The Los Angeles Lakers are coming off a disappointing blowout loss to the L.A. Clippers, but they can erase that memory quickly as they get set to face Pascal Siakam and the Toronto Raptors in the third game of their seven-game road trip on Tuesday evening.
The Raptors season thus far can be best described as an enigma. After hoisting the NBA title in the 2018-19 campaign, they’ve gradually descended as a powerhouse in the Eastern Conference, though their disintegration this season heavily involves their players being affected by injuries and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
That’s the case entering Tuesday’s contest. Similar to the Lakers, their injury report is severely congested. Kyle Lowry (foot) — who the Lakers targeted during the trade deadline –, Fred VanVleet (hip), Rodney Hood (hip), Patrick McCaw (knee), Jalen Harris (hip) and Paul Watson (health and safety protocols) are all out for the game.
For the Lakers, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Jared Dudley and Andre Drummond are still out, while Wesley Matthews returns after missing a game due to a neck issue.
Offensively, the Lakers must shoot the 3-ball as they did against the Sacramento Kings or at least at a similar clip. The Raptors enter this game ranking 21st in 3-point percentage allowed (37.4%). L.A. is shooting 33.7% from deep in the last eight games, but that has to ameliorate as Toronto possesses a stingy interior defense.
First, Toronto pegs their opponents’ 2-point attempts, ranking second in the league in both 2-point field goal attempts allowed and attempts made. They also rank eighth in the percentage allowed on such attempts. The combination of lengthy defenders who swarm the opposition into tough shots in Siakam, OG Anunoby, Chris Boucher, Stanley Johnson and Yuta Watanabe is what allows the success.
Second, Toronto ranks fourth in the league in blocks per game as well. The Raptors also recently added Gary Trent Jr. to the fold, and he’s reputed as a pesky defender that can severely disrupt his opponent’s game. L.A. must hit their 3-pointers to stay afloat.
One player to watch is Dennis Schroder, who head coach Frank Vogel wants to be ‘extremely assertive’ on offense. The Raptors have Trent Jr. and DeAndre’ Bembry as two guards who have the defensive chops to minimize Schroder’s impact, but the absence of Lowry and VanVleet doesn’t play into Toronto’s hands.
Kyle Kuzma also has to boost his production following a disappointing outing against the Clippers. Doing so will be strenuous against Siakam and Anunoby, but without James, the Lakers don’t possess the wing who can initiate and create on their own — if Kuzma can at least draw attention on his attacks in the paint, it could open doors for off-ball shooters like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso and Markieff Morris to have solid 3-point looks.
Defensively, the Lakers have a decent advantage considering Toronto is missing two of their top scorers and initiators. Without Lowry and VanVleet, the Raptors are leaving 36.8 points and 13.4 assists on the table.
The main source of damage lies in the hands of Siakam. The 27-year-old forward leverages a unique blend of ball-handling and passing for someone of his size, but with the mounting injuries Toronto has dealt with, his per-game averages have fluctuated and his shooting has largely been inefficient. His averages of 20.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists are not to be overlooked; as long as he doesn’t catch fire from deep — he’s shooting 29.5% on the year–, the Lakers should be in a good position.
The addition of Trent Jr. has also bestowed a crucial presence for the Raptors’ offense. The 22-year-old guard continues to develop his game as an initiator who can shoot from anywhere and handle the ball on many plays, manifesting in a buzzer-beating jumper to win their last game against the Washington Wizards.
Another player who has evolved their game is Boucher. The center received minimal playing time behind Gasol and Serge Ibaka in the depth chart last season, but he has seized the hole at Toronto’s center position after Gasol and Ibaka departed. Boucher is averaging 2.0 blocks a game, good for fifth in the league, and shoots 39.8% from deep. Gasol will have to be careful in guarding him.
The Raptors are 3-13 in their last 16 games, and with the depleted roster, Los Angeles possesses the edge on paper. Still, L.A. should not neglect their opposition, as short-handed as they appear, as there won’t be an easier game remaining on the road trip.
Lakers (31-19) vs. Raptors (20-30)
4:30 p.m. PT, April 6, 2021
Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida
TV: Spectrum Sportsnet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers starting lineup:
PG: Dennis Schroder
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Kyle Kuzma
PF: Markieff Morris
C: Marc Gasol
Key Reserves: Montrezl Harrell, Talen Horton-Tucker, Wesley Matthews, Alfonzo McKinnie
Projected Raptors starting lineup:
PG: Gary Trent Jr.
SG: DeAndre’ Bembry
SF: OG Anunoby
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Chris Boucher
Key Reserves: Malachi Flynn, Aron Baynes, Yuta Watanabe, Stanley Johnson
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