a few days off to recharge their batteries and come into this game fresh is what the team needed. And I do not just mean physically, either. The Lakers only have 2 wins in 11 games this season. Mentally, all that losing starts to take its toll.
So, not playing since Monday should help the Lakers. Playing the Raptors in that first game back, however, will not. The Raptors are not playing as well as they would like — they are currently 7-6 and not in the top 8 seeds in the suddenly improved East — but they are still a much better team than the Lakers. Of course, the Lakers are 28th in offensive efficiency and 27th in defensive efficiency, so most teams are “much better” than them. But that’s another story for another day.
At least in this game, though, the Lakers will have their full lineup at their disposal. Kobe will be back in the lineup after sitting out against the Suns on the 2nd night of a back to back. The last game Kobe played in, he did not shoot well but he was able to control the action offensively by having his best passing game of the year. I’m talking expert level reads where he was passing into open spaces and leading his guys into the spots on the floor where they can be successful.
It will be interesting to see if Kobe takes the same approach tonight. Watching him all year, it is becoming more clear the best type of game Kobe can play is as a sometimes scoring threat, more of the time passing player, and a most of the time attacking player who is looking to tilt the defense towards him. When he plays that style, the floor opens up for his teammates and, in turn will open up for him.
Kobe, though, won’t be the only player on the floor. Against this Raptors team, the match ups all over the floor are worth watching.
First up is the Clarkson vs. DeMar DeRozan battle. DeRozan has advantages in size and will try to work Clarkson in the post, but Clarkson will then take his quickness and off the dribble work in the P&R to the other side of the floor. Next up is (skinny!) Kyle Lowry against D’Angelo Russell. The Lakers’ rookie will likely need to guard his own position tonight (I can’t imagine Byron putting Russell on DeRozan or on DeMarre Carroll) and that will be difficult. Lowry is scoring 20 points a night while dishing out 6 assists and grabbing nearly 5 rebounds a night. Russell has good tools to try and deal with Lowry (specifically his length), but he will need to get around screens well and keep his wits about him in isolation and off the ball. If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is. Especially for a rookie.
Tonight is also a game where I am interested in seeing whether Julius Randle can get back on track. Luis Scola is the opposing power forward and, if we’re being kind, Scola is not a great defensive player. Randle has been in a tough funk the last few games, scoring below double digits and shooting 7-23 in his last three contests. Jonas Valanciunas backing up Scola can offer some resistance, but Randle should be able to do decent work against Scola, especially when working in space. I am hoping to see Randle back in attack mode and making quick, smart decisions off the dribble.
Lastly, when the Lakers faced the Raptors in the preseason, Toronto absolutely torched them from behind the arc hitting 10 of their 21 three pointers. Many of these threes came off dribble penetration and kick-outs against a Lakers’ defense which often over-helped and did not rotate well against ball movement. The Raptors are currently 18th in the league in 3 point field goals attempted and 17th in 3 point percentage. But if the Lakers can’t stop the Raptors off the dribble or if their rotations are in any way slow, lazy, or incorrect they will get burned from behind the arc again. And, if that happens, this game could get ugly.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.