The Los Angeles Lakers are coming off one their worst losses of the season against the Dallas Mavericks and even though it wasn’t all bad news for the purple and gold, at halftime, they led 57 to 50, they were outscored 31-13 in the third quarter. Dallas didn’t let go of the lead after that point and cruised to a 101-89 victory at Staples Center.
Luke Walton and others were very disappointed with the effort saying “We have it within us to make that improvement and make it sooner rather than later. A lot of it has to be individual desire to want it now.” (via Bill Oram of the OC Register). In the locker room, players seemed to be frustrated and embarrassing about their showing in the month of December, having a 2-14 record. Hopefully, the new year will provide this team a fresh start.
The Toronto Raptors have won 14 of their last 18 games averaging 112.9 points in those games. Many considered Toronto to be a top team in the Eastern Conference, but with their lack of three-point shooters, they wouldn’t be taken seriously. Proving the haters wrong, Toronto is ranked third in the league in points per game and still rank in the top half in opponents points per game. The team of the North comes into Southern California playing some of the best basketball in the league.
The Raptors have one of the most talent backcourts in the NBA. Their starters, DeMar DeRozen and Kyle Lowry average 49.6 points on 47.1 percent shooting, but get their points in different ways. DeRozen gets his points on mid-range jumpers and points in the paint. Lowry scored 50 percent on two-pointers and 50 percent on three-pointers. The two guards have turned Toronto into a basketball town by leading them to their first Eastern Conference Finals last year.
Cory Joseph was a free agent acquisition from last year. Joseph played with the San Antonio Spurs before heading to Canada is a defensive-minded point guard. Joseph was brought in to replace a former NBA Sixth Man of the Year, Lou Williams. Williams was a fan favorite with his former team and was even mentioned in a Drake song, but the Raptors’ front office decided to move on from him to fill up holes on defense, which is another reason the Raptors were able to gain entry to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Lakers have seen some improvements over the year from their backcourt, but still want to see some more promising flashes from their young players. D’Angelo Russell started off well against the Mavericks and even ended up with 15 points, six assists, and four rebounds. This past month has been rough on all the players and Russell is no exception, he is only shooting 33.6 percent from the field and averaging 12.6 points, 4.2 assists, and 3.3 rebounds. Although the offense has run smoother after Russell returned from injury, he still needs to hit shots more consistently and put in more effort on the defensive side of the ball. Russell will have his hands full with Kyle Lowry, because of his craftiness and his ability to get hot from deep. Russell show looks up to Lowry, who has built a career on being able to use his size to his advantage, something that Russell needs to get better at.
The other young guard, Jordan Clarkson, had an up and down month, with an emphasis on the down. Clarkson ended up averaging 13.1 points on 43.1 percent shooting this month by shooting over 60 percent in back-to-back games. The former second round pick might be shooting the ball better, but other than that nasty steal against Harrison Barnes, Clarkson’s defense has regressed from earlier this season. The Lakers need the young guard’s defense to improve if they want a shot at beating the Raptors and getting off to a good start to 2017.
One of the big signings this past offseason was Jared Sullinger leaving Boston to their rivals in the North. Unfortunately, Sullinger hasn’t played a single game this season, but the team has put together a strong frontcourt without him.
Jonas Valanciunas starts at center and averages 12.1 points and 9.6 rebounds. The Lithuanian star is one of the most skilled big men in the NBA. In their first meeting, this season Valanciunas only played 24 minutes scoring six points and pulling down seven rebounds. While he is capable of putting up big numbers like 32 points against the Detroit Pistons to open the season, the Raptors don’t need him to dominate for them to pick up the win.
The starting power forward for the Raptors is Pascal Siakam, a rookie out of New Mexico State. Siakam is averaging 5.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 0.4 assists so far this season. Siakam has been looked at to pick up the slack with Patrick Peterson being out with a knee injury. The rookie needs to work on his offensive game if he wants to earn his coach Dwayne Casey’s trust, Casey told Doug Smith of TheStar.com:
“The matchups are going to be important as far as whether it’s D.C. (DeMarre Carroll), Pascal at the four (power forward),” he said. “We may have to look at Jakob (Poeltl) at the four, maybe Lucas (Nogueira) at the four. Different people are going to have to man that position until Patrick comes back.”
DeMarre Carroll is an attractive option at the four; Carroll was brought to Canada last season to be a defensive presence and a three-point means. Caroll hasn’t been a juggernaut on the offensive side of the ball this year, putting up 9.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 0.9 assists. Carroll still is looked at to be a lockdown defender for their team.
During the Lakers’ month of horrors, not everything was doom and gloom; one bright spot has been the play of Julius Randle. His last three games have shown his potential as a player averaging 18.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 4.7 assists in the past three games. Luke Walton has seemed to unlock hidden potential in Julius Randle. The biggest thing Randle has improved this season is his defensive prowess, whether it was pickup five blocks against the Charlotte Hornets or switching onto guards and bother their shots.
Another bright spot during the Lakers’ struggles has been their starting small forward Luol Deng. In the last game against Toronto, Deng struggled to produce for his team, he shot 16.7 percent from the field and only picked up three rebounds and one assist. The former Blue Devil has seen some improvement recently though, before December 17th the Laker forward averaged 7.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.4 assists and after the 17th he averaged 10.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. Los Angeles hope to see the former lottery pick to continue the improved play alongside the team putting together a string of victories, our fingers are crossed.
Keys to Victory
The Lakers rank dead last in opponents field goal percentage, letting teams shoot 47.9 percent and allowing the teams to score over 110 points per game. The Lakers have only won one game when scoring under 100 points, and last time the Lakers played the Raptors they were only able to score 80 points. While not many teams have been able to stop the Raptors, the Lakers need to at least slow them down if they hope to win this game.
Get Out In Transition
The Lakers are at their best when getting in the open court and scoring fast-break points. In the Lakers’ offense works its best when playmakers can be creative in transition and not relying on their half court offense, which they haven’t mastered quite yet. Also, this young team feeds off positive energy and getting buckets.
Don’t Allow Second Chance Points
Often the Lakers play solid defense and force opposing teams to miss but enable them to pick up the offense rebound and tally up second chance points. When they allow the second chance points they team seems to be demoralized, and their players often looked disengaged on the defense side of the ball afterward. The Raptors are one of the best teams in the NBA and don’t need any help, and by keeping them off the offensive, they keep Raptors for picking up easy points.
Los Angeles Lakers (12-24) Vs. Toronto Raptors (22-10)
6:30 P.M. PST, January 1st, 2017
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Raptors Starting Lineup:
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: Norman Powell
SF: DeMar DeRozan
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas
Key Reserves: Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, Lucas Nogueira, Norman Powell
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Nick Young
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Julius Randle
C: Timofey Mozgov
Key Reserves: Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Lou Williams, Thomas Robinson