These are the Lakers from Los Angeles arriving in Toronto for an early Sunday afternoon game after beating the Celtics on Friday, but compared to what the ticket buying public is used to, they are the faux Lakers – No Kobe Bryant, no Steve Nash and even backup point guards Jordan Farmar and Steve Blake are injured, so the Lakers will be led by a group of players on expiring deals and/or options on Sunday. This team is currently 15-25 and headed towards the NBA Draft Lottery for the first time since 2005.
Despite some recent fireworks, the Lakers haven’t rolled over and played dead. At 33-years-old, Pau Gasol is still putting up numbers that are right around his career averages. As a team, the Lakers are still scoring over 100 points per game. Even emergency call-up Kendall Marshall is doing a very good New York Jeremy Lin impression for Head Coach Mike D’Antoni.
The Lakers can score and D’Antoni can make a good case that he is getting the most out the players he has available. When the recently suspended Nick Young leads a team in scoring with 16.4 points per game and the coach is coaxing out over 100 on average, kudos to D’Antoni’s offense is appropriate.
As might be anticipated with a D’Antoni led team that has been patched together for just one season in a rush and re-patched more than once since opening night, the Lakers problems are on the defensive end of the court. The Lakers are 29th or 30th in opponent’s points, rebounds, assists, steals, and field goals attempted and made. They have given up over 120 points 7 times this season – scoring big numbers on the Lakers happens often this year.
With all of the recent injury problems, it is no surprise the Lakers are 2-12 over their past 14 games and are probably looking forward to the return of Bryant, Blake and Farmar towards the end of the month (hopefully). It is hard to know what to expect while they wait, but so far, it hasn’t been pretty.
As Head Coach Dwane Casey will remind his guys (as if they needed it), the Lakers just beat those same Celtics Toronto lost to on Wednesday. The Raptors are playing well, but they can’t afford to take any team lightly – even a team as beat up and defensively inept as the Lakers.
“I don’t look at (the Lakers) as being a down team. I look at them as a team trying to come in and whoop us on our home court. When I look over there I see Pau Gasol who is a perennial All-Star. When I look over there I see a kid Kendall Marshall averaging 12 assists per game coming in trying to make a name for himself. I see 3 great three-point shooters. I can’t even tell you what their record is right now. I know Mike D’Antoni is one of the best coaches in the league, so we are not in a position to look down or up, we just have to go out and do our job each and every night.”
Toronto bounced back from Wednesday’s loss in Boston with a solid effort on Friday against a decent Timberwolves team led by All-Star Kevin Love. The Raptors are 7-3 over their past 10 games and have stepped up their defense dramatically as this season has moved along. In this most recent 10-game stretch, Toronto has held opponents to 87.9 points per game – that’s Indiana Pacer territory. Overall, the Raptors have held teams to the third fewest points allowed this season.
Casey has to be very happy with his players and he has been lobbying for All-Star nods for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan leads the team in scoring and Lowry is proving himself as a clutch scorer, playmaker and defender.
“(Lowry) is playing at a high level,” Casey said. “This is the highest level he has played – the best I think he has played. I think he has grown into that role of leader.”
In the past, the Air Canada Centre would have been filled with yellow Kobe Bryant jerseys for a Lakers game, but with the Raptors on a 6-game home winning streak, leading the Atlantic Division and no Bryant for the Lakers, what type of crowd will fill the building is anyone’s guess. Hopefully, it’s a crowd that is there to cheer on the home team. The Raptors have earned it.