Kyrie Irving
Toronto Raptors Washington Wizards November 16, 2010

It’s weird but the loss in Miami had a satisfying flavor to it. It’s difficult for a team to go 2-0 on the Florida swing and on the rare occasion you actually pull it off, they’ll talk about you on NBA TV for days. The Jazz did it last week and it has supposedly turned their season around. The swing might have done the same for the Raptors, who represented themselves well on their travels. An impressive win in Orlando was followed by going toe-to-toe with the Heat who got enough star-calls to see them through. Not to say that the Heat weren’t deserving of the win, just stating that the refs don’t need to call ticky-tack fouls to make sure they do. And not sure where I heard this, but somebody referred to Miami’s “Big Three” as “One and a bit” which brought a smile to this blogger’s face.

The little roadtrip also confirmed things we suspected, Arse’s man Julian Wright made a case for more minutes and Joey Dorsey showed that he can pull the boards down with the best of them. Kleiza’s poor season has been magnified by Wright’s performances, and it’s easy to see the balance that Wright’s defense brings to the lineup. Wright’s defense was to be expected, his creativity on the drive wasn’t. Wright’s demonstrated some good basketball IQ with his decision-making, and even though he shot poorly against Miami, they were shots that were presented to him and if the Raptors had any chance at that game, somebody like him had to make them. When Kleiza does return, he should have to work for his minutes and nothing should be handed to him.

Tonight it’s the Wizards who fall into the category of teams we are “supposed to beat”. I’ll subscribe to that belief because John Wall is injured and he would have been the most talented player on the floor (again!), who also happens to be a point guard which happens to be the position we get torched at. Wall is averaging close to an impressive 19 points and 10 assists a game, but his shooting has been very mediocre at 43.9% (second on the team in attempts behind Blatche). His 2-6 Wizards haven’t taken advantage of playing the third easiest schedule in the league, and the problem has surprisingly been offense – they’re scoring a league-worst 99.1 points per 100 possessions. The shot distribution seems to be quite wonky as well with four guys (Blatche, Arenas, Wall and Thornton) dominating the ball. The Wizards look to be a classic case of four guys trying to get theirs.

The games in Washington have had a couple great finishes of late. There’s the Mo Pete shot with the guy yelling Canada Sucks in the background, and there’s also the Not Possible! call made possible by Anthony Parker. It’s hard to believe this, but Chris Bosh has actually delivered in the clutch on occasion, the last time it happened was in Washington.

Injuries

Toronto
Ed Davis – Out
Linas Kleiza – Achilles, Day-to-day
Leandro Barbosa – Shoulder, Day-to-day

Washington
Andray Blatche – Knee, Will play
Yi Jianlin – Bruised Knee, Will Play
Update: John Wall – walking around on crutches, doubtful

Match-ups

PG – Jack vs Wall
This is one of the games I had circled on my calendar; John Wall’s in town. You get a certain amount of hype with every new rookie coming into the league, but this one hit the ground running. I know I had my doubts; first of all he did play in Kentucky right? Wall hit the ground running, and probably the best young point guard to come out of college in a very hard time based on his early performance. He does everything: scores, passes (5th in the NBA), rebounds, plays defense (1st in steals in the NBA). Yea, it’s going to be one of those games tonight. Notice anything about his shot chart?

John Wall Shot Chart

The kid is either scoring from the paint, or from the perimeter; no mid-range game. If I’m picking my poison tonight, it’s going to give him every shot he wants, and protect the paint. He is quick enough, and sees the floor well enough that he can be devastating off the bounce. Not sure how to keep him out of the paint thought, that’s for Triano & Co to figure out. I wont even mention Arenas comes off the bench at the point, the guy had 30pts against the Bulls on the weekend with 7 treys. There’s really no situation where the Raptors have an advantage at the point tonight, we gotta take our lumps here, keep the damage to a minimum and win match-ups at the other positions.
Edge: Wall

SG – DeRozan vs Hinrich
The good news is that DeRozan will be able to flex his athleticism tonight; the bad news, Hinrich plays fundamental. DeRozan is coming off a ridiculous weekend where he averaged 23.5pts 6.5rebs 2.5ast against some pretty solid competition. Hinrich is playing out of position in Washington (Wall had the keys to kingdom handed to him), but is still contributing at a pretty solid clip. He’s knocking down shots, moving the ball around, and playing some disruptive defense alongside Wall with those long-monkey arms of his. There’s no reason DeRozan shouldn’t attack off the dribble like he has been of late. Hinrich is a solid shooter, and if DeRozan runs over to double, he will stick jumper after jumper; he’s done it to the Raptors for years now. Hopefully the defense rotates properly, and no one gets hit with a perfect John Wall pass for an open J tonight.

