The NBA’s restart in Orlando got off to a rousing start on Thursday. Both games on the schedule went down to the final possession, with the Utah Jazz defeating the New Orleans Pelicans and the Los Angeles Lakers beating the Los Angeles Clippers.
Today, more excitement should be on the docket as two heavyweights square off in the bubble. The 46-18 Toronto Raptors and 50-14 Los Angeles Lakers will test themselves against each other as they attempt to maintain their seeding in their respective conferences (8:30 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN).
Los Angeles has played one game already but Toronto will be making its official restart debut in Orlando. USAbetting discuss some of the most pressing questions that will determine the outcome of this game before offering our picks and Los Angeles Lakers vs Toronto Raptors predictions.
Is This the New Normal for LeBron James & Kyle Kuzma on Defense?
If you caught the game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday, you probably noticed the high level of defensive intensity that both teams were playing with. Neither team had a very good flow to their offense, but part of it certainly had to do with what the opposition was doing.
Two players were particularly impressive defensively for the Lakers: James and Kuzma. Both were key defending on the ball against the Clippers’ big wings such as Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Marcus Morris.
James is a 17-year veteran who makes a generally positive impact due to his athleticism and instincts, but he picks his spots on defense. Against the Clippers, James was locked in on several different possessions and gave his opponents fits. Kuzma has never really been known as a defensive stopper, but his defensive effort and smarts were off the charts on Thursday.
It will be interesting to see if James and Kuzma continue their playoff-level defensive effort against the Raptors. Is this the new normal? Or will they tone it down a bit now that they have created separation in the standings and have a win against their Los Angeles rivals?
Can Norman Powell Stay Consistent in a Slightly Smaller Role?
The 2019 NBA Champion Raptors lost Kawhi Leonard, arguably the best player in the NBA, in free agency last summer. They also lost starting wing Danny Green, who provided excellent defense and three-point shooting.
Somehow, though, they haven’t missed a beat in the 2019-20 season in spite of those losses or the constant minor injuries that have plagued the squad. There are a variety of reasons for the Raptors’ overachievement. Powell’s massive improvement from an inconsistent, low-usage bench player to a key offensive performer is one of the top ones.
Powell averaged only 8.6 points per game in the 2018-19 regular season. He played a total of 66 minutes in last year’s six-game Finals series, putting up only 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting from the field. In the 2019-20 season, he has averaged an impressive 16.4 points per contest, including scoring performances of 22, 24, 26, 37 and 31 points in his last five full contests before the season’s suspension.
The thing that’s slightly concerning about Powell is that most of his top performances came when the Raptors had one or more key players out. Now that Toronto is completely healthy, Powell’s minutes will likely go down a bit. He is just a bit undersized as a wing and too limited as a playmaker to play huge minutes against playoff competition. Toronto will hope to see his production and efficiency stay solid even in a reduced role.
Will Alex Caruso Make Open Shots & Be a Steady Playmaker?
The first game of the Lakers’ restart confirmed my expectations regarding Caruso’s role. Los Angeles head coach gave the 26-year-old guard 28 minutes of playing time on Thursday, his highest total since last December. He is definitely going to be a bigger part of the team’s rotation with Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo sidelined.
Unfortunately, Caruso wasn’t great on offense. He had seven points and two assists, making 2-of-7 shots from the field, 0-of-2 from three-point range and 3-of-6 from the free-throw line. On the plus side, he didn’t turn the ball over and provided his trademark strong defense. Still, he definitely looked the part of a player with the potential to be an offensive liability against good defensive teams.
The Raptors are an excellent defensive team and they will be sure to structure their game plan to make players like Caruso beat them. The Lakers need Caruso to drain open outside shots confidently and make good use of his ball-handling opportunities. Even a modest performance of around 12 points with a couple of three-pointers and three to four assists with zero or one turnovers would be a major boost to Los Angeles’ offense.
Our NBA Betting Preview’s LA Lakers vs Toronto Raptors Predictions & Picks Verdict
I think we will see the difference in energy level between a Raptors squad playing its first official game of the restart and fighting for the No. 2 seed versus a Lakers team that now has basically wrapped up the West’s No. 1 seed with Thursday’s win.
I think Toronto’s defense will play with lots of fire and I highly doubt a Lakers team that might be slightly less motivated will put up a big scoring performance. These are the LA Lakers vs Toronto Raptors predictions for this preview:
- The Lakers are considered a favorite by 3.5 or 4 points with all major betting outlets. I think the obvious choice is to take the Raptors against the spread. Put your money on Toronto +4pts @ -110 with Bovada or 5Dimes.
- I see the Raptors needing some more time to figure out their offensive chemistry with their entire roster healthy. Likewise, the Lakers have made some changes by adding J.R. Smith and Dion Waiters to accommodate the losses of Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo. Especially against a talented Raptors defense, I don’t see LA putting up a huge points total. Take the under 217 total points @ -105 with BetOnline.
Jared is a lifelong sports fan and writer whose specialist subject is NBA. A 2015 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Jared has been a sought-after freelance sports writer. In addition to his valuable USA Betting contributions, he has also written for other top media outlets.