NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 10: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers brings the ball up court against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on February 10, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
[Robotic voice] Good morning, this is your ... 5 ... AM ... wake up call.
*sigh* Screw this.
The above probably represents just about every member of the Los Angeles Lakers this morning (with varying degrees of vulgarity), because the Lakers are playing the Toronto Raptors, and they are doing so at a time of day normally reserved for brunch and sleeping in. Today's tip is 1 PM in Toronto, which makes it 10 AM local time, and as I woke up at 5 AM just to write the preview for this game, one has to imagine the Lakers are up by now as well. Oh sure, it might be 8 AM where they are technically, but I have to believe a player's clock doesn't really adjust on the road, since they don't spend much time in any one place except their home city. Which means the 8 AM wake up call must have felt like 5 AM, and the tip will really feel like it's taking place in the morning, and no matter how you slice it, that is a huge advantage for the home team.
The Raptors have been doing this for years. These 1 PM Sunday games are kind of their thing. It's an advantage, especially against a west coast team like LA, but to be fair, it's not much more of an advantage than the Lakers tipping games off at close to 11 PM in the minds of most East Coast squads. The only difference is that the NBA player is used to late nights. Early mornings? Not so much.
One Laker who is sure to be ready is Kobe Bryant. He doesn't really fool around too much with sleep anyways, so the early morning wake up call doesn't bother him. 5 AM is when he likes to get into the gym anyways, the only difference today is the gym will be a little bit bigger. His companions? Don't be surprised if the rest of the team starts things off a bit sluggish today. It's just the nature of the game, and the lifestyle, of an NBA player who is unaccustomed to the tiny shock to the system that is getting started with your day much earlier than you are used to.
But worry not, because the actual opponent, well, they aren't all that good at the basketball. After hovering around .500 for the first nine games of the season, the Raptors lost 8 straight and never looked back. They won their last game by capitalizing on the weary Boston Celtics (in much the same manner that New York capitalized on a weary Lakers squad, that Lakers-Cs tilt took a lot out of both teams), but prior to that, their only win in six contests was against the lowly Washington Wizards. They've been hurt by injuries, the most important to their best player, Andrea Bargnani, who missed six games with a calf strain in mid January, and apparently tried to come back from that injury too soon, because he played just two games before re-injuring the calf. He hasn't played since. In his absence, Toronto has found points really difficult to come by. Toronto is 28th in the league in offensive efficiency (for all the Lakers' struggles on that end of the floor, Los Angeles is still ranked 15th).
Matchup wise, its much the same tune as it always is. The Raptors do not have the bodies to match up with the Lakers size. They'll start Aaron Gray at center, who is big enough to make life potentially difficult on Andrew Bynum, but Bynum should be able to use his footwork to make mince meat out of Gray on the block. Toronto's power forwards are under sized, so unless they go big with a two center lineup (which will make their offense even worse), Toronto will struggle to deal with Pau Gasol while Andrew Bynum is in the game. They don't have any one standout perimeter defender to deal with Kobe either, so you'll see the same overloading strategy towards the Big Three that you always do. As long as somebody, anybody, else on the team can make shots, the Lakers will make short work of the Raptors.
Unfortunately, due both to the starting time of the game, and the complete dearth of talent on the Lakers roster outside the top 3 spots, there are no guarantees.