After winning the NBA championship in 2020, the Lakers have not returned to the glory of their championship run. They missing the playoffs altogether last season, and they currently sit out of a playoff spot AND a play-in tournament spot in 13th place in the Western conference.
The Lakers are also on the second night of a back to back after losing 116-102 to the Cleveland Cavaliers last night. Though, before that, they won their previous three games.
In terms of injuries, the Raptors will be missing Precious Achiuwa, Otto Porter Jr., and Juancho Hernangomez. Hernangomez sprained his ankle in Saturday’s win against Orlando. The x-rays initially came back negative and he remains day-to-day.
Before Saturday’s game, Nurse told the press that he considers the starting lineup “fluid” and doesn’t mind switching it up as he sees fit. So it’s not unreasonable that he could go with yet another lineup tonight.
Catch the Toronto Raptors play the Los Angeles Lakers tonight at 7:30 p.m. on TSN.
Gary Trent Jr. leads the bench
Nick Nurse has been opting to play Gary Trent Jr. off the bench for the last little while. Whether this was to motivate him or just to try it out is unknown. It’s been working for the most part, and it worked well against the Celtics.
Trent scored 20 points against Boston, 16 against Brooklyn, and a season high 35 against the New Orleans Pelicans. Unfortunately all three of those games were losses, but not by any fault of Gary Trent Jr.
Gary Trent Jr tonight:— . (@GTJGotNext) December 6, 2022
7-10 FG (70%)
3-3 3PT (100%)
Didn't get the win, but good to see GTJ get his shooting form back pic.twitter.com/24BJy5OsSB
If he can continue to lead the bench in points, he can make a serious impact on how these games end up down the stretch. One of the Raptors greatest faults this season is going into offensive slumps when Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet sit on the bench.
If Trent Jr. leads the bench players while VanVleet and Siakam sit, he can help them avoid those slumps that often get the Raptors deep into holes they cannot dig themselves out of.
Scottie Barnes is on the up
Barnes had a rough couple of weeks, but his last two games had him looking more like himself. On Saturday against the Orlando Magic, he scored 17 points, four assists, and 14 rebounds.
During Monday’s game against the Celtics, Scottie scored 21 points, four assists, and seven rebounds. If he can get back on the right track, he’s a HUGE factor in the Raptors’ success.
Scottie Barnes in his last 3 games:— ً (@enra6ed) December 6, 2022
63.9% TS pic.twitter.com/DHaOW3U3yb
His playmaking ability is needed for stretches when Fred VanVleet is out or resting. VanVleet has been struggling after suffering an illness in November and still has not gotten back to himself fully.
His length also helps on defence, and Nurse has been adamant about him taking the ball to the rim more, using his strength to beat other — smaller — wings defending him. Plus, his activity on the glass will help the Raptors get second-chance opportunities, something they sometimes lack in during slumps.
Playing the whole game
So many of the Raptors losses come down to the wire and end up being close. They lost to Boston 116-110, and to Brooklyn 114-105. Two main factors seem to come up again and again in losses like these: making free throws and offensive slumps.
The free throws problem is simply solved by making your free throws. Players like O.G. Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and others who often end up at the free throw line more often cannot be missing those shots. Those points make or break games.
The Raptors missed 8 free throws last night. The solution? Get Nick Nurse a jersey. Toronto’s head coach just spent 5 minutes shooting free throws and didn’t miss a single shot. At one point he was banking them in. pic.twitter.com/ThXq3BRn9R— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) December 6, 2022
The other problem is the long stretches of time the Raptors often go without scoring. These missed opportunities cause the other teams to go on runs, and often the Raptors can’t dig themselves out the holes they get into — no matter how well they recover.
Think of the Pelicans game. The Raptors tried to come back and even got it to an eleven-point deficit, but their earlier mistakes made the gap too large. Even if the Raptors struggle in a game, they need to keep it close so they keep themselves in it.
This means playing at full effort during all four quarters and avoiding those offensive slumps.
The Raptors need to take advantage of the opportunity to get a good win against the Lakers. Los Angeles is on the second night of a back to back, on the road, and haven’t had a great start to their season overall.
If the Raptors can capitalize on these factors, they have a chance of putting on a great show at home!
The Toronto Raptors host the Los Angeles Lakers tonight at 7:30 p.m. — watch it on TSN.