New-look Raptors face LeBron, Lakers tonight on TSN
Toronto enters the L.A. portion of their six-game road trip fresh off a blowout win over the Golden State Warriors Sunday evening where the newly acquired RJ Barrett went off for a season-high 37 points on 13-of-20 shooting.
In his first three games as a Raptor, Barrett averaged 15.7 points, slightly below his average of 18.2 in 26 games with the New York Knicks prior to the Dec. 30 trade. Sunday was a revelation for the Mississauga, Ont., native, who also chipped in with six rebounds and six assists and finished a game-high plus-26.
“I'm trying to play the right way and help my teammates,” Barrett said. “A lot of learning going on. I'm still learning the defensive system, trying to get better at that every day watching film. But I'm just trying to help, that's all I'm trying to do.”
“I thought RJ was great today,” Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic said Sunday. “Obviously, he scored a lot, but I was really proud of his playmaking. He had six assists, he played unselfishly, he was trying to make the right plays every time down the court and also, I really liked the force he was attacking the rim. That’s something that we talked about.”
Barrett struggled against the Lakers at Crypto.com Arena on Dec. 19 with the Knicks, scoring 12 points on 3-of-10 shooting in a 114-109 Knicks win. Instead it was Immanuel Quickley who helped lead the way for New York, scoring 20 points off the bench to help hold off a fourth-quarter charge by the Lakers.
Quickley has too also been a breath of fresh air for the Raptors since coming over with Barrett in exchange for OG Anunoby.
He scored just nine points in Sunday’s win in San Francisco but appears to be thriving in his increased role with the Raps, averaging 17.3 points a night while shooting .414 per cent from beyond the arc. The 24-year-old was playing 24 minutes a game in 30 outings with the Knicks prior to the deal but has seen his floor time jump an average of seven minutes with Toronto.
“He fits great,” Rajakovic said last week of Quickley. “It's a guy that can do so much with the ball. His shooting is really something that makes a difference for us.”
Quickley also seems appreciative of the environment established by his new head coach.
“Darko pulled me aside while the game was going on and said: ‘You’re not having fun. Have fun,'” Quickley said. “I've never really had a coach do that.”
On the flip side, things have been far from fun lately for the Lakers. While they did get back on track with a narrow win over the Los Angeles Clippers Sunday night, the Lakers have struggled mightily since their In-Season Tournament win in Las Vegas on Dec. 9.
LeBron and Co. are just 4-10 since claiming the inaugural tournament title, including three straight double-digit losses stretching from Dec. 30 to Jan. 3.
"Try to use this to try to catapult a little bit better play from us," James said Sunday.
"But it still doesn't take away from the fact of how we've been playing like the last 11, 12 games. Tonight was a good start. Hopefully we can start from here and continue to build."
The Lakers sit at 18-19 on the season and own just a half-game lead on the Utah Jazz and Warriors for the final play-in spot in the Western Conference. At 15-21, the Raptors trail the 10th seed by half a game.