Kirk Hinrich Shot Chart

Edge: DeRozan

SF – Weems vs Thornton
Raise your hand if you think Weems has earned the starting gig at small forward? The guy has really grown on me the last couple weeks, mostly because he is playing a different kind of game, by not forcing shots when he gets the ball and letting the game come to him. Thornton is a a solid scorer who has a pretty good jumper, and finishes nicely at the rim.

Al Thornton Shot Chart

He doesn’t move the ball around well and makes pretty rough decisions with the ball. Sonny can have a solid night if he takes it to him off, since Al plays pretty rough defense. This is a pretty good match-up for Sonny since he’s always in attack mode, and there’s nothing Thornton can do about it. Something to note, Thornton missed the last game with a stomach ailment, and may not play tonight, if this is the case, the Wizards could start a 3-guard combo of Wall, Arenas and Hinrich, which I don’t really want to see. There’s a great deal of play making and shooting in that lot.
Edge: Weems

PF – Evans vs Blatche
Evans missed the last game against the Heat with the flu, and needs to be fully back to contend with Blatche (and McGee when Bargnani loses focus). If Evans isn’t 100%, I actually like Amir a lot better for this match-up since he can match Blatche pound-for-pound in length and athleticism, and make Andray play on both ends of the floor. Regardless, Blatch needs to be taken seriously since he’s in the early goings of a career year. The guy has improved every year since he got into the league, and is a real force right now. The Raptors are much deeper at forward than Washington, and after their starters, they can only trot out Yi Jianlin, and a couple other no-names that I’m sure we can handle. The key will be to take it to Blatche early, and force him to swing his arms around some and pick up some fouls.

Andray Blatche Shot Chart

He’s a pretty sweet shooting big man, who can step outside and pull Evans with him, taking him off the defensive glass. This is a big area of concern for me, since Evans (and Amir) protect take protecting our own glass very seriously. I like Evans to bang around with him, I like Amir to keep the intensity going. I like this match-up a lot for sheer entertainment, and the different looks we can throw opposing power forwards through the game.
Edge: Even

C – Bargnani vs McGee
The Wizards starting court is a big heap of long athletic dudes. Blatche lives in the paint, which is where is where Bargnani is most effective in defending. I worry that Wall rip by the defenders and force Bargnani to half-commit on rotating over, and allow some easy scores, but I digress…

Javale McGee Shot Chart

Offensively, Bargnani should get lots of open looks since Blatche will have trouble keeping up with him on the perimeter, however, playing in the post may not be the best strategy since Blatche is so long and challenges so many shots in the blocks.
Edge: Bargnani

Keys to the Game

Play Big
The Raptors have a deeper front court, and can get the Wizard in trouble if Blatche and McGee get into some foul trouble. Triano can throw wave-after-wave of big man combinations until he finds a combination that keeps this lot locked down. The Wizards are the worst rebounding team in the league, do I have to spell this out? Attack the paint, crash the boards, and we should win this aspect of the game handedly.

Keep Wall Out of The Bloody Paint
Give the guy room and force him to put the team on his back and shoot his way to a win. Once he gets going off the dribble, he has the ability to hit the open guy in the right spots. Wall is prone to turnovers, so forcing him into a double on the wings (keep him out of the paint) could force him to make some bad decisions.

Don’t Give Arenas a Reason to Smile
The guy isn’t a happy camper. Sure he’s playing well since coming back from his suspension, but he’s not smiling. If the game isn’t fun for him, his motivations might not be there. I know this sounds stupid, but folks play better when they are having a good time.

No Need to Double Anyone
Force Wall into a double, but don’t send someone running at him. Let Evans/Johnson play Blatche straight up, force him to turn into a double team, but don’t send anyone running at him. I don’t want to see the Wizards rotate the ball until one of them is in a good spot to take a shot; they share the ball well (15th in the league), but the damage can be minimized if they get into a pass-and-pop situation.

The Line

No odds have been registered for this game, so it’s a toss up at this point if you’re a betting person. Considering the Raptors are on the road, this looks favourably on them to eke out a win tonight. I’m feeling pretty good about this considering how we’ve been playing of late. I do have a feeling that Wall will wreak havoc tonight though, as long as he’s not make others better around him, we should be fine.