Cold-shooting Lakers can’t keep up with Raptors

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — With a number one seed in their grasp, the Lakers got a chance to look ahead — but maybe not the one they wanted.

For two meetings now, the Toronto Raptors have flummoxed the West’s No. 1 team. On Saturday night, they swarmed LeBron James and Anthony Davis with length and hustle. They sprinted down court for key transition buckets. And when James mounted a rally and got them back to an 83-all tie in the fourth quarter, the Raptors quashed it with a decisive 21-5 run.

The 107-92 was the Lakers (50-15) first loss in the NBA bubble, a reminder of the rust they’re still shaking off. It was also the Raptors’ (47-18) bubble debut, and a reminder the defending champions are still serious about defending — and an unnerving preview into a possible Finals matchup should both teams advance that far.

“That’s a great team,” James said after, with terse respect. “No ifs, ands or buts. Exceptionally well coached and championship DNA, you can never take that away from a ballclub if you win a championship.”

It was the rare night where the Lakers were badly outscored with James (20 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists) on the floor.

What was most frustrating to the Lakers was the feeling that they did a lot right. Davis and James met double-teams for much of the evening, hitting walls in the paint against the likes of OG Anunoby and Serge Ibaka.

They tried passing out of those double-teams, the textbook answer. But a combination of impressive sync from the opportunistic Raptors and frequent cold patches from shooters led to the clinching rally that was punctuated by an Anunoby fast break and slam.

The starting lineup was chilly shooting the ball: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was 2 for 7 with five points, and Danny Green didn’t hit any of his seven shot attempts at all. The bench picked up their slack with 50 points, led by 16 from Kyle Kuzma. But the Lakers were only 3 for 11 in the final six-and-a-half minutes of the game.

Six-foot Kyle Lowry was somehow all things to his team: drawing charges and fouls and while also finding the long-range touch (5 for 9 from three) that the Lakers lacked. His 33 points paced the offensive effort, but so did his 14 rebounds. Referee whistles in his favor only made the Lakers’ frustration mount — particularly in the fourth quarter as the Lakers simply couldn’t close the gap.

The most rusty patch came at the very beginning, as the Lakers missed their first seven shots of the game and allowed the Raptors to take a 13-0 lead. An early timeout didn’t shake them out of their funk, waiting until JaVale McGee finally tossed in a hook shot near the rim to put the Lakers on the board.

Anthony Davis had to wait even longer for his first basket, not able to hit a shot against the Raptors for the entire first half — only two days removed from dropping a team-best 34 on the Clippers. He never caught much rhythm from the floor as the Raptors furiously denied him his favored baseline shots and driving lanes, but he contributed again at the free throw line, going 9 for 9.

Defensively, the Lakers had a lot to like, particularly holding the Raptors under 42 percent shooting and racking up 12 team blocks (Davis had three). But the final rally came where the Lakers struggled last time: in transition, with a 22-10 margin in points off turnovers. Alex Caruso had a strong defensive effort, but fumbled late with three fourth-quarter turnovers that quickened Toronto’s final run.

Frank Vogel said he thought the shooting will arrive for the Lakers, who have six games to actually get ready for the playoffs with little on the line until they begin.

“It looked like the offense for us was ahead of the defense in the scrimmage games and early on in camp or whatnot, but the first two games it’s been the other way around for us,” he said. “Our defense has performed really well, I think there’s an element of if you’re working that hard on the defensive end you gotta be sure your legs are under you to make shots on the other end, so I believe that will come.”

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