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Raptors take on LeBron James and the Lakers: Preview, start time, and more

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Toronto is in their second game of their west coast road trip, and it just so happens to run through Los Angeles and LeBron James for the first time this season.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Lakers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Raptors come into La-La Land after defeating the Phoenix Suns 107-98 on Friday night. With an 8-1 record, they’ve been firing on all cylinders, and look to continue their best start in franchise history with a victory over LeBron James and his Lakers.

Both Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard have been great as Toronto’s new dynamic duo. Lowry is as dynamite as ever, scoring 17.7 points while shooting 50.9 percent from the field and posting an impressive true shooting percentage of 64.3. He is also leading the league and recording a career-high in assists, dishing out 11.2 assists per game, while recording 1.4 steals per game. Lowry is playing more relaxed on both ends of the floor relative to previous years, as the entire team has been collectively playing well.

Leonard, who is questionable for tonight’s game but should (hopefully) be ready to go, is putting up 26.1 points while close to being in the 50/40/90 club, shooting 50.4 percent from the field, 44.8 percent from deep, and 87.8 percent from the free-throw line.

He is also grabbing 7.6 rebounds, and recording two steals per game. Although, he does have a little more ways to go to get to his 2016-17 form, the 27-year-old looks to have shaken off the rust.

On the other hand, it’s been a bumpy ride for the Lakers. They opened their season 0-3 but have won their last four of five. LeBron is still LeBron but his team is still trying to figure out how to play with each other. Just a couple of days ago, Lakers president Magic Johnson had a meeting with head coach Luke Walton about the team’s slow start.

Luckily for Walton, he can let out the smallest sigh of relief as his Lakers have won the last two games against the Mavericks and Trail Blazers. They did blow fourth-quarter leads in both those games (sound familiar, Raptor fans?), but a win is still a win. It’s still early in the season but Walton seems to be on a short leash.

This should be a fun match up, nonetheless. Onto the game details and what to watch for below.

Where to Watch:

Sportsnet One, 9:30 p.m. ET

Lineups:

Toronto - Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka

Los Angeles – Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, JaVale McGee

Injuries:

Toronto – Kawhi Leonard (Questionable – Jammed left ankle)

Los Angeles – Michael Beasley (OUT – Personal), Moritz Wagner (OUT – Left knee bruise)

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Kawhi Leonard vs. LeBron James

Folks, we got our LeBron-stopper. LeBron may have moved out west, but the dreams harboured by Raptor fans for so many years have finally turned into a reality. When Masai Ujiri took over as GM of the Raptors and made Toronto into a playoff-contending team, the one goal he consistently failed to accomplish was to get past LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, but the acquisitions of James Johnson, DeMarre Carroll, and P.J. Tucker didn’t — or couldn’t — live up to that task.

Now the Raptors have Kawhi Leonard, and LeBron should have a tougher time scoring against the two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Here are some key Kawhi vs. LeBron stats from their 10 meetings prior to Jan. 21, 2017 via ESPN Stats & Info:

ESPN Stats & Information

Some key takeaways from these stats are James committing 19 turnovers when Leonard guards him and shooting 20 percent when his jump shots are contested by Kawhi. Expect Leonard to be guarding James when he’s on the floor and for Danny Green, OG Anunoby, or Pascal Siakam to handle that assignment when Leonard comes off.

Defend the Three

The Lakers are no huge threat from beyond the arc; they just don’t have great three-point shooters. They rank 19th in the league in three-point makes with 10.5 a game and 19th in the league in three-point percentage as they shoot 34.9 percent (tied with the Knicks).

However, given how poorly the Raptors have defended the 3-point line to this point in the year, the Lakers could see their fortunes change tonight. Raptor opponents have averaged 12.3 made three point shots, while shooting 37.9 percent from behind the arc, both marks that put the Raptors among the league’s worst at defending the 3-point line.

Although the numbers haven’t gone their way, the Raptors still have solid perimeter defenders. They must stay out on what shooters the Lakers do have: Josh Hart (17-of-42), Lonzo Ball (16-of-39), and Kyle Kuzma (14-of-47), at this point in the season. The last thing the Raptors want is this Lakers team of non-shooters be going off for 15-plus three-pointers.

Get Back on D and Clog the Paint

The Lakers’ bread-and-butter, to this point in the year, has been fast break points and points in the paint. They’re first in the league in transition, scoring 24.6 points on the break, and first in the league in points in the paint, scoring 63 a game. That has become their offensive philosophy with LeBron leading a young Lakers’ squad lacking in shooting.

While some teams lack Toronto’s versatility and defensive rotations, the Raptors should find overcoming the Lakers’ up-tempo offense an easier task. They will be able to match up with the Lakers’ speed by having guys like Lowry, Green, Leonard, Siakam, and Anunoby who are all adept at getting back in transition quickly to fend off those easy baskets.

As for keeping the Lakers out of the paint, Toronto should be in good hands with twin centres Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas. The two have taken a leading role in not allowing opponents score more than 41.3 points in the paint, good for third-best in the league.

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After tonight’s game against the Lakers, the Raptors will be heading into Utah to play the Jazz tomorrow night on a back-to-back. Expect Leonard to sit that one out, but remember: he’s staying.