After the week from hell in mid-November, the Raptors sat at 8-6 and had dropped a couple of tough games, creating a subtle undertone of concern among Raptor skeptics. What many failed to realize however was that after the Clippers loss that pushed the Raptors’ record to a pedestrian 8-6 start, their schedule had actually been the toughest across the league by a decent margin. Even today at 12-6 the Raptors have faced the fourth toughest schedule in the league thus far. So if you’re still concerned, there is something to consider.
Despite the gruelling schedule, the Raptors find themselves in the midst of a season-high four game winning streak and look to continue their excellent play. Upon glancing at your schedule, you may also see that purple and gold logo and dismiss this contest as an easy win for the Raps — big mistake. With the Kobe Bryant and Byron Scott circus sideshow finally out of the picture, we have seen some rapid growth in a young and tenacious Lakers team that is simply oozing with confidence.
The Lakers have been everything that a young, skilled and inexperienced team should be. Exciting to watch, gritty, unpredictable, and incredibly inconsistent. They have strung some impressive wins together against the likes of the Warriors, Thunder, Rockets and Hawks (twice) but have also let a few games slide against teams like the Mavericks and Pelicans. It’s hard to tell which Laker team is going to show up on a given night — the exciting team of youth and energy with a winning mentality, or the group of kids ready to play Swaggy P-inspired street ball.
Speaking of Nick Young, he and D’Angelo Russell will both be watching this one from the sidelines tonight, as Young is out with a strained right calf and Russell with a sore knee.
Here a few key things to consider for tonight’s match-up
Possession and Pace of Play
The Raptors will have control the pace of the game and take care of the basketball tonight against an up-tempo Lakers team. This sounds cliche on the surface, but when we consider the contrast in style of play between these two opponents so far this season, it will be an important point of focus.
The Lakers rank fourth league-wide in pace of play at 99.7 possessions per-game and the Raptors sit at the opposite end of the spectrum and are 22nd at 95 possessions per game. Although the Raptors can get theirs in transition and run out on fastbreak opportunities, they are also very effective as a unit in the halfcourt. The Raptors also play a much cleaner game and have scored the most points per game off of turnovers this season at 20 per game. The Lakers have turned the ball over 318 times which is good for third in the association. Take care of the ball and the ball will take care of you, right?
Who is Guarding DeMar?
With Nick Young and D’Angelo Russell both out tonight, the Lakers will face the tall task of guarding one of the leagues best scorers so far this season in DeMar DeRozan. As little sense as it seems to make, Young has actually been the Lakers go-to defender this season and he hasn’t been totally awful at it. Young has been tasked to guard the likes of Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and some other top NBA talent.
Brandon Ingram has slowly begun to blossom in his rookie season but now may be forced to step up in a new and challenging way. Ingram has replaced Young in the rotation for the last game and a half and it will be interesting to see if this trend continues. It would be a bold move to force the rookie into guarding the Raptors top scorer, but the Lakers are quite limited with these two key back court injuries. Luol Deng may be another option for the Lakers defensively, as he was a key player for the Heat last post-season in that seven game series against the Raptors and is quite familiar with DeRozan. Simply put however, I don’t think that the Lakers will have the personnel to cover all the bases defensively tonight, so look for the Raptors and particularly DeRozan to be aggressive early and often.
Dominate the Charity Stripe
One of the Raptors’ greatest strengths, most encapsulated by their star backcourt, is the ability to get to the free throw line. Over their current four game winning streak, the Raptors have out-scored each opponent from the free throw line and have been putting immense pressure on opposing defensive units.
Led by DeRozan’s 9.4 and Lowry’s 5.1 free throw attempts per game, the Raptors sit sixth in the Association with an average of 26 free throw attempts per game. In fact, the Raptors lead the NBA in shooting foul percentage at 19 percent, meaning that almost 1-in-5 Raptors possessions end in them earning a trip to the charity stripe. With the Lakers short-handed defensively, I can’t stress enough how important it will be for the Raptors to assert their physical dominance throughout this contest.
We hope you all enjoy tonight’s edition of Friday night hoops!
Where to watch: 7:30 p.m. ET, TSN4 & TSN5