Albeit in late fashion, the Los Angeles Lakers were able to win their fourth in a row Friday night against the Chicago Bulls, emerging with a 108-103 victory. Sunday provides a tough test as they travel north of the border to take on the Toronto Raptors.
With a record of 32-15, Toronto holds the second spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Part of that success resides in their incredible performances at the Air Canada Centre, where they boast a 17-4 record at home this season.
The fans bring an astonishing energy and amount of support, helping provide momentum for a team that dazzles on offense. The Raptors start and end with the play of DeMar DeRozan, regarded as one of the elite offensive players in the NBA.
While excelling with a deadly mid-range pull-up these past few seasons, DeRozan has now expanded his game to a career-high 34.9 percent from 3-point range. The 2018 All-Star Game starter has followed in the footsteps of Kobe Bryant, with a progression in his jump shot much like his idol.
The stellar play of the Raptors also has to do with the production of Kyle Lowry. Averaging 16.5 points, a career-high 5.9 rebounds, and 6.7 assists, Lowry has adjusted his game to his partner in crime.
Lowry can be susceptible to a lot of turnovers at times, amongst the leaders in the NBA with 2.7 per game. However, he remains a pest on defense with his quick hands and must be accounted for at all times.
Toronto’s frontcourt is also a difficult obstacle, with Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas providing interior defense. Ibaka, a renowned blocker, has a knack for timing shots in the paint, averaging 1.4 blocks per game. Valanciunas is also a retro back-to-the-basket type of player, with Brook Lopez likely in for a physical contest.
While Lonzo Ball has been absent, the other young Lakers have each stepped up during different contests. After their nine-game losing streak, many pointed to head coach Luke Walton as reason for the team’s lack of success.
But Walton and the Lakers stayed the course, and now have won eight of their last 10. During this stretch, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Jordan Clarkson have filled the void left behind by Ball. Ingram is coming off a strong performance of 25 points, nine rebounds and five assists, which is a positive sign for L.A. after some streaky results.
The team desperately needed Ingram to return following his and Ball’s injury, with his play suffering while he recuperated from his ankle injury. Kuzma also has been an X-factor during this recent stretch, including his spectacular onslaught on national television against the Boston Celtics.
At the same time, Clarkson has filled in for Ball at the guard position during the crucial moments of the game, showing much more discipline on the court.
Brook Lopez, Julius Randle, and Larry Nance Jr. each will need to play with intelligence on the court on Sunday, to avoid early foul trouble. With that, their aggressive approaches on offense could also take the load off of the guards, by possible stretching out the Toronto big men to create open lanes.
The Lakers dropped their first meeting this season against the Raptors, losing by a score of 101-92 at Staples Center. They look to avoid the season sweep, while also extending their winning streak to five games.
Sunday provides a reunion of sorts for Kuzma, as he faces off against former college teammates Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl.
Three Keys To Victory
Rely On Ball Rotations:
Toronto has excellent on-ball defense and certainly protects the paint, meaning the Lakers have to rely on offensive execution. They need to capitalize on incorrect defensive rotations, in order to help keep the Raptors off balance.
Match Their Physicality:
It is no secret that Ibaka and Valanciunas like to play physical in the paint, swatting shots or using a physical foul to not give up an easy basket. The Lakers can’t be deterred from attacking the basket, in order to cause foul trouble and help set-up easy shots in the paint.
Shoot with Confidence:
Although the Lakers rank dead last in 3-point shooting this season, the Raptors aren’t that far off. Toronto only shoots 35.6 percent from beyond the arc and thrives from mid-range and the paint. With a concerted effort in interior protection and rotations when players get beat, the Lakers can force the Raptors to win from an area they don’t have confidence in.
Los Angeles Lakers (19-29) Vs. Toronto Raptors (32-15):
3:00 P.M. PST, January 28, 2018
Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Canada
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Tyler Ennis
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Julius Randle
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Kyle Kuzma, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr.
Projected Raptors Starting Lineup:
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: OG Anunoby
PF: Serge Ibaka
C: Jonas Valanciunas
Key Reserves: C.J. Miles, Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl