As the Los Angeles Lakers prepared for free agency this past summer, one player often linked to the team was DeMar DeRozan. A Compton native and USC alum, DeRozan’s links to the city were undeniable and used in an effort to predict a move to his hometown.
In the end, DeRozan did not take a single meeting with another team, choosing to re-sign with the Toronto Raptors with a bit of a discount from his expected max contract.
Now, DeRozan is spearheading a Raptors team that is the most efficient offense in the NBA with an opportunity to set a record as the greatest offensive force the league has ever seen. Along with backcourt partner Kyle Lowry – an oft-underrated but supremely valuable player – DeRozan has created something special in Toronto with hopes of giving the Cleveland Cavaliers a run for their money in the Eastern Conference Finals.
On Sunday, DeRozan, Lowry, and the Raptors will visit Los Angeles for the first and only time this season. The Lakers will get their first look at what has become a juggernaut which has lost 10 times all season, with five of those coming against the Cavs and Warriors.
On paper, this is setting up a disaster for the Lakers. The second worst defense in the NBA matched up against the best offense will be an incredibly tough challenge to overcome.
However, the Lakers have been a difficult team to predict all year. They have played to the level of their competition, beating the Warriors and (admittedly injured) Clippers and hanging tough with the likes of the Jazz and Cavs while losing in ugly fashion to the Mavs (twice!), Magic, Heat, and Nets.
The Raps provide an interesting challenge in that they do not force defenses to move much with ball movement; they assist on only 49.2 percent of their field goals, the second lowest mark in the league. Instead, they rely on the individual brilliance of Lowry and DeRozan who excel in various areas: the former being one of the best three point shooters in the league while the latter makes his mark in the midrange. Both are incredible at getting to the foul line.
If the Lakers hope to have a chance in this game, they will need sound defensive fundamentals in their individual matchups. D’Angelo Russell will need to be focused from tip to harass Lowry and force the Raptors offense to move even more slowly than usual. Nick Young, Luol Deng, and whomever else is tasked with guarding DeRozan must be able to play good defense without fouling. That will also be true of the team’s rim protectors like Timofey Mozgov who will need to balance providing help with avoiding foul trouble.
Finally, Los Angeles will need its bench unit to get back to its early season form. It has dwindled somewhat with the offense turning into a vision into the past lately and against the Raptors that could be a death knell. Toronto’s second-most used lineup is one featuring Lowry and four bench players (Terrence Ross, Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson, and Lucas Nogueira). That lineup has a flames emoji net rating of 29.0 with the ability to blow games wide open. Conversely, their starters have a negative net rating, opening the door for the Lakers to build a lead if they come into the game ready to take advantage.
This will be a tough game for the Lakers coming off perhaps its worst game of the season. But even as whispers emerge about the team’s effort and mentality, it would serve well to remember how LA has played against top competition.