Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images
The Los Angeles Lakers are slowly but surely playing better basketball without LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Los Angeles improved to 32-19 on the season with a 110-101 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday at Amalie Arena. Talen Horton-Tucker, Markieff Morris, Marc Gasol, Dennis Schroder and Alex Caruso led the way for the Lakers, who are 4-2 in their last six as they look to avoid plummeting down the Western Conference standings without their two stars.
Solid showings from Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher and DeAndre’ Bembry were not enough for the Raptors, who were without Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet and fell to 20-31 as their two-game winning streak came to an end.
Notable Player Stats
- Talen Horton-Tucker, G, LAL: 17 PTS, 6 AST, 4 REB
- Marc Gasol, C, LAL: 13 PTS, 9 REB, 5 AST, 4 BLK
- Markieff Morris, F, LAL: 15 PTS, 9 REB
- Alex Caruso, G, LAL: 13 PTS, 5 REB, 4 AST, 2 STL
- Dennis Schroder, G, LAL: 12 PTS, 9 AST, 2 STL
- Pascal Siakam, F, TOR: 27 PTS, 7 REB, 2 STL
- Chris Boucher, F, TOR: 19 PTS, 8 REB
- DeAndre’ Bembry, G, TOR: 12 PTS, 5 REB, 5 STL, 3 AST
Lakers on Cruise Control from the Start
Head coach Frank Vogel told reporters Andre Drummond was also out prior to Tuesday’s game, which meant the team had one fewer option who could lead the way in the absence of James and Davis.
It has been a different option in Los Angeles’ last three wins, with Montrezl Harrell leading the team in scoring against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Schroder doing so against the Orlando Magic and Kyle Kuzma pacing the scoring against the Sacramento Kings.
Harrell removed himself from consideration early when he and Raptors forward OG Anunoby were ejected in the first quarter.
Schroder committed a hard foul on Anunoby, who then unleashed something of a wrestling move to toss the point guard on the ground. Harrell then came running over and started shoving members of the Raptors, which left both teams even more shorthanded than they already were at the start of the game.
The sequence didn’t stop the Lakers from seizing complete control right away while building a 26-point halftime lead.
Schroder played the role of facilitator with red-hot shooting around him. The Lakers drilled 13 triples in the first half alone with Morris, Kuzma, Caruso and Wesley Matthews combining for 10 of them. Gasol was also impressive against his former team while battling for boards and facilitating from the elbow.
The second half was largely a formality from there, which was a welcome development for the Purple and Gold. While they don’t need home-court advantage to win a title, every victory they can get without Davis and James will help prevent them from falling in the standings and creating more difficult matchups.
Shorthanded Raptors Can’t Overcome Offensive Struggles
It’s not too often a team can fall to 18-30 with a 1-13 stretch and still be right in the middle of the playoff hunt just two wins later, but that was the situation the shorthanded Raptors found themselves in entering play Tuesday.
In a testament to the overall weakness of the Eastern Conference and the additional playoff spots available with this season’s play-in tournament between the Nos. 7-10 seeds, Toronto entered play just one game behind the Chicago Bulls for the final postseason spot in the East.
Still, the Raptors looked nothing like a playoff team even against a watered-down Lakers squad.
While they were fighting an uphill battle without Lowry, VanVleet and Anunoby for most of the game, they also didn’t even reach double digits in the second quarter until there was less than two minutes until halftime.
They looked completely lost on offense with Siakam (7-of-21) throwing up bricks against additional defensive attention, Malachi Flynn struggling to hit shots off the bench and the team as a whole shooting 5-of-33 (15.2 percent) from deep. Turnovers weren’t even a massive problem with just six at the half.
Instead, the shots weren’t falling for a team that has struggled with consistency throughout the season.
The good news for Toronto is that Lowry and VanVleet will come back and the nature of the Eastern Conference means it is just one small hot streak away from securing a spot in the playoffs. But this franchise looks a long way from its 2019 championship.
Both teams are in action Thursday when the Raptors host the Bulls and the Lakers travel to face the Miami Heat.