The Los Angeles Lakers are headed to Toronto to take on Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors tonight on TNT. These teams are in completely different spots, with the Lakers likely out of the playoffs and the Raptors competing for a top seed and a trip to the Finals for the first time with LeBron out of the Eastern Conference. This is the second and final matchup between these two teams. The first matchup was won by the Raptors in the Staples Center without Kawhi Leonard.
I am really hesitant to take a lot from this game because both teams are completely different. The Lakers are without 2 starters. The Raptors should have Kawhi and could be without both Kyle Lowry and Danny Green, who are both listed as questionable. In this first game, the Raptors won the first quarter 42-17 and only missed 5 shots in the quarter. After that, the Lakers won the last 3 quarters to different degrees.
Lakers Having a Rough Year
This has been a really difficult year for the Lakers when it comes to underperforming and injuries all over the place. They have really struggled to run out a similar unit on a nightly basis all year long, and that will continue to be the case moving forward. Tyson Chandler and Lance Stephenson will join both Ingram and Ball on the bench for this game, while Josh Hart is expected to play. Hart has been gutting out a knee injury since before the All-Star Break, and he even said he thinks he may need surgery after the year. Not quite what you’d like to hear.
In their last game, we saw the Lakers pull away from the Bulls late and get a much-needed win just for their own mental health. The most interesting thing in this game was the rotations. After the loss to Denver, it was reported the LeBron would likely be limited to 28-32 minutes. In these last two games, we have seen that be relatively accurate, but the Lakers ran away with that Bulls game late when LeBron came out with 5 minutes remaining at 33 minutes played. Maybe this was simply a one-time thing, or maybe James wouldn’t have been brought back in with 3 minutes left if it was a one-possession game, but I don’t think so. I think this “minutes limit” is very much about trying not to kill James and play him 42 minutes a night. I think he wants to play 32-36 minutes still and I don’t think that they are going to say no to that. I think that this news has made LeBron undervalued in the betting market and fantasy market and will continue to do so moving forward.
Raptors Try to Find Their Stride
The Raptors have been great all year, but their last game was disgusting. They lost to the Cavs by 25 points at full strength. How in the world does that happen? A defensive-minded Raptors team allowed double-digits to every Cleveland starter and Jordan Clarkson. I don’t think this is a long-term red flag, but I do think it shows that this team could no-show in lesser games because their defensive intensity is so important to their game. Maybe they really can’t beat Cleveland, and the Raptors struggles vs. the Cavs had nothing to do with Lebron (I doubt it). I expect this team to operate as usual at full health and be a solid offensive team vs. a bad Lakers defense. If Lowry is out, I would expect Jeremy Lin to see way more minutes, and Kawhi Leonard would be set up for one of his biggest games of the season on national television vs. LeBron.
Take the Lakers
I think the -9 point line in favor of the Raptors is too big here. I think the Lakers showcased last game that they are still playing to win games. We could have easily seen them cut down minutes to McGee, James, Rondo, and even Kuzma in favor of the kids but they had no intention of doing so. I think the Lakers are just going a bit undervalued in the markets due to the assumption that they do not care anymore, so the Lakers +9 are a price play for me.