Leonard scores 25 as Raptors cruise to 111-98 win over LeBron and Lakers

Written by on March 14, 2019

TORONTO — Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points as the Toronto Raptors defeated familiar foe LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers 111-98 on Thursday night.

Normal Powell added 20, while Pascal Siakam had 16 and Marc Gasol chipped in with 15 for the Raptors (49-20), who were missing both Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka.

James, who all but singlehandedly halted Toronto’s playoff runs in their tracks the past three seasons with Cleveland, finished with 29 points for the Lakers (31-37). Alex Caruso added a career-high 16 points.

The Raptors were coming off arguably their ugliest game of the season, a 126-101 defeat in Cleveland on Monday that saw Ibaka slapped with a three-game suspension for fighting. Lowry also suffered an ankle injury in the loss. 

The Lakers, meanwhile, arrived on the heels of a 123-107 win in Chicago, their first victory since Feb. 27. The Lakers, who are 11th in the Western Conference, overcame a 20-point deficit in the win.

With injuries, Leonard’s load management, new players, and continuous tinkering, coach Nick Nurse has used a revolving door of starting lineups this season.

Thursday’s was another new one, with point guard Jeremy Lin getting the nod for the first time since he was acquired last month. And without a backup at the position, the Raptors played without a point guard for large chunks of the game. 

Thursday’s mixed bag of lineups didn’t seem to faze the Raptors, who raced out to an early double-digit lead that had become 13 points by the third quarter. Toronto took a 90-84 lead into the fourth quarter.

When Malcolm Miller drained his second three-pointer of the fourth quarter with 7:35 to play, it put the Raptors up 101-88 in front of a soldout Scotiabank Arena crowd of 19,962 that included actor Jaleel White — Steve Urkel on the 1990s sitcom “Family Matters.” 

The Lakers pulled to within nine points twice down the stretch, on a three-pointer by Josh Hart, and then a basket by James with 2:35 to play, but that was as close as L.A. would come. 

The Raptors have won a franchise record nine straight games against the Lakers, and have a franchise-high — and Eastern Conference-best — 20 wins against Western Conference opponents this season.

Nurse said prior to tipoff that his players have become accustomed to the changing lineups.

“The culture of winning has been here now for a while, we’ve got some guys that look forward to those opportunities to step up,” Nurse said. “It’s been shifting all year . . . So we’ve tried to just kinda plug the next guy in and keep going, and we’ve done a pretty good job of it.

“I’ve come from the minors and every little league you can think of. You never really know who’s gonna be playing, so whoever you’ve got, you’ve gotta start coaching the heck out of them and try to get them to play together and play hard and share the ball and all that kind of stuff.”

Powell came off the bench to score 12 points in the first quarter, and his three-pointer with two seconds left in the frame gave Toronto a 33-25 lead going into the second.

Caruso went a perfect 5-for-5 from the field for 12 points in the second, and his three-pointer with 4:34 left put the Lakers up by a point. But Leonard’s buzzer-beating three-pointer was the punctuation mark on a 14-2 Raptors run that sent Toronto into the halftime break with a 65-54 lead.   

The Raptors are in Detroit on Sunday to face former coach Dwane Casey and the Pistons. Detroit is 2-0 against Toronto this season. The Raptors return home to host the New York Knicks on Monday.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press


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