The Toronto Raptors (8-6) almost got through an entire half of basketball with a full, healthy complement of players with the return of Terrence Ross before Jonas Valanciunas broke a bone in his left hand in the final minute of the second quarter. Ironically, it was soon after the big man in the middle went down that the team got down to business at Staples Center against the Los Angeles Lakers.
After allowing 29 second quarter points and then four straight made baskets to open the second half, Toronto clamped down to allow just one bucket over the final 6:50 of the third and turn what was a 63-56 Lakers’ lead and turn it into a 76-68 Raps’ advantage heading into the fourth. Over the final 12 minutes, LA pulled within six points on several occasions, but couldn’t get any closer than that.
Kyle Lowry was the primary force responsible for sparking the Raps to their first victory over the Western road swing. He poured in a game-high 25 points with all seven of his field goals coming from beyond the arc. He also registered five rebounds, five assists and finished with a +14. Meanwhile, the Raps bench quietly offered a few encouraging signs, with Ross returning from a thumb ligament injury to post eight points in 14 minutes and Patrick Patterson filling some of the JV void with seven points and seven rebounds after scoring just three points over their past two games. While only Lowry finished with a positive plus/minus among the starters, each member Toronto’s five-man bench finished in the plus.
In a game where the rebounding and assist numbers wound up equal on both sides of the floor, the three-point line proved to mark the biggest difference. The Raps went to the trey well regularly, making 15 of their 33 attempts from beyond the arc (45.5%). Lowry led the three barrage, making seven of his 11 tries with no other Raptor recording more than two. The Lakers, meanwhile, still put up 25 of their own three-point attempts, but made just eight (32%) amidst solid perimeter pressure from DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph and co. Kobe Bryant missed all five of his tries from deep, while Metta World Peace, Lou Williams and Jordan Clarkson went a combined 3-10.
Getting to the line
With a young, dynamic back court of Clarkson and teenaged rookie D’Angelo Russell, you’d think that the Lakers’ explosiveness would present a problem for the Raptors. However, while the young duo managed to tally a combined 30 points on 13-29 shooting, they didn’t attempt a free throw between them. That stands in stark contrast to Toronto’s Lowry / Joseph / DeMar DeRozan guard rotation, who combined to go 16-18 from the charity stripe as part of the team’s 19-24 free throw performance.
While Valanciunas may not be the most integral piece of the Raptors’ puzzle, he does represent one of the most irreplaceable ones. With the big Lithuanian forgoing surgery and opting to heal via rehab, the timeline on his return remains unclear, although he did miss 18 games after breaking the same bone in his right hand during his rookie season. Any internal solutions remain problematic. Bismack Biyombo can fill the rebounding the defensive void, but adds to the scoring burden on the other five starters. Patterson can score, but is hard to trust at this juncture after a rough start to the season. Lucas Nogueira got the call-up after an encouraging stint with Raptors 905, but the D-League is a far different animal from the NBA. Going small may work for stretches, but it leaves them vulnerable to elite opposing bigs, such as DeAndre Jordan, whom they face on Sunday.
Norman Powell didn’t get into the game on Friday, but a return to the LA area allowed the UCLA Bruins alum a chance to visit Pauley Pavillion on Thursday, where he was named an honorary captain before his former UCLA mates toppled Pepperdine 81-67.
This marks the first road trip in Raptors franchise history that has included stops to visit the Lakers and the Clippers. That can’t be right, can it??
There is a Russell, Clarkson and Julius Randle-led future on the horizon in LA, but the present isn’t particularly bright. The only thing worse than seeing Kobe sitting on the sidelines with a bad knee or torn rotator cuff is the sight of time finally catching up to him as he finishes his career on a bottom-feeding 2-10 Lakers team. Even with encouraging signs evident off in the distance, it’s not a fun time to be a Lakers fan right now.
Speaking of struggling teams that aren’t particularly fun to watch, the 905 are playing like, well, an expansion team. They are now 0-5 after losing a pair of games to the Maine Red Claws, including a 109-104 loss in a home opener that drew over 6,000 fans to the Hershey Center. Those fans saw that Jesse Mermuys still has work to do, as the team has struggled defensively and Bruno Caboclo is beginning to force things a little too much, going 5-19 from the field on Friday in Maine. The call-up of Nogueira might allow more floor time for Sim Bhullar, who scored eight points on 4-4 shooting in Thursday’s home opener.
The challenge of replacing JV gets off to a tough start against the deep, talented Clippers on Sunday afternoon (3:30pm, SN) to wrap up the road trip.
Prediction: Clippers 109, Raps 98 (record this season: 6-7)