On Sunday evening, the Toronto Raptors took on the Los Angeles Lakers at the ACC in front of 19,800 fans who were probably hoping to get a Drake sighting or to get their hands on those infamous mini OVO basketballs (neither of which happened btw). The 11th seed Lakers came into this game hoping they would continue their 4-game winning streak but the 2nd seed Raptors reminded them of their place as the Raptors defeated them 123-111.
In Sunday’s game, the Lakers were without Lonzo Ball due to a knee injury that has forced him to be out of commission since January 15, 2018. Brandon Ingram scored 14 points, had 4 assists, shot a disappointing 28.6% (4/14) from the field but was a perfect 1/1 from the three. Kyle Kuzma played 23 minutes off the bench where he was able to contribute 7 points with a total of 4 rebounds. Looking at the Lakers today, it seems that they are light-years away from where they used to be. It’s a phase that a lot of teams go through and it’s evident that they are now in rebuild mode as they try to create an identity with the young guys they have now. Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball are among those young men and last week it was announced that they will be joining the elite group to represent the Lakers for the upcoming rookie/sophomore game. But, despite having three of their players picked to be part of the Team USA roster, it was one of the Raptors’ sophomores that had many questioning if authorities made the right pick.
Fred VanVleet had an impressive night against the Lakers where he scored a career-high 25 points, shot 69.2% from the field, had 4 assists, 2 steals and was 3 for 4 from the three. All of that was done within 20 minutes off the bench - so to say that Fred was pretty efficient would be an understatement. When watching Fred play, there’s remnants of Kyle Lowry in his style of play. As Jack Armstrong described him in last nights’ game, Fred VanVleet is a player who is always ready, no matter what the situation is. He is willing to sacrifice his body for the sake of the play and this is evident when he dives for balls or takes the fall after a crafty drive to the basket. Fred shows how effective hustling can be and despite his size, standing at just 6’0”, his defensive style is to stick to his man like glue and be a complete nuisance.
When asked about the roster and lack of Raptors representation for the Rising Stars game, Fred showed the humbleness that got him to where he is by saying “I’m not a guy that needs motivation...I’m not a guy who puts a lot of stock in that kind of stuff. It would have been a nice accomplishment...[but] we got bigger things to focus on.” With regards to his fellow teammates, Fred has the same thoughts as the rest of us as he too was disappointed when guys like OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl weren’t chosen. “...to look at the list and see some of the guys on there, it’s just disappointing that none of our guys got that kind of respect. I guess it’s almost better that way, gives us a little bit more motivation. It’s a little disappointing that not one guy got the nod considering they’re international players.” PREACH FRED!
Even when they’re second in the East, just 1.5 games back from the Boston Celtics and 4 games up from the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Raptors fly under the radar (as per usual). The Raptors continue to get snubbed in different ways whether it's from the media or the league itself. They have already proven (and continue to prove) that they are adapting to the new style of basketball despite everyone's doubts. This new persona that the Raptors have adapted is evident as they sit 5th in 3-point attempts, averaging 31.8 per game. They have also shown the depth of the team time after time as they now sit 12th in assists, which is a huge improvement from the season prior when they were dead last in assists. In addition to all that, the Raptors have two All-Stars for the 4th year in a row, one of which was chosen to be a starter. Not only do we have players representing this team, but also in the coaching staff. It was announced after Sunday's win over the Lakers, Dwane Casey will be coaching Team LeBron which will be his first time making it to the All-Stars in his career. What is it going to take for the league to see that the Raptors mean more than just being the underdogs.
Constant arguments are made about why the Raptors shouldn’t take too much pride in their regular season. “Oh they’re a great regular season team, but let me see them in the playoffs.” or “just wait, LeBron and the Cavs have a another gear to them, they’re just saving themselves for playoffs.” What about, “sure you have All-Stars but let’s see where they are come playoff time." All these arguments are nothing new. This is something that both fans and players have heard since the reemergence of this team in playoffs and so it's water off our backs. What we will say is that we should enjoy this team as it is right now. We should take pride in what they’ve accomplished thus far because if we get too caught up in what is being said about them and the lack of respect they’re getting, we may just miss out on the best Raptors team in franchise history.