However, the Lakers face a Toronto team that has been impressive since the Rudy Gay trade. While everyone expected them to tank for Andrew Wiggins, the Raptors have won 13 of their last 20 games and are third in the Eastern Conference standings.
In the teams’ first meeting in Los Angeles, the Lakers simply couldn’t stop Amir Johnson. The LA-native had a career night with 32 points and 10 rebounds. While he has struggled in his past five games, the Lakers’ frontcourt will need to match his energy and ensure that he doesn’t have another breakout performance.
Joining Johnson in the frontcourt are second-year players, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas. After an impressive rookie season, Ross has played major minutes and is producing. In the past five games, Ross is averaging 12.6 points and 4.2 rebounds on nearly 40 percent shooting from three-point land. While he has struggled shooting from the field, Valanciunas is averaging a near double-double over the past five games with 10.0 points and 9.8 rebounds.
With Rudy Gay in Sacramento, DeMar DeRozan has emerged as the team’s number one option on offense. For the season, DeRozan is averaging 21.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.7 assists and is an All-Star candidate if the Raptors continue to play well.
Despite all the trade rumors, Kyle Lowry has played extremely well. Over the last five games, Lowry is averaging 19.6 points and 7.2 assists on 58 percent shooting from three-point land. If the Lakers want to win their second straight game, containing Lowry will be crucial. He had 23 points, five rebounds, and eight assists and destroyed the Lakers’ defense in their first meeting.
Keys to Lakers Victory:
Pau Gasol: Against Boston, Pau Gasol showed everyone that he is still capable of carrying a team. The real question is whether he can sustain this level of activity through the season. If his performance was a result of being healthy for once, the Lakers are in a good place. When Gasol is aggressive, he forces the opponent to double-team him and he is the best passing big man in the game.
Control The Pace: In the first meeting, the Lakers tried to out-run the Raptors. While the Raptors are only averaging 98.7 points per game, they will run on opportunities and have more superior athletes than the Lakers. Thus the Lakers will need to control the pace and prevent the Raptors from getting easy points in transition.
Limit Offensive Rebounding: This has been an issue the entire season, but there needs to be an emphasis on limiting offensive boards. Johnson and Valanciunas are averaging nearly five offensive boards a game and hurt the Lakers in their first meeting. Rookie Ryan Kelly who will start tonight will need to focus on boxing out and securing defensive rebounds.
Los Angeles Lakers (15-25) vs. Toronto Raptors (20-18)
10:00 AM PST, January 19, 2014
Air Canada Centre, Toronto, ON
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: ESPN LA 710
Raptors Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: Demar DeRozan
SF: Terrence Ross
PF: Amir Johnson
C: Jonas Valanciunas
Key Reserves: PF: Patrick Patterson, PF: Chuck Hayes, PG: Greivis Vasquez
Lakers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Kendall Marshall
SG: Jodie Meeks
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Ryan Kelly
C: Pau Gasol