The Lakers barely came off a loss against the Cleveland Cavaliers and they are back at it again. They face the Raptors in Toronto, Canada for a little international flavor.
Let’s talk about these Raptors. We knew about the length of the Bucks and the Cavs. Well, these Raptors are really tall and rangy. I don’t even know how Fred VanVleet and Malachi Flynn got on this team; I feel like the requirement to be a Toronto Raptor is to be 6’5″ and taller with an incredible wingspan.
Pascal Siakam is the unquestioned star here. He’s having career-highs on points (24.5), rebounds (8.9), and assists (7.1). With the way he’s been playing the last few years, I always feel he’s taking leaps on his play each season. He already won Most Improved Player in 2019 and we thought he’d do it again in 2020, when he became an NBA All-Star starter. And the scary thing is that he’s still getting better.
Fred VanVleet was basically Kyle Lowry’s heir apparent and he’s become the heart and soul of this team. It was so awesome that he became an all-star last year. But this year, while still an excellent player, he has not shot the ball well at .357 from the field. Still, he could affect the game in other ways.
O.G. Anunoby is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He is the league leader in steals and is just a blanket on the defensive end. Anunoby is also averaging 19.1 points and 5.8 rebounds, which are career-highs. He could easily be an all-star this season.
Scottie Barnes is having sophomore blues as he’s having a disappointing season following up on his Rookie of the Year campaign. But the Raptors just have so many great players and he’s not the #1 option on the team. He’ll have to figure out what he has to do when he’s on the court and get after it.
The rest of the Raptors supporting cast are long, high-energy players that just bother the hell out of teams. Gary Trent, Jr. is a capable scorer. Chris Boucher wrecks havoc when he’s on the court. Rookie Christian Koloko has been a pleasant surprise. And they still have vets Thaddeus Young and Juancho Hernangomez to help this young and talented Toronto team.
The Raptors are 7th in defensive rating right now, allowing 110.8 points per 100 possessions. Like I said, all that length could bother everybody. They’re second in forcing turnovers and lead the league in points off turnovers and fast break points. Yes, they will run. And that’s bad for the Lakers.
Speaking of bad, it’s the second game of a back-to-back so this was not unexpected at all: Anthony Davis and LeBron James are not playing in Toronto. Wenyen Gabriel has a shoulder ailment and will be re-evaluated in a week; he also didn’t play against the Cavs.
I do wonder if Darvin Ham will keep Russell Westbrook (who, by the way, got his last triple-double against the Raptors last season) off the bench for this contest. Now that LeBron and Davis are out, they need someone that’s a proven scorer to anchor the offense from the start. And we know Russ has thrived as the primary option throughout his career. We’ll see what the Lakers come up with. After all, Westbrook was also brought to the Lakers in case LeBron and Davis both don’t play; he’s supposed to carry the team in the regular season. We obviously know that this hasn’t been the case thus far.
The Lakers made up a lot of ground in the past two weeks or so, only to potentially lose it because of illnesses and injuries. For now, all we could hope for this shorthanded team is to make this a competitive game. And if they score what I’d consider an upset win, then even better!