Lakers resume road trip, face rebuilding Raptors

Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports
The Lakers escaped with a one-point win against the Raptors on Jan, 9.

TORONTO — The Lakers road trip is winding down. They have a chance to go 5-1 should they finish off these not-so-great teams on this upcoming back-to-back. First on the agenda? The Toronto Raptors.

The Lakers defeated them dinosaurs on January 9th in a close contest, which set off head coach Darko Rajakovic after the game as he unleashed probably one of the more memorable tirades in recent years about the free throw discrepancy between his team and the Lakers. To be fair, the number of free throws in the fourth quarter (23-2 attempts in favor of L.A., by the way) was fudged up because the Raptors had to play the foul game. And we know that getting to the line has been the Lakers’ game since they play in the paint a lot.

Still, it’s hard not to respect a coach that will stick up for his players. Too bad, Rajakovic has had to coach a lot of different players over the course of the year and that has really messed with continuity.

The Raptors (23-51) have decided to tear it all down after enjoying a lot of success over the course of a decade. Pascal Siakam is in Indiana now as we all saw. OG Anunoby got dealt to New York earlier in the season. They lost Fred VanVleet in the offseason. Dennis Schröder left the Lakers to sign with Toronto in the summer and he got dealt for Spencer Dinwiddie, who, in turn, got waived and ended up signing with the Lakers.

In all, 29 players have suited up for the Raptors this season. So many players have been shuffled in and out (whether it’s injuries and getting traded) and that just messes with chemistry. And with no clear direction but down, Toronto has lost 13 in a row coming into Tuesday night.

Toronto won’t even have Scottie Barnes (2022 Rookie of the Year) playing due to a fractured hand. Dubbed by his coach as a future “face of the league” (which is quite the wildest dream), Barnes is pretty darn good (19.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.5 blocks, and 1.3 steals per this season). They also won’t have interior presence Jakob Poeltl, national champion Ochai Agbaji, longtime back-up center Chris Boucher, perimeter sniper Gary Trent Jr., and Jontay Porter because of, uh, he bet on himself. Yup.

The Raptors did get RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley (both probable) off the Knicks for that OG Anunoby deal. Bruce Brown was acquired in the Siakam trade. Toronto-born Kelly Olynyk was acquired from Utah in February. So there is some talent on this team. It’s just that all that I mentioned in this paragraph were not in Canada for the start of the season.

Still, they’re professionals. And the Lakers can’t forget that. After all, the Brooklyn Nets were able to cut down a 26-point deficit to 8 in the fourth quarter. L.A. cannot be careless with the ball; they turned the rock over 11 times in the third quarter against the Nets! Giving the Raptors (or any team) extra possessions like that is not a good thing.

Yes, LeBron James put on a show last Sunday when he scored 40 points and made a ridiculous 9 out of 10 three-pointers. In fact, the starters were pretty spectacular. The problem was that the Laker bench only scored two of 116 points against Brooklyn. And that was by the returning Gabe Vincent, who will be sitting out Tuesday so he can take it easy as he gets his legs back. So the Lakers hope to get some production off the bench. And it’s not like they’re incapable; Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince, Jaxson Hayes (who should be back for this game), and Max Christie can all get a bucket or two. Cam Reddish will not be playing due to personal reasons.

So it’s the Lakers against a Toronto Raptors team that is much different from the one they played against two months ago. And I’m sure the Lakers don’t want to be the one that snaps the Raptors’ losing streak, right? I mean, that’s embarrassing; the Lakers would never do such a… oh, never mind.

Either way, they should focus and be careful. And hopefully, the bench can get involved this time.