Sunday, January 19, 2014

Game-Time Chat: Lakers @ Raptors

Not the latest Raptors court, I know
So, now that we're past Nick Young's suspension and that satisfying, but not really, win over the Celtics on Friday night, we get to move on to the Toronto Raptors who are simply on fire. At first glance, their 20-18 record seems thoroughly unimpressive, especially in the lackluster Eastern Conference, however, since trading Rudy Gay, they've been one of the most impressive teams to watch. When they still had Gay, the Raptors were sitting at 6-12 (and somehow in the playoff picture, because East); since trading him to the Sacramento Kings in early December, the Raptors have gone on a tear, going 14-6 in that time span and completely turning their team around. The Gay trade was meant to be a dump off; Toronto wanted trade away everyone of value and try to tank for hometown hero Andrew Wiggins, however, with DeMar DeRozan and company turning it around, the Raptors are now seriously eyeing the 3rd seed in the East.

Remember all of the Kyle Lowry rumors from a month ago? They're all gone now and that's great for Toronto, not because they're actually competing (though that is always a positive), but because there is no way they would have gotten proper compensation for him. Lowry has been absolutely brilliant for them, being 6th in both WS/48 (.218) and total Win Shares (6.2), right behind MVP candidate Paul George. Lowry has been one of the best point guards in the NBA, and nobody has really been paying attention to him. As of this writing, he's averaging 16.2 points and 7.4 assists per game while shooting 43.4% from the field (40.9% from deep) and currently has a 20.1 PER, which is bordering on elite. When you combine him with the high-flying DeMar DeRozan, who has been a Top-10 shooting guard this year, you get one of the best backcourt duo's in the NBA. DeRozan is leading the Raptors in points, averaging 20.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. The USC product is showing an improved offensive game, showing off a solid array of dribbling moves as he continues to get into the paint at will. The only knock on his game right now is his limited shooting range, as he only shoots 29.7% from long range, but that hasn't stopped him from being 2nd on the team in PER (17.2) and Win Shares (3.6) and third in WS/48 (.121).

Of course, the Raptors wouldn't be on fire with only two players playing well; teams also have to deal with the tandem of Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson in the low block and they are a handful. Johnson is second on the team in WS/48 (.148) and third in Win Shares (3.5) and has been a solid contributor all season long. Valanciunas has shown a better back-to-the-basket game and has combined well with Johnson to form a solid front court, capable of rebounding well and scoring when they need to. It almost doesn't matter who they plug into at Small Forward; it doesn't make much of a different when your other starters are playing like All-Stars.

If the Lakers want to win this game, they need take care of the ball and convert their outside jumpers. It helps if you feed Pau Gasol early and often, seeing as how he's your best player at the moment. Unfortunately, Kobe Bryant will not be here to hit a game winner or two against Toronto, (seriously, Kobe has been historically cruel to them in the past) and that's fine; Bryant's main focus should be to get 100% healthy, and not rushing back on the court. The good news for the Lakers is that Nick Young returns today and can help take some of the load off of Kendall Marshall and the heavy minutes he has logged in in the past couple of games. Hopefully, Mike D'Antoni will decide that Jordan Hill needs more than 11 minutes in today's contest.