Lakers vs. Raptors: Three Things to Know (8/1/20)
The second of eight seeding games for the Lakers is set for 5:30 p.m. on Spectrum SportsNet with the Toronto Raptors on the other side of the basketball. L.A. are coming off a 103-101 victory over the Clippers, while this is Toronto’s first action in the bubble. Here are three things you need to know heading into the contest:
MAGIC NUMBER = 1
Thanks to their victory over the Clippers, the Lakers need just one more victory, or one more loss from the Clippers or Nuggets, to secure the No. 1 overall seed in the West. At 50-14 (.781), the Lakers can look at the remaining seven seeding games more from a macro perspective, where maintaining health and establishing rhythm are more important than wins and losses. Of course, winning is always preferred, even in games that don’t factor into their next step, but the biggest thing to keep in mind is that the playoffs begin on August 17. L.A. have 16 days to get ready, with the Raptors the next squad on the agenda.
Believe it or not: the Lakers have lost 10 straight games to the Raptors, a franchise against whom they’d never lost a season series prior to these most recent four years. L.A.’s last win came back on Nov. 30, 2014, when Kobe Bryant went off for a 31-point triple-double. Nonetheless, L.A. holds the all-time advantage with a 28-18 margin against their neighbors to the north and east.
Despite losing both Kawhi Leonard and L.A.’s own Danny Green in free agency after winning the franchise’s first championship last season, the Raptors clawed their way to the No. 2 seed in the East, at 46-18, seven games behind Milwaukee. They’re tough, they’re smart, and they’re versatile, leaning on the dogged backcourt of Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, with up-and-coming star Pascal Siakim on the wing and Marc Gasol anchoring things inside with Serge Ibaka. Young players like Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Terence Davis and Chris Boucher give them an influx of athleticism and pop, as well.
The Raptors and Lakers last played on Nov. 10, seemingly an eternity ago, when Toronto came from eight down at halftime to ride their second unit to a second half comeback win, snapping a 7-game Lakers win streak. Former Lakers summer league star Matt Thomas was a +11 off the bench, and Davis a +13, as they outscored L.A. 35-26 in the fourth quarter.
LAKERS BENCH UPSIDE
We went over Kyle Kuzma’s upside last week before he went off in the second scrimmage game, and before he hit four threes towards 16 points with seven boards against the Clippers and played excellent defense. But we could have included Alex Caruso and Dion Waiters as well in a new-look Lakers reserve unit that flipped the game in the third quarter against the Clippers. Waiters was a +17, Kuzma a +12 and Caruso a +9 in that one, as they checked in to help quell a 14-1 Clippers run in the 3rd quarter to put the Lakers back in control.
Kuzma and Caruso will continue to see their roles increased with both Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo out of the lineup, while Waiters is showing why GM Rob Pelinka signed him in March as a guy that can create his own shot, a skill that wasn’t present in LAL’s backcourt prior to that point. Dwight Howard, JR Smith, Markieff Morris, Quinn Cook and Jared Dudley will all factor in off LAL’s bench as well, but it was the trio of Kuzma, Caruso and Waiters that made all the difference against the Clippers as they nailed down the perimeter with Anthony Davis sliding from the four to the five for a small ball look.
The Raptors boast the NBA’s No. 2 defensive rating at 104.9 ranked just ahead of the Lakers at 105.4, so Frank Vogel will need his bench to support LeBron and AD’s starting group with some buckets.
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