On the second night of a back-to-back and into the second half of a marathon eight-game road trip, the Los Angeles Lakers face the Toronto Raptors on Monday evening.
The Lakers and Raptors played in LA about two and a half weeks earlier, and the team from Canada won by nine points in a hotly contested game. LA has only won one of the eight games it has played since, while the Raptors have won four of their next seven. After a narrow loss to the Golden State Warriors on Saturday, Toronto is well rested and primed to pummel the toad-weary 3-17 Lakers.
After 20 games, the Lakers have provided enough evidence to voice concerns about this team finishing at the bottom of the Western Conference, possibly even the entire NBA. Only the Philadelphia 76ers have a worse record than the purple and gold, and the Sixers managed to beat the Lakers for Philly's only win.
Needless to say, the Lakers have not started the season well.
Kobe Bryant has been struggling about as much as any player in the NBA, as the 37-year-old is shooting 29.6 percent from the field and 21.8 percent on three-pointers on his victory lap of the NBA. Bryant is attempting nearly 18 field goals per game, and the 19-year veteran has yet to shoot 50 percent or better in a single game.
Bryant made it clear that he expects to play in every possible game, and he reiterated that goal after Sunday's loss to the Detroit Pistons.
"If I'm walking, I'm playing," Bryant said after the loss to Detroit, where Bryant left the game due to illness (via TWC SportsNet).
While Bryant's shooting struggles continue to stand out, the Lakers' young core is beginning to find its feet. Twenty-one-year-old Julius Randle has logged eight double-doubles in 20 games this season, and the 2014 lottery pick has four double-doubles in his past five outings.
Also, highly touted no. 2 draft pick D'Angelo Russell appears to be growing by the game. The Lakers' prized rookie has scored in double figures in each of his past four starts and appears to be gaining confidence from beyond the three-point line. Against Atlanta on Friday, Russell made four of his seven long-range attempts.
Twenty-three-year-old Jordan Clarkson is the third young prospect that the Lakers consider to be a core player for the future. Clarkson has been the Lakers' most consistent player this season, and the former Missouri combo guard is averaging 15.4 points, which only trails Bryant's 15.9 points per game. Clarkson, however, shoots 46.9 percent from the field and attempts about five fewer shots per game than Bryant.
On Monday, Russell and Clarkson will be tasked with trying to slow down Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Lowry and DeRozen combine to averaged 43.4 points per game, with Lowry coming off a 41-point performance on Saturday. When the Lakers and Raptors met in late November, Lowry scored 25 points and DeRozen added 18, which fell in line with the duo's 43.4 points per game season average.
On Monday, the Lakers and Raptors tip-off at 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time.
Notes: Lou Williams returns to Toronto for the first time since the team opted to not give the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year an offer in the offseason.