Game Preview: Raptors @ Lakers

Key questions heading into the Raptors’ final game of their three-game rad trip against the Lakers at Staples Center (9:30 PM ET, TSN2, NBATV, FAN590).

Are There Any Injury Updates For The Lakers?

I guess that’s a yes.

Kobe Bryant makes his return to the Lakers lineup tonight after eight months of recovery following a torn left Achilles tendon in a game against the Golden State Warriors on April 12, 2013.

Only 17 games prior to that, Bryant was doing this to the Raptors…

Bryant put up 41 points against the Raptors in that 118-116 overtime win at Staples Center, which was just another chapter in a dominant body of work against Toronto. In 29 career games against the Raptors, Bryant has averaged 28.3 points — the most by any active opponent and the second-highest all-time behind Allen Iverson (29.7 ppg in 38 games).

Bryant’s dominance has helped the Lakers to 10 straight wins over the Raptors in Los Angeles and a 13-1 mark against them at Staples Center over the course of his career.

What does this incarnation of Kobe have in store for the Raptors tonight? One thing is certain, basketball fans around the world will be watching.

Can The Raptors Snap Out Of Their Latest Funk? The return of Bryant is just one item on a laundry list of issues for a Raptors team that’s tailspinning during its current five-game skid and desperately needs a ‘W’.

The Raptors will need to clean up issues on both sides of the ball to get it. Defence has been a major issue of late as opponents have shot over .450 from the field during this losing streak. Teams have also been able to make successful adjustments to the Raptors after halftime — the Raptors have been outscored in the final two quarters in 11 of their 18 games this season and by 45 points in their last three games.

Compounding matters is an offence that’s shot below .450 from the field in four of the last five games. The Raptors continue to struggle sharing the ball, as they continue to rank last in the league in assists at 17.3 per game — a figure they’ve exceeded only twice during this skid with 18 assists each time.

It’s for those reasons that head coach Dwane Casey steadfastly refuses to get caught up in Bryant’s return, what’s sure to a be a glitzy, circus-like atmosphere at Staples Center or the glare of a nationally televised game.

Watch Casey below on the his desire to stay focused on the task at hand after Saturday’s practice in Los Angeles.

Will Tyler Hansbrough Play? As Casey mentioned above, Hansbrough’s status for tonight’s game is still up in the air after he suffered a sprained left shoulder on Friday night in Phoenix.

Hansbrough’s been a big reason why the Raptors have been so solid on the offensive glass and scoring on second-chance opportunities this season and if he’s not available, there’s going to be reverberations throughout the Raptors lineup.

Amir Johnson, who’s playing his best basketball of the season and actually made the suggestion that he should move to the bench last week, will likely move back to starting power forward.

But with the Raptors fairly thin in the front court when it comes to traditional bigs, Casey may have to get creative. Look for Rudy Gay, Steve Novak or Landry Fields to potentially log some minutes at the power forward spot tonight.

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