The Los Angeles Lakers are in Toronto for their only visit this season. The shine is off the Lake Show, given the injury-induced absence of luminaries Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, and lesser lights like Xavier Henry and Steve Blake. Pau Gasol is the only marquee player available to dress, and he is bothered by a foot problem. The Lakers are attempting an on-the-fly rebuild, in a desperate attempt to push themselves into the playoff picture. However, the Western Conference is too tough, so the Lakers may have to be satisfied with finding out who among their young players is worth hanging on to.
The Lakers have to be most pleasantly surprised with the rapid emergence of Kendall Marshall, who may turn out to be an object lesson in why GMs need to be patient with young players. Marshall is on his third team in less than 2 seasons, and is putting up big numbers in points and assists from the point guard spot. Jodie Meeks is also turning out to be a late bloomer, and can be lights-out from long range if left uncovered. Gasol will start at centre, and can shoot effectively from the foul line or the low block. Wesley Johnson, another high draft selection viewed as a bust, appears to have found a home in LA. He is likely to be in DeMar DeRozan’s grill. Jordan Hill, an emerging power forward, will mix it up under the hoop with Amir Johnson.
The Lakers are a typical [coach] Mike D’Antoni creation. They can score in bunches, but defense…not so much. The Raptors can win this game if they:
- pound away at Gasol. That means not only getting the ball inside to Jonas Valanciunas, but finding DD on cuts to the basket. Pau’s best days as a defender are behind him. Chris Kaman is the backup, and no slouch, but I’d rather face him than Gasol, particularly when the Lakers have the ball. Speaking of which…
- …get aggressive on the ball handlers. The Lakers are prone to turnovers, and quick-handed defenders like Kyle Lowry and Terrence Ross may be able to cash in easy baskets on runouts.
- outscore their second unit. I realize I mention this point a lot, but it’s really important here. Patrick Patterson et al should be able to steamroll what remains of the Laker bench. If Greivis Vasquez can ever start hitting his 3-balls, the spacing will favour the Raps even more. Let’s hope John Salmons can answer the bell. He’s a gamer, and if his back is sound, I expect to see him on the floor.
I think the Raptors will send their fans home happy with a 107-92 victory.