The moment Mitch Kupchek completed the four-team deal that brought Dwight Howard to Los Angeles, there were many people -- including Lakers forward Metta World Peace -- that were ready to anoint them 2013 NBA champions. Fast-forward to January 20th 2013 and the Lakers look like anything but champions, especially after their 108-103 loss to the Toronto Raptors.
The Lakers looked sluggish, disjoined and overly reliant on one or two players to do the bulk of their team's work on offense. Their defense was porous - they allowed the Raptors to shoot 55% from the floor - and their lack of depth really showed with players like Chris Duhon and Antawn Jamison seeing extended minutes throughout the game. Granted, the latter was due to Dwight Howard's inability to play more than 17 minutes after he was ejected in the second quarter for receiving his second technical foul of the game.
"We still believe in ourselves," Metta World Peace said during one of the more bizarre scrums I have been involved in this season. "We're still positive. When you're on that court, that's all you have is coaches and players - Sometimes it clicks and sometimes it doesn't and you have to own it."
Kobe Bryant, who shot 10 of 32 from the floor on the night, shouldered most of the blame for the team's offensive performance.
"I've just got to rest my legs," he said. "My legs are a little tired. My shots are just short. That's on me. I'll take this loss on me, gladly."
"I've got to do a better job of putting that ball in the hole when the opportunity presents itself."
The Lakers now find themselves at 17 and 23 on the season - 3 games back of Houston for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
On the flip side of this game is the Toronto Raptors who got one of their most impressive victories of the year.
"I thought that was one of the most complete games we've had all year from top to bottom," head coach Dwane Casey said. "I thought our zone was effective, even when we were mixed up, they were mixed up."
The Raptors jumped out to an early lead, which they never relinquished despite multiple attempts by the Lakers to get back into the game.
The Lakers went on a 15-4 run late in the fourth before the Raptors clamped down on both ends and secured the victory. This is something the Raptors have struggled to do of late, including their most recent loss in Philadelphia in which they surrendered a 19-point lead.
Jose Calderon was a big reason why the Raptors were able to hang with the Lakers all game long. Calderon accepted the challenge of being guarded by Kobe Bryant from the outset, and challenged him on just about every possession.
Calderon finished with 22 points and 9 assists, while carrying the offense for the majority of the game. The Raptor point guard made a number of key plays down the stretch that helped Toronto hold off the Lakers and pull out the win.
One of Calderon's favorite targets in this game was a player who has really come on of late in Landry Fields.
On top of earning his second double-double of the season, Landry Fields also played his best defense of the season, hounding Kobe Bryant to the aforementioned poor shooting night from the floor.
"He's like one of the top two greatest players of all time, arguably, and with him he's going to get his points," Fields said. "There's no way of stopping him. You just have to make it as hard as possible, so really that's what my mindset has been ever since I came into the league."
It is a game like that where you really see the value Fields has on this team. His toughness, rebounding and defense from the wing spot are something that this team has been lacking on a consistent basis for quite some time.
The Raptor frontcourt was extremely solid as well with Ed Davis and Amir Johnson grabbing 8 rebounds apiece. Davis had 18 points and appears to have solidified his role as the Raptors staring power forward for the remainder of the season - providing he remains on the roster that is.
This was a game that the Raptors really needed, and hopefully, will give them some much-needed confidence as they head out on the road to take on Miami and Orlando back-to-back on Wednesday and Thursday.
- Steve Nash made his return to Toronto for the first time since joining the Lakers. Nash scored 16 points and tallied 9 assists, but had a great deal of trouble handling Landry Fields on defense.
- Raptors rookie Quincy Acy found himself matched up with Dwight Howard for the first time in his young career, albeit for a short while. His analysis of Howard: "He is a Big strong dude. (a) Big strong dude." When I asked Acy if he had every played against anyone that big before, he replied with: "not that big, (laughs) he's the biggest."