According to Mike D'Antoni, the Los Angeles Lakers are off to a solid 2-1 start on the young season, yet oddly enough, still ranked 11th in the Western Conference heading into Sunday's contest against the Toronto Raptors. All jokes aside, L.A. will try to avoid losing their sixth straight away from Staples Center - a feat that hasn't been done by a Lakers team since the 2007 campaign.
Luckily, the Lakers have had success north-of-the-border- winning their last two meetings and posting a 12-4 overall record at the Air Canada Centre. The Raptors, paced by guards Jose Calderon and Kyle Lowry, will be a motivated bunch after losing their last two games in overtime nail-biters. Look for the Raptors' young backcourt to be aggressive tonight and try to take advantage of L.A.'s old legs. On the flip side, the Lakers are superior in the interior, so expect them to try to outmuscle the smaller Raptors squad.
The starting Raptors backcourt of Calderon and DeMar DeRozan is 18 years younger than Lakers' Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash; and don't be surprised if they exploit that matchup early on.
Calderon is the unselfish leader of this Raptor team, and DeRozan is averaging a career-high 17.5 points on the year. Furthermore, Kyle Lowry, who is typically the sixth man for Toronto, leads the team and ranks in the top 20 in the league in nERD efficiency at 9.8.
They don't play fast, posting only a 89.9 pace factor on the year, but the Raptors minimize turnovers and shoot the ball well from three (eighth in the NBA and free throws made and attempted). The Lakers will need to keep the quick Raptor guards out of the paint and avoid kick outs to open Raptor shooters.
Toronto is an efficient overall team but struggles mightily at times on defense. Their 108.1 defensive rating is 26th worst in the NBA, while a defensive FT factor of .255 is dead last in the league. For the most part, their defensive breakdowns happen in the paint and L.A. has a distinct advantage against the Raptors bigs.
Look for Dwight Howard, coming off a 13 point performance against the Miami Heat, to be more of a factor tonight. And if the Toronto resorts to the Hack-a-Dwight defensive strategy, D12 will need to be better than a 50 percent free throw shooter on the road in a hostile environment.
Lastly, coming off concussion-like symptoms, look for Pau Gasol to reassert himself on the offensive end and post triple digit offensive rating #'s for a third straight game.