To this point in the second half of the season, the Lakers have only remained afloat because of LeBron James. With Anthony Davis injured on multiple occasions and Russell Westbrook being...Rusell Westbrook this year, James has been the constant driving force.
That James has been doing it all while battling through knee soreness is one of the many things of his run of late that has been remarkable. But that could eventually catch up with the Lakers against the Raptors.
James’ management of his injury has included him waking up with a sore knee the day after the game before treatment and rest allowed him to be ready by game time of the following day, a routine only possible because of the Lakers’ lack of back-to-back games.
That’s a luxury neither James or the Lakers will have on Monday. After meeting the Suns on Sunday evening, the team will return home to Los Angeles to meet Toronto for the first time this season. Prior to Sunday’s game, head coach Frank Vogel said the plan was to have James play against Phoenix and assess his status on Monday. With it being a blowout loss, James played 30 minutes and sat the entire fourth quarter.
When James missed the team’s game against San Antonio last week, he cited a flight delay as one of the reasons he missed time.
LeBron said he thinks a two-hour delay on the team's flight on Sunday led to him not playing on Monday against San Antonio as his knee was still sore— Jacob Rude (@JacobRude) March 10, 2022
It feels, then, unlikely at best that James will be available against the Raptors, which leaves the Lakers in a tough predicament. Without James last week, the Lakers looked rudderless and lost to a Spurs team out of the play-in tournament.
The Raptors are a much different and better team than the Spurs. Toronto is simply an average team this year, ranking 15th in the league in offensive rating, 14th in defensive rating and 14th in net rating. But the Lakers are not an average team even with James and without him, they’re a downright bad team.
Even as a bad team, they can’t afford losses down the stretch that will certainly come. Toronto will come into Los Angeles on the back end of a West Coast road trip that actually started with a loss in Cleveland before wins over San Antonio, Phoenix and Denver.
In short, the Lakers need LeBron every night and particularly tonight. The Raptors’ similar small-ball approach would play right into the hand of the Lakers, particularly with James. Without him, the Lakers will still be able to play small and may lean on someone like Wenyen Gabriel more than Dwight Howard.
How much will that matter potentially without James? Probably not too much as the Lakers — and specifically Westbrook — haven’t shown they’re capable of handling things without James and David around, which means this could be a pretty sour back-to-back.
Notes and Updates
- DraftKings has the Raptors as a -3.5 favorite with an over/under of -165. With James status up in the air, that line could move drastically.
- This is the penultimate back-to-back for the Lakers with the only other remaining one coming in the third- and second-to-last games of the regular season.
- The Lakers have beaten the Raptors just once in the last five meetings.
- Toronto will be without OG Anunoby (ring finger fracture) and Malachi Flynn (hamstring strain).
The game is set for a 7:30 p.m. PT tip-off at Crypto.com Arena with the game broadcast on Spectrum SportsNet.
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