Though the Lakers come in to tonight’s game off a 99-90 defeat at the hands of the world champion Miami Heat on Thursday night, Lakers fans should still be encouraged. The Lakers sit three games out of the eighth and final playoff spot, helped out immensely by long losing streaks by Houston (six), Portland (four), and Minnesota (five).
The Lakers played solid defense against the Heat for the third straight game, and if it wasn’t for the 20 turnovers they committed as well as the greatness of Lebron James, the Lakers may have been able to pull out a victory.
In Lakerland, the Raptors are known as the team that Kobe once scored 81 points against back on January 22nd, 2006. The Raptors have been a struggling franchise of late, as they have not finished above .500 since the 2006-2007 season.
They also have had to cope with the departure of superstars Vince Carter and Chris Bosh in its franchise’s history, which began during the 1995-1996 season. The current version of the Raptors sports a 14-26 record, a fair mark considering they started the season 4-19. They do, however, come in on a four game losing streak.
Frontcourt: Second leading scorer Andrea Bargnani, the number one overall pick in the 2006 draft, remains out with an injury. The Raptors miss his scoring and outside shooting ability, but they have shown immense improvement on the defensive end in his absence. This has been the key to their turnaround from the 4-19 start.
Ed Davis is currently the starter at power forward, and in his third season is finally starting to produce in a way many thought he would when he was picked in the lottery by Toronto out of North Carolina in 2010. He has good length and athleticism in the post as well as good touch eight to ten feet from the basket. Earl Clark and he would likely neutralize each other if Clark continues to start. Pau Gasol needs to take advantage of Davis’ slender frame if he gets the majority of the minutes at power forward.
California native Amir Johnson has been starting at center for the Raptors. He has a very similar build to Davis and even has a similar style of play. The Raptors are going to be at a huge disadvantage in the frontcourt when it comes to handling Dwight Howard, as both Davis and Johnson don’t have the strength to handle Dwight. The Lakers should look for him early and often, as he will almost certainly draw a double team. Center Aaron Gray is the only person on the Raptors’ roster with the ability to body Howard, but he is an offensive liability and does not see much action.
Backcourt: The strength of the Raptors team is in the backcourt. Shooting guard Demar DeRozan is the team’s leading scorer at 17.5 points per game and is one of the most athletic players in the NBA. Kobe should be fine in guarding DeRozan in the half court, and Demar will certainly have his hands full guarding Kobe. DeRozan has the ability to hurt the Lakers on the break with his speed and leaping ability if the Lakers continue to be plagued by turnovers.
The Raptors have two point guards on their roster that could both start for many teams in the league in Jose Calderon and Kyle Lowry. Calderon is the starter right now, but the minutes distribution is often dependent upon who is having the better game. In this particular game, look for Lowry to get the majority of the minutes. While Calderon is clearly the better distributor (7.6 assists a night), Lowry is much more explosive and is sure to cause a matchup problem for the Lakers. Steve Nash will have to be matched up on another player when Lowry is in because he does not have the ability to stay with Lowry off the dribble.
Keys to Victory:
Contain Lowry- The Lakers match up very favorably with the Raptors, except for when Kyle Lowry comes into the game. His quickness and ability to get to the rim on offense coupled with his ability to wreck havoc on the defensive end could cause the Lakers problems. The Raptors’ frontcourt is likely to struggle with Howard, and they are going to have a hard time stopping Kobe as well. Quick point guards like Lowry tend to give the Lakers problems, and finding a way to make him a jump shooter and not let him get into the lane at will is key.
Quick Start – An energetic start to the game will be key for the Lakers, as the 1:00 pm start (Canadian time) is something out of the norm for them. The Raptors have a 10-9 record on their home floor and will certainly have the confidence that they can beat the Lakers. A fast start can help put the pressure on the Raptors early.
Toronto Raptors (14-26) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (17-22)
10:00 AM PST, January 20, 2013 Air Canada Centre, Toronto, ON
CA TV: TWCSN
Raptors Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Jose Calderon
SG: Demar DeRozan
SF: Landry Fields
PF: Ed Davis
C: Amir Johnson
Key Reserves: G Alan Anderson, G Kyle Lowry, G Terrence Ross