Once again on Thursday night, the Toronto Raptors host a potential playoff foe, this time against John Wall and the Washington Wizards at 7 p.m. on TSN.
It’s the fourth meeting on the season between these two and the Raptors have a chance for the sweep after a 96-88 win on Nov. 22, a 101-88 win on Jan. 3 and a 103-93 victory on Feb. 18. Do the Raptors just have the Wizards number? I’m not sure such a phenomenon exists, but they certainly do match up well.
That will go doubly on Thursday with Nene out of the lineup for Washington, replaced by Drew Gooden’s beard and a handful of others sharing spot duty. That doesn’t make this one a layup, but with another victory the Raptors will look even more like heavy favorites in the first round of the playoffs.
First consider the East standings (excludes Brooklyn’s Wednesday game against Portland):
Now consider the Raptors track record against teams in the 4-11 range in the East since the Rudy Gay trade:
|W||@ New York||2-1|
Regular season games are not playoff series, of course, and Charlotte looms as a problem. The Bulls wouldn’t exactly be desirable, either. But New York, Washington, Detroit, Atlanta, Cleveland, these are all match-ups I’d feel comfortable with. Brooklyn is a bit of a wildcard in there.
Anyway, Washington is not all of these other teams, but yet another win against a team just a bit worse than the Raptors will further the growing narrative that this team rarely takes complete games off and, while they may have a bad half here and there, they’ve got the talent to take care of these match-ups even on a bad night.
That’s if they win. If they lose, obviously, we fire Dwane Casey and trade DeMar DeRozan and let Kyle Lowry walk as a free agent.
1. If the season ended today, the Raptors and Wizards wouldn’t face off in the first round of the playoffs, but it seems like a real possibility. How would you evaluate Washington’s chances in a seven-game showdown?
Now that Nene has been carriage’d for six weeks (and it could be more, who really knows), Toronto’s already distinct advantage in size inside is, well, heightened. With a healthy Nene, I think the Wizards could compete better than their 0-3 record versus the Raptors so far this season so reflects.
John Wall might say that he has a chip on his shoulder because of a Team USA ‘snub’, but Kyle Lowry, in going against Wall, clearly has shown his own chip-on-shoulder competitiveness (over the All-Star snub) in being the best point leader I’ve seen him be. (Admittedly, I haven’t watch a ton of the Raptors this year.)
If Lowry can keep the matchup even, I’d say that the Wizards would need really hot shooting just to push a series to seven games with Toronto. And at that point, anything could happen. Otherwise, right now, Toronto is the better team, even if I do think that the Wizards are better equipped (again, with a healthy Nene) to run offense out of the post when playoff basketball takes over.
2. Do you miss Jan Vesely yet?
Do I miss the potential of an amazing dunk, a #SlapBound, groaned excitement at the free throw line, or a ‘hilarity ensues’ battle with Tyler Hansbrough?
Of course I do.
Otherwise, Vesely’s entire situation was a frustrating and unsatisfying. I guess he’s Washington’s Rafael Araujo, although perhaps not that bad.
3. The Wizards have won four straight, despite missing Nene for a game and a half in that stretch. What has the team playing so well out of the All-Star break?
John Wall has been the driver and is slowly starting to take it to another level, and he’s slowly building more confidence (especially from the perimeter). The best part: he’s staying within who he is, a point guard. He’s not trying to ‘Carmelo’ his Wizards into the playoffs. Recently, after a win in Cleveland, Wall said this about Kyrie Irving (via WFNY): “We both do things great for our team. He’s probably a better offensive guy, skill-wise, and can basically take over games with his skills. I’m more of a point guard that likes to get his teammates involved and am blessed with the talents and abilities to get hot and able to score the ball.”
Wall has shown an improved grasp of pace all season, now he’s better at balancing when he needs to score and when he needs to create. He’s been pretty bad from the field when the score is close late in games, often opting for hero shots. But his drive and creation for Nene’s game-winning dunk against the Pelicans was a sign of growth.
It hasn’t been just Wall, several key Wizards have stepped up. Bradley Beal has scored consistently (58 points over the four-game winning streak). Marcin Gortat has really upped his effort in the rebounding department and has five straight double-doubles (82 total points and 56 rebounds). And after a bad outing after the break, against the Raptors, Trevor Ariza has hit 13 out of his last 20 3-point attempts, getting back to the groove he was in when he hit 10 3s against the Rockets in the game before the All-Star break.
