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Preview: Toronto Raptors at Los Angeles Lakers: Winning Time(?)

Both the Raptors and Lakers are underperforming. But the Raptors are trending up while the Lakers are throwing their coach under the bus.

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Toronto Raptors v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

The Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Lakers are both in the midst of figuring out who they are. But while the Raptors are integrating new pieces and rebuilding a winning culture, the Lakers are struggling to figure out how their existing pieces fit together. It’s going better for the Raps right now, winners of 3 of their last 4 games and 2-1 on their current West coast trip; the Lakers had lost four in a row before beating the Clippers on Sunday.

And while Raptors fans, certainly, have questioned the team’s coach, the Raptors themselves seem to firmly be in Darko Rajakovic’s corner — but “unnamed sources” had a lot to say about Darvin Ham last week to Shams Charania.

The Lakers really can’t seem to go long without drama, can they? We’ll see if the Raptors can take advantage tonight.

How to Watch:

TSN at 10:30 p.m. ET

Lineups:

Toronto: Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Jontay Porter, Immanuel Quickley, RJ Barrett

Los Angeles: Cam Reddish, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Taurean Price, Austin Reaves

Injuries:

Toronto: Christian Koloko (respiratory — out), Otto Porter Jr. (knee — doubtful), Jakob Poeltl (ankle — out)

Los Angeles: Anthony Davis (ankle — probable), LeBron James (ankle — questionable), Rui Hachimura (calf — doubtful), Gabe Vincent (knee — out)

*****

Big man down

Raptors starting centre Jakob Poeltl turned his ankle in Sunday’s victory over the Golden State Warriors and will miss tonight’s game — and probably a couple more.

There’s no official word yet on who will start in his place; Chris Boucher is always an option and he earned the chance with his excellent play the last two games (including 17 points on 7-for-7 shooting against the Warriors). But Boucher’s energy and hustle are a big boon to the Raptors’ bench units.

That’s why I’m leaning towards Jontay Porter getting his first start. Sunday’s game against the Warriors may have been Porter’s worst of his three games played — just two rebounds and a -10 in 12 minutes — but overall he’s probably worth a longer look, while leaving Boucher to keep the bench units intact.

Either way — without Poeltl or O.G. Anunoby, who’s played incredible D against Anthony Davis in the past, the team will have its hands full against the Lakers.

It’s not December anymore

The NBA was surely thrilled that LeBron James and the Lakers took the in-season tournament so seriously; with the face of the league putting his stamp on it, it helped build interest and legitimize (maybe) the new idea.

But have the Lakers paid the price? They’re just 4-10 since winning the IST. Did those extra two games and a weekend in Vegas really take that much out of them?

Or perhaps the Lakers just aren’t that good, and they were the only team to really give a damn about the IST?

Either way you can sort of understand LeBron James’ impatience (assuming he’s the main voice behind the “unnamed sources”). He just turned 39, and he won’t get many more tries at a championship ring. And the Lakers’ offseason moves were much-lauded, lending to that feeling of underperformance.

I’m still not sure throwing your coach under the bus halfway through the season is gonna help. But on the other hand... it worked for LeBron once before, right?

D for O

At the start of the season, the Raptors were a complete mess on offense, but at least their defense was feisty and competitive. Now, though... it’s flipped?

And only four of those 15 games are post-trade. Things are definitely trending in the right direction as the team learns Darko’s schemes and how to play with each other. And the assist numbers are a really fine sight — after all of Masai Ujiri’s “selfish” talk and the isolation dribbling of the last years of the Nick Nurse era, seeing the team move the ball so freely has been fantastic.

Unfortunately, they’re 22nd in defensive rating over those 15 games. Most of which were with O.G. Anunoby, one of the league's premier defenders!

So you take the good, you take the bad, and there you have... the 15-21 Toronto Raptors.