After a rough loss vs. the Clippers on Sunday, the Lakers are back action today vs. the Raptors. This is, technically, the 3rd game of the team’s 7 game road trip, but it’s their first of their 5 that will take them up the east coast in games vs. the Heat, Knicks, Nets, and Hornets. There are some winnable games in this bunch and, considering the Lakers current state and the competitive nature of the west, the pressure is on to nab a couple.
That begins today vs. the banged up Raptors in…Tampa, their temporary home away from home during the pandemic. The Raps are currently 10 games under .500, just played a game yesterday, and will be without both Kyle Lowry (foot) and Fred VanVleet (hip). Though they’ve won two straight games, before that they had lost 13 of 14, dropping them in the standings and, at least for now, leaving them in the 11th seed and outside even the play-in game (and, with that, the playoff picture).
Now, don’t get me wrong, the Raptors are still very dangerous and have enough talent remaining to beat the Lakers today. Pascal Siakam is the best player on either team and in OG Anunoby and the newly acquired Gary Trent Jr., they have some two-way punch on the wing. They are shallow everywhere else, however, and will need their rangy and athletic role players to have “one of those nights” to prop up some of the bench units when their better players sit.
That said, the Lakers have seemingly fallen victim to guys having “one of those nights” pretty often this season, a trend that tends to happen when, as the Lakers and the defending champions, you get everyone’s best efforts. That said, there’s no excuses here. The Lakers have some talent of their own and the longer this group goes without LeBron and AD, the more accustomed they should become with their larger than usual roles. Of course, comfort does not always lead to consistency — something the Lakers are keenly aware of when looking at a lot of their lineup.
In bringing the focus back to this game, however, there’s a couple of players I’m looking at intently.
The first is Dennis Schröder. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m disappointed with his play — he continues to compete hard defensively and is his usual aggressive self as a driver and scorer on O — there’s a certain thing that is missing that is hard to put my finger on. Maybe it’s leadership? Maybe it’s floor generalship? Maybe it’s the outside shot not quite being there to the level I’d like? Again, it’s hard to pinpoint, but if he’s going to seek a contract of over $20 million annually this off-season, I’d like to see a bit more of an ability to galvanize this group and getting them to play as more than the sum of its parts.
The 2nd is Kyle Kuzma. I’ve been really impressed with Kuz this season and I’ve been generally pleased with his level of play on both sides of the floor since Bron joined AD on the injured list. With that, I just want to see him continue to play his game, look to keep making the right play, and, mostly, just be aggressive and consistent.
I get that the last part is harder without (at least) Bron out there getting everyone in better positions to succeed. I also get that on most nights, it’s now Kuz who is going to see increased defensive attention from the same individual defenders opposing coaches would normally throw on Bron. Tonight will be no exception as he’s sure to see time vs. both Anunoby and Siakam. That said, Kuz is probably the team’s most well rounded offensive player (right now) and getting good production from him nightly is key for any game the Lakers want to win.
Lastly, a thing to watch for tonight are the front court matchups and how Nick Nurse handles his center rotation. Siakam has been getting a lot of minutes as the nominal center, with Aron Baynes coming off the bench. I do not expect that to change tonight. So, Gasol is going to be put into some tough matchups, either guarding Siakam or Chris Boucher. The latter is a rangy athlete whose quickness will surely give Marc issues. Marc is going to have to use his size more and really be assertive on both backboards. If he’s not, Vogel will have to make some choices about how early to go to Trez and how long to extend his minutes in this one.
Where you can watch: 4:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.