The Los Angeles Lakers don’t have a ton of interesting games this month. That’s in part because they aren’t playing very many good teams, with only four of their first 10 games coming against organizations that made the playoffs last year amidst a light opening schedule overall. One of those playoff teams is the Defending Champion Toronto Raptors™️.
However, while this version of the roster may still be walking around, the Raptors that won the 2019 title are extinct, snuffed out by the meteoric impact of Kawhi Leonard’s free agency departure (and to a lesser extent, the exodus of now-Lakers guard Danny Green).
But unlike the actual dinosaurs — who went out soft IMO — these Raptors are still not just breathing, but presenting a real threat to the rest of the NBA landscape. Both the Lakers and Raptors play one final game on Friday night before facing each other on Sunday, but heading into those matchups, the Lakers (6-1) and Raptors (5-2) both have among the league’s better records, but have done it in different ways, one of several reasons that Toronto will be maybe the most interesting barometer for the Lakers in this early slate.
The Raptors have survived Leonard and Green’s departures to post a top-10 offense so far, scoring 108.8 points per 100 possessions while shooting 39.8% on threes, marks that rank ninth and second in the league, respectively, heading into Friday. The team has compensated for its free agency losses (in part) by firing way from deep, as 37% of the Raptor’s offense has come on threes in that time frame, with only the Rockets, Bucks and Pelicans having more of their scoring come from behind the arc.
That strength runs right up against the Lakers’ own skills, as L.A. has the best defense in the league heading into Friday, allowing just 97.9 points per 100 possessions. And despite the team’s emphasis on protecting the rim, the Lakers are also among the best in the league in both the amount of threes they allow their opponents to take (just 35.9%) and make (32.1%). Both of those marks rank in the top-10 in the league defensively as of Friday.
All of this sets up an interesting stylistic dichotomy, with the proverbial unstoppable force meeting a corresponding immovable object. Will the Lakers be able to shut down a team that hunts threes as relentlessly as the Raptors? Will the Raptors be able to avoid the temptation to take the kinds of shots the Lakers try to bait them in to? All of it will be fascinating to look for.
There are still mitigating factors here, of course, because the entire Lakers’ early season schedule is filled with flawed teams. Will Anthony Davis be able to bottle up rising star Pascal Siakam and really gum up the works for Toronto? Will LeBron James continue to remind us of his unofficial ownership of the Raptors, and why for a brief while Toronto was perhaps better known as LeBronto? Will L.A. Nightlife remain undefeated on Sunday after the Raptors stay in Los Angeles on Saturday night? Any combination of these events, or any one of them individually would make this game a lot less interesting if they happen.
Still, nothing is guaranteed for L.A., because the Lakers have played with their food plenty this year, narrowly escaping a few games that should have been losses with victories by ripping off incredible runs. The Raptors are too well-coached and smart for such a strategy to be counted on here. Will L.A. realize that and take care of business from the jump? Figuring out if they have that mode in them is yet another reason this contest is worth watching.
All in all, this is easily the most intriguing home game in November on paper now that the Golden State Warriors are tanking, so if you’re looking to get out to Staples Center this month, there are a lot worse ways to spend a Sunday than watching the Lakers get tested by another playoff team as this roster continues to gel. If you’d like to buy tickets to the game against the Raptors, you can do so from StubHub here.
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