After beating the Clippers on Thursday, the Lakers are right back at it today in a matchup with the Raptors. The every other day nature of games in the bubble should allow for the teams to stay in rhythm, but teams must also be careful not to ramp up too quickly and put too much strain on their players. It’s a fine line that a team like the Lakers–who are hoping to make an extended playoff run–need to be cognizant of.
Regarding this game, then, I do want the Lakers to try to build on Thursday’s performance and play a strong game against the Raptors. Like the Clips, Toronto is the 2nd seeded team in their conference and one of the best teams in the league.
I know why this is the case,1They lost Kawhi! but it’s a shame that the Raptors haven’t gotten the type of deference a defending champion would get this season. They have the league’s 2nd best defense and 3rd best net rating. They’re loaded with good players and are extremely well coached. They’re a contender and have a puncher’s chance to come out of the east against the Bucks.
The Lakers are in for a battle, then. And if they didn’t know this from what I said above they certainly know it from when the Raptors came into Staples Center and handed them a loss even though they didn’t have their full team. So, LA needs to come in prepared to play their best and match how hard Toronto plays. If they don’t, they’ll probably lose. That’s it. That’s the blog post.
If you’re wanting more than that, though, here are a few things to watch more closely:
- Who will defend Pascal Siakam? When these teams matched up earlier in the year, it was AD who did the best job on Siakam. Danny Green did not have the quickness nor the size and this was a point in the year where the Lakers were more intent on putting LeBron in positions to be a helper defensively than play on the ball (that’s changed some in the team’s last 15 games or so, particularly against the Bucks and the Clippers). So, will it be Bron who takes on Siakam or will it still be AD’s job? And, later in the game, will Kuzma get a chance to see if he can hang with another top level wing (like he did vs. Kawhi and PG on Thursday)?
- The Raptors are going to throw a bunch of different defenders against LeBron in an attempt to wear him down and give him a variety of looks. Siakam, Anunoby, Ibaka, Norm Powell, Lowry, Hollis-Jefferson, and even VanVleet could all see time on him. I also would not be surprised to see the Raptors go zone, pick up full court to pressure the ball, or even run full court traps to try to disrupt the Lakers’ flow offensively. Bron will have a lot to dissect this game and as the best brain in the league, I’m intrigued to see how he responds.
- The Raptors are a good, but not great offense. The Lakers will need to be sharp in transition–building a wall vs. Siakam and finding shooters when Toronto pushes the pace. If this becomes a halfcourt game, LA will be in much better shape defensively.
- The chess match between Vogel and Nick Nurse will be fun, particularly when it comes to lineups and which side can dictate the terms of engagement. I think the Lakers can play big or “small” vs. this team and be effective. But who decides the matchups and who dictates the flow of the game will be in the driver’s seat to win.
- On Thursday, Waiters and Kuz were key to getting the win. Playing well today vs. a very good defense would be another really strong step forward for both as the team gears up for the playoffs.
Where you can watch: 5:30pm start time on ESPN and Spectrum Sportsnet.