4. Is John Wall the best, the goddam best, or merely very good?
To Wizards fans, he’s the best. (‘Goddman best’ would probably be at least winning one first round playoffs series like Gilbert Arenas.) And in the Eastern Conference, he’s becoming very, very good (partially default via injuries). The rest of the league? They’ve been put on notice. But nothing ever really counts unless you win in the playoffs. You don’t want to give people a reason to associate you with Steve Francis (five career playoff games) or Stephon Marbury (18 career playoff games and four first round exits until he spent time with the Celtics, making it to the second round (14 total games) his last year in the NBA).
5. The Raptors are 3-0 against Washington this season. Is this a case of “having their number,” or is their something you’ve noticed across the games that the Wizards fan remedy?
Toronto moves the ball very well, better than Wizards perimeter players (namely Wall, Beal and Webster) are simply ready for sometimes. Add the size inside willing to consistently give Washington a pounding, especially off the bench, and there’s certainly a number that’s been had.
But, the Wizards could help their cause a bit more. On the year they average 20.4 3-point attempts per game and 7.8 makes (.382), but against the Raps, it’s 4.7 makes to 14.7 attempts (.320). Washington has also averaged 1.6 more turnovers per game against Toronto than they usually do. Doesn’t sound like much, but these foremost areas have added up to change the dynamic of all three games. Still, Raptor ball movement has been the difference-maker, and I’m not wholly confident that the Wizards can suddenly keep up.
I also answered some questions for Kyle.
1. I mean, what if Chris Bosh does want to come back to Toronto?
HA. That’s not happening, didn’t you know we don’t get the good cable? In all seriousness, if he wanted to come back the franchise would have to consider it, but if it meant a max deal it’s hard to see how it would work. Bosh is a terrific talent and one of the best defensive bigs in the game, but it’s unclear if he’d be able to be the focal point of an offense. A Lowry-DeRozan-Bosh core sharing offensive duties, though? I’ve heard of worse ideas. (But again, not happening.)
2. So word on the street is that Raptors fans are ready to welcome Vince Carter back with open arms, and that they’re going to retire his jersey, and Rob Ford is going to declare every day Vince Carter day. What percentage of this is true?
The Vince situation is complicated, and the fans don’t feel one way or the other as a group. It will happen eventually and some fans will rejoice and others will groan, but it’s probably the right call if and when he apologizes to the fan base, which he’s still never done (I go into this more in that article I linked). By that time, however, Rob Ford will probably be Prime Minister and have no time for declaring city-wide days off.
3. Why not re-sign Kyle Lowry?
Honestly, unless he’s commanding more than a three-year, $27 million deal, I can’t give you a reason. He’s a top-15 point guard, general manager Masai Ujiri has said as much, and that’s about the rate you pay a player like that. He’s always had this talent but he’s finally found a situation that suits him, accentuates his best attributes and reigns in his primary negative, an over-competitive streak (he and Dwane Casey don’t always seem to see eye-to-eye, but you get the feeling there’s a deep respect and understanding there).
4. What percentage has Jonas Valanciunas progressed this season in comparison to the general expectations going in (and why, etc.)? And if you had to compare him to a type of bird, what type of bird would that be?
This is a tough one, because Jonas does a lot of things that make you lose your mind, good and bad. His defense is still a major work in progress and his face-up game is incredibly predictable (that pump fake is so slow). On the other hand, he’s physical and fiery, traits Toronto fans love, works his tail off, reportedly works hard to improve, and has developed some nice post moves.
To put a percentage on it, I’d say he’s probably only 75 percent of the way to where fans expected to see him this year and maybe 60 percent of the way to where they hoped to see him. Luckily, development isn’t a one-year, make-or-break proposition.
As for a bird, I’ll go with a heron, if for no other reason than they’re bad ass.
5. Really, how glad are you that the Raptors didn’t end up with Steve Nash?
The Nash situation sucks so bad, for him and basketball fans in general. You don’t wish that on your least favorite player, let alone one your favorites. In retrospect, it’s obviously good that they didn’t get him, but it didn’t even make sense in the present, either. It was a job-saving move from Bryan Colangelo, one that would have let him tie his value to a marketable Canadian superstar into his next contract.
6. Who is this Landry Fields character that I used to hear about years ago?
He is on Real House Husbands of Toronto.
Vegas says: Raptors -5.5 with 57 percent of the early action. Two-thirds are throwing down on the over at 195.
Hollinger says: Raptors -6
Wale says: Say it again, I ain’t hear you clear, stuntin’ in my rarest pair, I ain’t never scared
Blake says: I mean, we pretty much covered it in those enormous Q&As, right? Raptors by an even 10.