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3 in the Key - Raptors' Game-Day Preview vs Lakers

After defeating the more veteran Boston Celtics, the HQ's Sean Tepper looks into how the Raptors can win two in a row.

I can only imagine what was going through the mind of the average Raptors fan when the final whistle blew during Toronto's 86-74 win against the Boston Celtics.

I say that because I wouldn't know. While Toronto was busy shutting down Boston's offense, I was too busy watching Jeremy Lin dominate the Los Angeles Lakers.

Three nights after beating Boston 88-87 in overtime, the Los Angeles Lakers fell victim to LinSanity, as Jeremy Lin outdueled Kobe Bryant in what was arguably one of L.A.’s most frustrating losses of the season. The Lakers shot under 35 per cent in the first half, but more concerning for the Mike Brown and Co. is the fact that Andrew Bynum played in arguably his worst game as a pro. The starting center in this month’s all-star game, Bynum went 1/8 from the field, scoring only three points the entire game. Couple that with the fact that they were held to 85 points and are playing their third game in four days and the Raptors have to have some confidence heading into this one.

In Andrea Bargnani’s most recent absence the Raptors have struggled to score many points, but with that being said they have looked very good on defence. Having played 37 minutes against the Celtics, it would seem that Amir Johnson is much healthier than he was a few weeks ago. It also appears that DeMar DeRozan has found some sort of consistency, as the young forward has scored more than 15 points in five of his last seven games.

All that to say that while the Los Angeles Lakers, who are a dismal 4-10 away from the Staples Centre, are much a better team than the Toronto Raptors, this game is far from being decided.

Here are three things that the Raptors need to do to pull off an upset win against the Lakers.

1) Let Kobe Score: Now I know that this one may seem counter intuitive, but the Raptors can only win if they limit Los Angeles’ offense to Kobe. The Lakers are at their best when Bynum and Gasol are heavily involved in the offense, and the only way to faze them out is to make it a priority to stop them. By focusing on the two talented big-men, Toronto will be susceptible to Bryant’s prolific offense but then again, even if they do make it a point to try and stop him, he’ll still finish with 30-plus points. The sad reality is that the Raptors lack the personnel necessary to guard Kobe, so by stopping his supporting cast, the Dinos will be able to limit L.A. scoring options. Forcing Bryant to shoot shouldn’t be difficult as the seasoned veteran averages about 24 shots per game, put stopping two of the league’s best forwards is easier said than done.

2) Run the Court: What do Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Meta World Peace have in common? They are all over 30 and have all played at least 10 seasons in the NBA. To put that into perspective, Ed Davis, Demar DeRozan, James Johnson and Amir Johnson still thought that girls had cooties when any of those players first entered the league. While it might not be much, one thing that the Dinos have over the Lakers is youth and using that to their advantage will be the key in beating them. Where the Raptors lack in talent and ability, they make up in youth and athleticism. No one can doubt the abilities of any of the aforementioned players, but playing three games in four days is tiring, and that has definitely taken a toll on the senior Lakers. Forcing L.A. to turn to players like Troy Murphy and Jason Kapono should be one of the team’s priorities, and If Toronto plays aggressively and makes a conscious effort to run the court, they should be able to wear down the Lakers and keep this one close.

3) Keep Playing Defence: When I watched the Raptors beat the Boston Celtics on Friday night, I was a little shocked. Not by the fact that (for once) they actually held on the lead and won, but rather at the fact that they smothered the Celtics on defence, limiting them to a measly 74 points. Add that to the fact that Rajon Rondo only scored five points in 41 minutes and Paul Pierce to 12 points on 4/11 shooting and you have to have a glimmer of the hope that the Dinos can pull out a win against the Lakers, a team that in many ways is similar to the Celtics. Despite getting beaten by the Lakers on a regular basis, the Raptors as a team are playing much better defence this season, allowing an average of 93.7 points per game, which is down a little less than 12 points from last season. If there’s one thing that Dwane Casey has taught the Raptors, it’s how to play defence and Toronto will have to limit L.A.’s offensive opportunities if they want to win this afternoon.