Rest of the NBA shouldn’t sleep on the Raptors

Forget about the Milwaukee Bucks. Teams had better not sleep on the Toronto Raptors. Yeah, remember the Raptors? They just happen to be the NBA’s reigning champs. With or without Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors are a sure threat to anyone thinking they can just waltz down the aisle and lay claim to the title throne.

Well, much has changed since Toronto knocked off the injury-riddled Golden State Warriors last June as the best team in the NBA. Leonard, the MVP of the NBA Finals, is now looking to win a title with the Los Angele Clippers. And for better or worse, many people thought that the Raptors would go by the way of the dinosaur: extinct and out of the picture.

It’s a good thing for Raptors’ fans that winning an NBA championship is not based on people making predictions. You still have to play the game. And Toronto has been playing exceptional basketball since the NBA’s 2019-2020 season kicked off back in October of last year.

While Milwaukee has played like they’ve been shot of a canon by posting the league’s best record, Toronto has played steady all year long, coasting to the second-best mark in the Eastern Conference.

Continuity has helped the Raptors in this regard. Outside of Leonard, Toronto basically still has its core of players that propelled them over the Warriors in six games for the title. The backcourt of Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry is still intact. The middle of the paint is still being patrolled by Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam.

And as they showed against the more heralded Los Angeles Lakers in a primetime game Saturday afternoon, the Raptors still have plenty of game left in their tank. The Lakers walked into this contest boasting the NBA’s best field goal percentage at 48.1 percent. Toronto, armed with the league’s second-rated defense, dropped the hammer on the Lakers’ patented offense prowess.

November 10, 2019 © Mark Hammond/News4usonline – Toronto Raptors center Marc Gasol shoots over the outstretched defense of Los Angeles Lakers center JaVale McGee.

Behind Lowry’s 33 points, Toronto held the Lakers to just 35 percent shooting from the field on their way to posting a stunning 107-92 win. The Lakers did worse in the 3-point shot department, making just 10-of 40 shots from behind the arc. So, just in case teams like the Lakers that may have forgotten how good the Raptors are, they got an emphatic reminder.

“They won a championship last year. They’re a great defense,” Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said. “It’s a good test for us. We did some good things. I think we some things better in this game than in that first game, in terms of moving the basketball.”

Lowry debunked any idea that the Raptors came into the game looking to make some sort of statement game against the Lakers.

“We just went out there and played a game and every game that we’ve always played,” Lowry said. “I’ve said this for however many years, these games, regular season games, they’re only preparing you for the long haul. We understand the opportunity that we have. We understand the situation. We understand what we have to do, what we need to do, and take it one game, one day at a time, and continue to get better for the long term. You know, stay level-headed and level-minded no matter what.”

November 10, 2019 © Mark Hammond/News4usonline – Toronto Raptors center Marc Gasol shoots over the outstretched defense of Los Angeles Lakers center JaVale McGee.

While Lowry went off with his game-high point totals, he also had some help from small forward OG Anunoby. Anunoby scored 23 points for Toronto and was the primary defensive guy sticking with Lakers star LeBron James. In just over 34 minutes of playing action, James was held to 20 points in the Lakers’ defeat. Lowry said that Anunoby, who averages 10.9 points game, played an exceptional game on both ends of the court.

“OG was unbelievable,” Lowry said during a postgame press conference. “I said to him, those two big 3s after LeBron hit his 3s, and OG came back and hit two big 3s…his growth, his maturity is continuing to get better and I’m p[roud of him. One thing about OG, man, is guys understand him as much as they want to, but he’s going to be really good in this league for a long time.”

Wearing a Black Lives Matter hat during his postgame interview, Lowry added that while the team is in Florida to play basketball, expressing their own brand of social messaging is something they want to push. Both the Lakers and Raptors took a knee during the playing of the national anthem.

Since the outbreak of protests denouncing police brutality and structural racism across the United States as well as internationally shot through the roof in the early part of the summer, NBA and WNBA players, like other sports stars, have voiced their support for social and racial justice.

“Just want to win games and have the opportunity to play fo my teammates is big for me,” Lowry said. “To have an opportunity to play basketball and have an opportunity to spread our social messages that we have; Black Lives Matter. You know going out there and talk about voter suppression…you know these are the things that get me going right now. Education reform and worried about getting justice for Breonna Taylor. So these things are things that getting me going and wanting me to go out there and  do my job the best that I can.”

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