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Red hot Raptors host struggling, sad Lakers: Preview, start time and more

Once again, it’s the Lakers, as the Raptors look to continue a hot streak for their sixth straight win.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

In many circumstances, a team should be nervous going against a Los Angeles Lakers team that’s had the week they’ve had.

After getting shellacked by the Toronto Raptors in the first quarter on Monday, the Lakers were humiliated further on Wednesday night against Minnesota. Patrick Beverley flexed on LeBron James, Karl-Anthony Towns mocked a Russell Westbrook airball, and — of course — LA lost again.

They’ve lost 16 of 21 heading into another matchup with the Raptors, this time in Toronto. With their season and effort level starting to look like a lost cause, it’s time to switch gears from the car wreck you can’t look away from. Let’s talk shop about the Raptors.

Coming off a nothing-short-of-incredible road trip, where Toronto went a perfect 5-0 against Phoenix, Denver, San Antonio, and both LA teams, the Raps now have the attention of the NBA at large and are tied in the loss column with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the sixth seed in the East. Pascal Siakam has looked like one of the best two-way players in the league, Scottie Barnes has thrown his weight around since the All-Star break, and Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. are battling through injury and illness — still making an impact.

Tonight, they’ll look to make it six in a row and, given their opposition and the locale, it’ll be about avoiding a trap, bringing the effort again, and taking care of business. It’s something we’re getting used to from this Raptors team.

Here are the game details and three things to watch for.

Where to Watch

Sportsnet, 7:30 PM ET

Lineups

Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Precious Achiuwa

Los Angeles – Russell Westbrook, Malik Monk, Stanley Johnson, Austin Reaves, LeBron James

Injuries

Toronto – OG Anunoby (finger – out), Malachi Flynn (hamstring – out)

Los Angeles – LeBron James (knee – questionable), Talen Horton-Tucker (ankle – questionable), Anthony Davis (foot – out), Kendrick Nunn (knee – out)

*****

Siakam and Barnes against pint-sized Lakers

In a first quarter where the Raptors went up 13-2, then 19-2, and finally into the quarter break 33-12, the one through line that stood out the most was how easy Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes could get theirs against a miniature Lakers starting five.

With LeBron as their centre, LA was left putting Malik Monk and Austin Reaves in unfavourable matchups with the two dynamic Raptors forwards — and after a couple very easy hoops, Toronto started seeking those matchups. Siakam ended up putting down 27 points and 11 rebounds, thanks to a handful of bunnies over Monk in the post.

There’s no question the Raptors need to go right back to the well to start Friday’s game, especially given how VanVleet and Trent Jr. have been slow to establish themselves in games over the west coast swing — that’s if they end up playing at all.

LeBron will try to do it all, but the effort needed to keep this Lakers team above water is obviously something the all-time great is starting to question. The Raptors will need to take advantage of this, especially before LA goes to their bench.

VanVleet’s struggles

After a 3-for-14 performance on Monday, VanVleet gutted out another solid game against the Clippers, shooting just 7-for-17 but scoring 21 points in 36 minutes. Toronto is a markedly different team when VanVleet is in the game. He makes great passes in tight spaces, he understands where offensive sets are going, and plays at a pace that makes everyone else on the Raptors more consistent.

The team relies on him more, too, when Dalano Banton struggles, which was the case on Monday in Crypto dot com Arena. Banton didn’t get into Wednesday’s matchup with the Clippers, so keeping an eye on VanVleet’s health and where his offensive input comes from will be something to watch tonight — and heading into the later portion of the season.

Oh, how things have changed

As I said before the game this week, it still feels like a strange world where the Raptors are dominating a LeBron James team. LA has continued its struggles in the LeBron era against Toronto’s hustle mentality, losing already on Monday, and Vegas is recognizing the trend. The Raptors are 8.5-point favourites in tonight’s matchup at Scotiabank Arena, which is a heck of a lot of points for a team still in the play in tournament.

Again, the Lakers have been sad — what else is there to say?

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