The Los Angeles Lakers are looking to build off their hot start to the season when they take on the Toronto Raptors, coming off a 95-80 victory against the Miami Heat on Friday. The Lakers — who have now built up an impressive 7 game winning streak since dropping their opening night game to the Clippers — face a very different task with Toronto coming to town. Their last two matchups (against the Bulls and Heat) have been against teams built around a young core playing without much to lose. The Raptors are the defending NBA Champions — Kawhi or not — and should bring a different mentality to the court on Sunday.
This season, the Lakers are sitting in first in defensive efficiency and net rating, and are ranked second in field goal percentage. Over the course of their first eight games, this matches the eye test, with their seven-game win streak fueled by the right amount of defensive aggression and good shot selection. The concern right now offensively for the Lakers is getting going from outside (currently ranked 27th in three-point percentage) and from the free-throw line (25th in free throws attempted).
This game against Toronto is set to be Rajon Rondo’s regular-season debut, and with so much going right for Los Angeles right now, the question becomes: do you want to rock the boat? Rondo has never been known to be a sharpshooter (his only seasons with 3 attempts per game from downtown resulted in 35.6% and a dismal 28.9% three-point percentages), nor has he ever been one to force contact and get to the line – as he has never attempted more than 3.5 FTA on a per-game basis and never shot above 64.7% from the charity stripe. Is Vogel integrating him too soon? Should he do it at all considering how hot the Lakers have been? It’ll be interesting to see how Rondo plays with all of the criticism he’s received recently, and even more interesting to see how Vogel uses him moving forward.
The Raptors are currently slated to have Serge Ibaka (ankle) and Kyle Lowry (thumb) sidelined for this game, but their strength in numbers means that they can still field an incredibly competitive roster, with Fred VanVleet and Marc Gasol the likely beneficiaries of these injuries. Though they’re banged up at the moment, the Raptors are still sitting at 6-2 (thanks in no small part to the effortless brilliance of up-and-coming superstar Pascal Siakam), and have shown exactly why they’re the class of the Eastern Conference. Despite their rotten injury luck, they are currently top 7 in the league in points, rebounds, and assists per game, while boasting a top-half defense (11th in the NBA).
With or without Lowry and Ibaka, the Raptors flow through Siakam, who is currently 7th in the NBA in points (among qualified candidates who average 15 or more shots per game). Among that group, he’s 2nd in three-point percentage (41.3%) and shooting percentage (51.9%), which is just ridiculous efficiency for the volume he generates and the amount of time the offense flows through him as the primary creator and scorer. He’s at the forefront of everything the Raptors do on both ends of the court, and the primary focus will be slowing him down, as it appears it’s past the point of simply hoping to outright stop him in his tracks. In order to do so, the Lakers will need everything they can get out of Danny Green, Anthony Davis, and Dwight Howard, who will be given the unenviable task of keeping Siakam away from the rim at all costs.
The Lakers and Raptors are scheduled for a 6:30 PST tip-off at the Staples Center. Be sure to follow Lakers Outsiders on twitter for updates.