Lakers Vs. Raptors Preview: Kobe Bryant Returns

lakers-raptorsOn Tuesday night, the Lakers were able to get able to get their third consecutive road win when they defeated the Sacramento Kings 106-100 in what would be the last game this team would play before the highly anticipated return of Kobe Bryant .

The win would place the Lakers above the .500 mark, knotting their overall record at 10-9. This team continues to impress, and showed excellent signs of continuity and defensive effort as they played without their starting point guard and shooting guard.

Much credit must be given to Mike D’Antoni, this team has bought in to his philosophy, and as a result the chemistry couldn’t possibly be better with Kobe set to return.

Tonight, the Lakers are at home against the Toronto  Raptors. This will be the first game of a short two-game home stand prior to the Lakers four game road trip in which the Lakers will travel to Oklahoma City, Charlotte, Atlanta, and Memphis.

While the Raptors may not have the most impressive record (6-12) coming into tonight, they’re a young team that certainly gets excited to play against a team like the Lakers. And with Kobe Bryant making his season debut, we should expect them to try to ruin the excitement that awaits Staples Center.

As has been the narrative for the Lakers this season, a bad start can really bury this team very deep into a deficit, so it’s going to be key for the Lakers to start the game with strong effort and energy if they want to be successful in getting a win.

Frontcourt – Standouts from the Raptors frontcourt are veteran swingman Rudy Gay, and second year center Jonas Valanciunas. Both are very athletic for their positions, and Gay in particular, is one of the elite athletes in the league. If this matchup occurred last year, Gay would be a very difficult matchup for the Lakers, but with the new added length, speed, and athleticism, the Lakers now have pieces on the roster that are capable of being effective on him defensively.

Backcourt In the Raptors backcourt they start Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan. Their size in the backcourt tends to be an advantage that they have in every game they play. Lowry is one of the toughest guards to match-up against in the NBA, as he plays the point guard position yet has the size and strength of most shooting guards. Derozan is an amazing leaper and has good length, and those are two things that can present problems for Kobe Bryant on the defensive end in his debut.

Keys To Lakers Victory:
Transition Defense – The Raptors aren’t one of the better half-court offense teams in the league, as they rank 19th in offensive efficiency. Because of that the Lakers are going to make an effort to keep the Raptors from having opportunities to score in transition. They are young, and have speed and athleticism. They should force them to take long jump shots, or contested threes (rank 21st in three-point field goal percentage).

Easing Kobe In – On a night like this, it’s so easy for the Lakers to get caught up in the moment and overwork Kobe. Fans are going to be excited, and everyone is going to want to see how Kobe looks. Coach D’Antoni is going to have to keep Kobe from exerting so much of his energy into trying to prove himself. Having a 20-30 minute limit is already a good step in the right direction. D’Antoni should minimize his isolations, and try to keep the continuity and flow within the offense going. This is going to be a process for Kobe and the Lakers, as the team is now going to have to adjust to him being on the court.

Bench – The reserves have been phenomenal so far this season. The effort and intensity that they bring really serves as a catalyst toward the Lakers either closing in on a lead or building one. Another interesting aspect of the bench is that there’s been a different guy each night. We saw  Hill and  Young be those impact reserves Tuesday night, and those type of performances are going to be needed as they Lakers try to ease  Kobe Bryant in.

Los Angeles Lakers (10-9) vs. Toronto Raptors (6-12)
6:30 PM PST, December 8, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

Raptors Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: Demar Derozan
SF: Rudy Gay
PF: Amir Johnson
C: Jonas Valanciunas

Key Reserves: PG: D.J. Augustin SG: Terrence Ross PF: Tyler Hansbrough

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