Tomorrow morning, our Los Angeles Lakers shall play the Toronto Raptors in Toronto, presenting a nice opportunity to rebound from their recent loss to the Miami Heat. The Raptors are a mediocre team in the midst of a four-game losing streak, their problems being compounded by key sharpshooting big man Andrea Bargnani being out indefinitely. Factors such as the Raptors' undersized frontline and lack of superstar scorer suggest that this shouldn't be a particularly difficult win for the Lakers; however all is not as it seems: of the Raptors' four-game losing streak, the last two were lost in overtime, one of which was against a solid Playoff team in the Chicago Bulls.
Nonetheless, the Lakers need to win this game, and they indeed should. Moreso than anything else, the combination of the Raptors' slow pace and poor defensive rating suggest a team that the Lakers are well-equipped to defeat. Generally, a slow pace can be conducive to a good team if one or more of these two factors are true: the team must either be a lockdown defensive squad, playing a grind-it-out style, or run a highly-efficient offense whilst taking good care of the rock. Now, the Lakers on a good night can out-shoot and out-talent the majority of teams in the latter category; however, as last game demonstrated, teams in the former can engender a veritable plethora of problems for this Laker squad.
From this angle, prospects look good for the Purple and Gold: not only do the Raptors have a poor defensive rating in conjunction with their slow pace, their turnover rate and effective field goal percentage are both approximately league-average; this consequents a team which ranks only slightly above league average in offensive rating, well below the Lakers in that category. Meanwhile, their defensive rating of 108.1 places them even below the Lakers in that category. Hence, the Toronto Raptors are worse both defensively and offensively than the Purple and Gold; on paper, this should be a win.
The Lakers will need to watch out for the three-point shooting of point guard combo Kyle Lowry and Jose Calderon, of course. Lowry in general will be a tough cover for the Lakers' point guard rotation - it remains to be seen whether coach Mike D'Antoni will stick Kobe on him or not for this game, considering that shooting guard DeMar DeRozan is an athletic scorer in his own right, and small forward Mickael Pietrus is simply too large for the likes of Steve Nash to guard. The Raptors are not a particularly good rebounding team, so the Lakers should quite comfortably maintain their advantage on the glass, particularly with the return of Pau Gasol.
Offensively, the Lakers should look to establish Dwight Howard down low, early and often - what the Miami Heat prevented them from doing last game. It shall be interesting to see Pau's progress returning from injury; hopefully his passing skills can be put to good use in aiding Steve Nash's facilitation of the offense. Kobe Bryant will definitely be looking to rebound from his woefully subpar performance against the Heat, and whilst DeRozan is young and athletic he is not a premier defender of the likes of LeBron James - expect a solid game from the Mamba.
As we've said on SS&R collectively for weeks now--the time for silver linings and moral victories is over. O-V-E-R. The Lakers need to win now, no matter where the game is played and who it's against.
The Lakers have no excuse to not win this game. Unlike last game, they are clearly the better team, and their record demands they play like it if they wish to have a hope of making the Playoffs.
Be sure to check out Raptors HQ for their perspective - as always, be civil.
Lakers vs Raptors coverage
Stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com.