The Washington Wizards have now made the playoffs in back to back seasons, that’s the good news. The Toronto Raptors have also made the playoffs in consecutive years as well, that’s also good news. Washington finished the season with a respectable record of 46-36, while those Raptors finished the year with a 49-33 record. In the season series, Toronto took all three games, but each of those victories were within a five point margin.
Last season, Toronto lost in the first round against the Brooklyn Nets in seven games. That has not been forgotten as that feeling has spurned this team to this point, a chance at redemption in the post season as they were unable to get out of the first round.
It’s not too much different for Washington, they too made the playoffs last season except they did get out of the first round by besting the Chicago Bulls. They then went on to fall in the second round at the hands of Paul George and the Indiana Pacers.
Both teams are looking for a chance to avenge last year’s post season performances, for the Raptors that means beating Washington and getting to the second round of the playoffs. As for the Wizards, it means getting to at least the second round and advancing to the Eastern Conference Championship.
Obviously both teams have the highest goal in mind, winning an NBA Championship, but they can’t afford to get ahead of themselves. The Raptors have been a tough puzzle for the Wizards to solve, Washington is routinely ‘in the game’ but never seem to close it out. Toronto just seems a step ahead of them down the stretch of their usual tough games against each other.
The first area in which this series will be decided is in the back court, Wall and Beal versus Lowry and DeRozan. The duos are almost the complete opposite of each other, that’s what makes the matchup so intriguing. Starting with the point guards, Wall and Lowry are both well rounded floor generals. Wall’s a bit better at setting the table for his teammates while Lowry is much better at getting his own shot, especially when his team needs it. Lowry is able to keep teammates involved, but he doesn’t have as much pressure on him to create for them as Wall has to create for his teammates.
Beal is a sweet shooting guard that is capable of hurting opponents from beyond the arc, for whatever reason (coaching, etc) he generally lives in the midrange area and struggles. His best games are often when he’s more Golden State like and either attacks the basket or shoots the long ball, he’ll be needed if Washington wishes to advance. DeRozan is the type of player teams don’t want headed to the basket, his athleticism and finishing ability make him a very tough cover. Unlike Beal, he thrives in the midrange area, it’s his comfort zone. He isn’t close to the type of long range shooter that Beal is, as teams are more than happy to have him fire from beyond the arc. Below are what both back courts averaged per game this season individually:
Wall: 17.6 points, 10 assists, 4.6 rebounds per game
Lowry: 17.8 points, 6.8 assists, 4.7 rebounds
Beal: 15.3 points, 3.1 assists, 3.8 rebounds
DeRozan: 20.1 points, 3.5 assists, 4.6 rebounds
One of the players not mentioned in the battle of the back courts is super sixth man Lou Williams for the Raptors, he’s a weapon they would have loved to have last season. He’s come back from injury strong this season, looking like his old self if not better. Williams is coming off the bench averaging 15.5 points this season. He’s not the only member of Toronto’s bench that contributes, Grevis Vasquez is good for 9.5 points a night off the pine as well. Those two have been known to have big games, giving Toronto four dangerous guards capable of putting numbers up on opponents. The bench battle will be huge in this series as Washington isn’t exactly known for having a strong second unit, although it’ll be interesting seeing what a veteran like Will Bynum can do in the postseason for a team that really needs production from their bench.
It’s not fair to leave out the bigs when discussing this series, Toronto has Jonas Valanciunas as their anchor down low. The third year center has continued to make strides, averaging 12 points, 8.7 rebounds, and just over a rejection per contest. He’ll need to stay on the floor for Toronto, they can’t afford to have him in foul trouble against Washington’s bevy of bigs. His partner up front is none other than the supremely underrated Amir Johnson, a wiry forward that isn’t short on heart and hustle.
The Wizards have Marcin Gortat and NeNe, both of which are capable of giving teams fits when they are involved offensively. It’s imperative that Washington keeps them both engaged in every game of this series, it was evident on several occasions during the regular season that the Wizards were a different team when Gortat and NeNe were involved offensively, especially Gortat.
The X factors in this series are both relatively young, Otto Porter and Terrence Ross. The Raptors give Ross a steady diet of playing time, 25 minutes a night and he’s averaging just under 10 points (9.8) a game. He’s an outstanding athlete with the ability to hit the long ball, Ross shot 37% percent from beyond the arc during the regular season. He could really change this series, especially if he’s able to produce at high enough level where he commands attention from the Washington defense. That would only make it easier on his fellow guards, it puts an added pressure on the Washington defense.
The second year forward out of Georgetown has had several big performances this season. While he’s not getting the steady share of minutes that Ross is getting, he brings something to the floor Washington sorely needs. A slasher. Porter moves very well without the ball, always cutting at the right time, whether it’s to get his own shot or swing to an open teammate. During a stretch earlier this season, Paul Pierce was out and Porter got to start several games. His activity and length definitely impacted the game, on both ends of the floor. Porter’s defensive versatility could impact this series just as his slashing ability, it puts a different kind of pressure on opposing defenses that definitely are focused on limiting Wall’s impact every night.
This should be a tightly contested series between two teams that are both eerily similar and opposite, the postseason is a different monster than the regular season so those three Toronto wins shouldn’t be a focal point. Although, if Washington wishes to advance past the first round this season, they’ll have to solve their personal rubix cube, the Toronto Raptors.
Games 1 and 2 are in Toronto, with Game 1 tipping this afternoon at 12:30 pm Eastern. Game 2 will be Tuesday night, before the series shifts back to Washington.