The Raptors are the cure for what ails the Lakers


The Los Angeles Lakers currently find themselves in an unfamiliar situation, losers of 3 straight games.  That hasn't happened since the Reagan adminisitration early 2008.

Thankfully for them, the losing streak is likely to come to an end.  Tonight, the Lakers host the Toronto Raptors, and the Raptors seem custom made to help the Lakers get their groove back.  You don't like the Lakers' 3 game skid?  The Raptors have lost 5 of their last 6 coming in.  4 of those losses were by double digits, and the most recent one came at the hands of the 76ers ... in Toronto.  You want to see the Lakers execute well on offense?  Enter the worst defensive team in the league, by far, giving up nearly 1.5 more points per 100 posessions than any other team in the NBA.  Worried about the Lakers being bullied?  Toronto has one of the most finesse oriented front lines around, starting Andrea Bargnani and his 6 rpg at Center.  No matter how you look at it, its hard to imagine a world in which 3 straight losses becomes 4 straight for The Lake Show.

Catching up with the Lakers

The Lakers are in foul spirits right now.  Kobe Bryant described the team as edgy and unhappy.  Pau Gasol is frustrated with the ball movement (not to be confused with his lack of shots).  Derek Fisher seems to be upset about the abuses being thrown his way in the press and on the internet.  But all of this boils down to one thing.  This is a group of people unaccustomed to losing, and they've been losing with too much regularity of late.  Shaq and Kobe taught us a long time ago that winning does not solve all problems, but it does smooth things over for a while.  In the absence of actual solutions to the Lakers issues, a win will at least cheer everybody up.

The theme which has persisted throughout the Lakers poor recent play is shooting.  The Lakers can't do it, apparently.  Ron Artest is in a slump.  Kobe Bryant is in a slump.  Pau Gasol is in a slump.  The backups (not including LO) are in a slump.  Derek Fisher … well, let's just say I don't want to offend his sensibilities, but his performance is too consistent to even deserve the word slump.  Will the slump break tonight?  For some, it's a very strong possibility.  At home, against a team that plays very poor defense, the Lakers will kill the Raptors inside, or the Raptors will clog the middle and leave the Lakers wide, wide open on the perimeter.  I half-way expect a blowout with big numbers off the bench.  Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown seem likely to get hot tonight, at home.

Catching up with the Raptors

As mentioned above, the Raptors come into this game struggling even more than LA.  Some of that is due to a couple missed games from their superstar, Chris Bosh, but Bosh didn't miss the loss to Philly.  Recent form aside, the Raptors are not a bad team, but they aren't very good either.  They are mediocre, the type of mediocre that comes from doing one thing (offense) very well and another thing (defense) atrociously.  They are currently 3 games over .500, good for 6th in the Eastern Conference, and they have a very good chance to make the playoffs as part of the increasingly weak looking lower half of the EC bracket. 

Matchups

I'm not sure the Lakers match up very well with the Raptors, but the Raptors don't match up very well with anybody.  In the middle, Bynum/Gasol should destroy Bargnani, forcing the Raptors to either counter with Rasho Nesterovic or bring in Amir Johnson and play Bosh in the middle.  Either way, Bynum should be able to take advantage of whovever Toronto throws out there to guard him.  On the other side of things, one of the Lakers bigs will have to stay out on the perimeter, because Toronto really doesn't have anybody who plays inside.  Bosh is the closest thing, but even he does a lot of damage catching the ball just beyond the elbow and facing up.

The Raptors do shoot the ball quite well, so it could be troublesome if the Lakers (i.e. Kobe) come out with the same defensive intensity they reserved for Charlotte.  Jarret Jack, Jose Calderon, Marco Bellinelli, Hedo Turkoglu, and Bargnani all stroke the three as good as or better than just about every Laker, and they do so with great regularity.  Staying with folks on the perimeter should be mandatory tonight.

The Lakers come in as an example of a very good team playing poorly.  The Raptors come in as an example of a mediocre team playing poorly.  As mentioned above, I think the storm brewing in the Lakers camp is going to explode in the form of a big victory tonight.  In the comfort of Staples Center, look for the outside shot to be falling, the play in the middle to be dominating, and the defensive effort to be strong enough early on (while the game is still in question).  If the Taco Unit doesn't get some burn tonight, color me surprised.   

Lakers

Raptors

RECORD

45-18 (2)

32-29 (14)

NET POINTS PER GAME

+6.1 (2)

-1.2 (18)

PACE

93.5 (9)

93.3 (11)

OFFENSIVE RATING

108.6 (11)

111.1 (5)

Turnover Rate (Off.)

12.3% (3)

12.8% (8)

FTA/FGA (Off.)

0.22 (25)

0.26 (4)

Free-Throw %

77.0 (11)

76.4 (13)

3PT FGA/FGA (Off.)

0.224 (11)

.216 (16)

3PT% (Off.)

34.7 (19)

37.3 (4)

Effective FG% (Off.)

49.7 (15)

51.9 (6)

True Shooting% (Off.)

54.1 (14)

56.4 (6)

Off Rebounding Rate

27.2% (14)

24.9% (23)

DEFENSIVE RATING

102.2 (2)

112.3 (30)

Turnover Rate (Def.)

13.7% (13)

12.1% (28)

FTA/FGA (Def.)

0.20 (1)

0.25 (23)

3PT FGA/FGA (Def.)

0.23 (21)

.25 (29)

3PT% (Def.)

32.0 (1)

35.4 (20)

Effective FG% (Def.)

47.8 (4)

51.0 (22

True Shooting% (Def.)

51.6 (1)

55.6 (26)

Def Rebounding Rate

74.5% (9)

72.9% (22)

Numbers in parentheses indicate league rank. All numbers courtesy of Basketball Reference and HoopData.

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