The Lakers come into tonight’s game off their most emotional win of the season, finishing the game on a stunning 20-0 run to come from behind and defeat the New Orleans Hornets. The Lakers outscored the Hornets 33-9 in the fourth quarter and trailed by as many as 25 points in the game. The Lakers must avoid coming out flat in games from here on out because they cannot continue to rely so heavily on Kobe Bryant’s miraculous play. Kobe continues to amaze on a nightly basis, and put up 42 points, 12 assists, and 7 rebounds in New Orleans. If the Lakers are able to sneak into the playoffs, Kobe has the capability to put a scare into any opponent.
Tonight’s opponent is the Toronto Raptors, who snapped a five game losing streak Wednesday night with a 98-71 victory over the Phoenix Suns. The Raptors swung the biggest trade deadline deal this season, acquiring small forward Rudy Gay from the Memphis Grizzlies. Shortly after trading for Gay, the Raptors starting playing good basketball and won five straight in February. Lately though, they have fallen back to playing like the struggling team that they have been for most of the season. The Raptors do, however, possess a victory over the Lakers this season: a 108-103 victory on January 20th in which the score makes the game look much closer than it actually was. The Lakers should use that prior defeat as motivation in this one.
Frontcourt: Former number one overall pick Andrea Bargnani was recently reinserted into the Raptors starting lineup. Bargnani has had a somewhat disappointing career for a number one pick, although he is no doubt a talented jump-shooter, particularly for a seven footer. He has seemingly been on the trading block for the entire season, and the Raptors fans and front office representatives seem to have lost their patience with him. Having said all this, Bargnani is an excellent shooter who must be accounted for on the offensive end. The Lakers must rotate out to him on the perimeter in their pick and roll defense and not allow him to get open looks. Bargnani is a poor rebounder and defender, which the Lakers should look to exploit whenever given an opportunity.
Rudy Gay starts at the small forward position for Toronto. Since coming over from Memphis, Gay has led the team in scoring at 19.8 points a night. Gay is one of the longest, most athletic wing players in the league. However, he has struggled with his outside shot for most of the season in both a Grizzlies and Raptors uniform and is shooting the ball at just a 40 percent clip from the field on the season, far below his career average. Gay has questionable shot selection in the half court set, and is most dangerous in transition. Earl Clark will likely start on Gay because he has the length to bother him on the perimeter.
Backcourt: The Raptors showed faith in point guard Kyle Lowry by trading away former starter Jose Calderon at the trade deadline. Lowry is known to be difficult to deal with in the locker room at times, but he is no doubt talented and could potentially be a matchup problem for the Lakers in this one. Lowry is quick and strong off the dribble and can either score at the rim or distribute to teammates effectively (six assists per game). Dwight Howard must stay out of foul trouble and stay on the floor early, or else Lowry could cause a lot of damage at the rim against the Lakers’ defense. Lowry is also a threat from three point range, shooting it at a 40 percent clip on the season.
Shooting guard Demar DeRozan is the team’s second leading scorer at 17.7 points per game and possesses extraordinary leaping ability. DeRozan, along with Gay, is very dangerous in transition. Kobe should be able to manage guarding DeRozan in the half-court, and Demar will certainly have his hands full guarding Kobe. DeRozan is a below average jump shooter and is not effective past 19-20 feet. The front office of the Raptors is putting lots of faith in both Gay and DeRozan as building blocks for their future.
Keys to Victory:
Limit Turnover Total to 14 or Less: The Raptors’ three starting guards in Lowry, DeRozan, and Gay are all better on the fast break than they are in a half-court. The Lakers must protect the ball in this one and not let these players get out in transition. The Raptors are a poor rebounding team (second to last in the league), so the Lakers are likely to get a good amount of second shot attempts off offensive rebounds. If they can hold their turnovers down as well, then that could lead to a victory.
Dwight Howard: Dwight had perhaps his signature moment as a Laker in the game in New Orleans by blocking Robin Lopez’s dunk attempt in the final minute of the contest. In this matchup with the Raptors, there is nobody on their roster who should be able to contain him in single coverage. The Raptors start 20 year old rookie Jonas Valanciunas at center and do not have many big bodies off their bench either. The Lakers should look for Dwight early and often because he is likely to draw double teams and will open it up for everyone else.
Toronto Raptors (24-38) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (31-31)
7:30 PM PST, March 8, 2013 Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
CA TV: TWCSN
Raptors Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: Rudy Gay
PF: Andrea Bargnani
C: Jonas Valanciunas
Key Reserves: G Alan Anderson, G Terrence Ross, F Amir Johnson
VIDEO: Lakers Nation Preview The Game With RaptorsHQ.com