The Raptors are on to their third game of a six-game west coast road trip and, well, so far it’s not going so well. On Monday night it was a tough giveaway loss to the Spurs; on Wednesday night, a melt job against the incandescent Warriors. So then, 0-2 with four more games to go.
Fortunately tonight, the Raptors see the seesawing Lakers, a team without the same kind of championship pedigree discipline. What Los Angeles has instead is a lot of whipsaw moving parts. There’s whatever Brandom Ingram is trying to be, there’s human dunk machine Larry Nance, and of course there’s the Lonzo Ball Show (featuring LaVar Ball). The Raptors will have their hands full — and possibly have former bench coach Jesse Mermuys feeding Luke Walton some Toronto secrets.
Not to be ignored here too is the Brook Lopez situation. He’s cut the Raptors up before, and that was when they had a full complement of big men. Tonight, Lopez is facing off against a Toronto team without Jonas Valanaciunas (possibly). It could be a load.
Here are the rest of the details for the game tonight.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One at 10:30pm
Raptors - Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Lakers - Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram, Larry Nance, Brook Lopez
Raptors - Malcolm Miller, Jonas Valanciunas (day-to-day still), Lucas Nogueira (day-to-day who knows)
Lakers - None. None? Really?? Yep, none.
The top story for the Lakers this year is, of course, the ascendancy of Lonzo Ball. Los Angeles traded away it’s first try at a franchise point guard (so long D’Angelo!) just to clear the way for this to be Ball’s team. And so far the Lakers are 2-2, with Lonzo averaging 11.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 9.0 assists. (He can’t seem to shoot a lick yet, but still, a near triple-double after four games is impressive.) And not for nothing: today is Lonzo’s birthday.
For the Raptors, it’ll be about containment and goading Ball into shooting the ball. And, if the Lakers game against the Clippers is any indication, the best way to bother Ball is to be physical with him. In that contest, Patrick Beverley (who, admittedly, does have a very specific set of skills) hounded Lonzo around the court and took him entirely out of the game. It may be hard for the Raptors to recreate that attitude to the letter — but between Kyle Lowry’s savvy bulldog act, Delon Wright’s long arms, and maybe even some Norman Powell intensity in his face, Toronto could give Lonzo trouble.
Frontcourt Rotation Questions
The Raptors frontcourt meanwhile is in flux right now. We don’t know if Valanciunas will play today, given his sore ankle. And we don’t know about the status of Lucas Nogueira, give his sore ankle. Which means Jakob Poeltl is the team’s only centre (along with Serge Ibaka, of course).
Fortunately, we do know one thing: Jak can ball. In Wednesday’s loss to the Warriors, it was Poeltl playing crunch time, and grabbing every board, on his way to a 12 point-14 rebound night. It was a superlative performance from him, one in which he showed off all the skills that got him into the top ten of the 2016 Draft.
And his running mate from that draft class, Pascal Siakam also had himself a game. Siakam got the start on Wednesday to move Serge to centre (and matchup with the Warriors insane team speed), and he also acquitted himself well — running the floor, finishing at the rim, and even hitting two 3s on his way to a 20 point night.
Who will we see play tonight against the Lakers and their big talented man in the middle Lopez? I think coach Dwane Casey sticks with what worked: Siakam starts with Ibaka, Poeltl plays off the bench to keep that unit together. Let’s go.
Toronto Needs a Win
The last two games have seen the Raptors acquit themselves well against obviously talented teams. Now, the Spurs on Monday were playing without their best player (Kawhi Leonard) but they still know what they’re doing; while the Warriors remain the Warriors. In both instances, Toronto couldn’t quite execute down the stretch — or were just straight up beat by superior talent. (Watching Kevin Durant march down the court and calmly drill a 3 is not something you can really prepare for, per se.)
There’s been a lot of debate about the Raptors’ late game execution, with Toronto reverting to form, so to speak, on some one-on-one possessions featuring either DeRozan or Lowry. My opinion on this is: it’s OK. I don’t mean to simplify things but Lowry taking an open three, or DeRozan driving to the elbow for a decent jumper, are not bad shots. They just happened to miss them (while Steph and KD drilled theirs). It sucks for it to happen, but when you consider how things play out in a micro sense, play-to-play, it really just boils down to being a make-or-miss league.
And not for nothing, it is a little difficult to find viable passing lanes with the Warriors swarming, harried defense. It’s doable, but when the game tightens up like that, the lanes are not always there. Get mad if you want, but I believe this to be true.
This of course is the bright side of a game like tonight. The Lakers can be an exciting, active team. They’ve got some fun young players, and they can play with a lot of energy. But it’s unlikely they’ll exert the same kind of defensive pressure on Toronto. Let’s see what kind of form this game takes, and how the Raptors execute down the stretch if it gets close.