Remember November 4th? The Toronto Raptors showed some serious guts in a spirited fourth quarter comeback effort to topple the talented Oklahoma City Thunder in OKC, starting the season 5-0 in the process. Fast forward 16 days and that game feels like it happened a lifetime ago.
The Raptors proceeded to drop six out of their next eight games to sit at 7-6 on the year. Next up on the docket for Toronto is a Friday matchup with the 2-9 Los Angeles Lakers -- a team that's endured no shortage of struggles in the new campaign. A familiar face will be on the opposing bench as former Raptor and reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams is set to tangle with his old club for the first time since signing with L.A. in the offseason.
The Dinos' road-heavy early season schedule has taken its toll on the squad, and they'll still have to face the Clippers on Sunday before returning north of the border. Kyle Lowry and company have dropped three-straight on their current road swing heading into Friday's tilt with the Lakers after suffering losses to the Utah Jazz, Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings (ugh).
Toronto and L.A. split their season series at one game apiece last year against what was one of the most dysfunctional rosters the Lakers have ever featured.
Here are three things to watch for in tonight's game:
The Ghost of Kobe Bryant
No matter what happens this year, hoops fans will always remember Kobe Bryant for being one of the most dominant players of his generation. But Father Time has clearly caught up to the 37-year-old Bryant in a way Kobe himself didn't see coming. The Philadelphia native, who's missed 123 games in the last two seasons due to injuries, is shooting a career-worst 26.7 percent from the field through eight games. ESPN's Zach Lowe (pour one out for Grantland) recently pointed out that Bryant is currently on pace to become the only rotation player ever to use at least 28 percent of his team's possessions while shooting below 35 percent from the floor. Tough times, indeed. It's safe to say the Raps would be wise to let the wildly inefficient Bryant fire away at will if the Lakers continue to let him.
Fourth Quarter Woes
Toronto's "we the north" marketing campaign from two seasons ago has ingrained itself in the team's DNA, but Raptors instead opted for a "we the fourth" battle cry last year due to their penchant for showing up big in fourth quarters of games. That hasn't been the case this season. In the aforementioned losses to the Jazz and Kings, the Raps held the lead heading into the final frame before collapsing in ugly fashion. Clock mismanagement and bad decisions continue to plague this team late in games with DeMar DeRozan becoming the most guilty Raptor of the bunch. Toronto is turning to DeRozan in crunch time minutes while abandoning its usual ball-moving strategy that the coaching staff has been preaching -- a trend that needs to stop if the Raps want to right the ship again.
Lakers' Leaky Defense
The Lakers are once again one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, which really shouldn't surprise even the most casual of hoops fans who have watched this team over the course of the past few seasons. L.A. is allowing 105.7 points per 100 possessions, bad enough to rank in the bottom five of the league. The Lakers have a bad habit of collectively collapsing into the paint, leaving opposing shooters on the perimeter with ample time to set their feet behind the three-point line. If the Lakers continue that pattern, look for sharpshooter Kyle Lowry to have a field day from beyond the arc.
Where to watch: Rogers Sportsnet, 10:30 p.m. EST.