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Gameday: Wizards @ Raptors, Nov. 19

The Wiz are back in town for a re-match…and John Wall may be out…again

Weren’t the Wizards just in Toronto? Though it didn’t seem like a basketball game was really played that day, the fact is the Wizards were just here. They were here on November 5th, and showed up only to play a lethargic Toronto team that had just returned home from an exhausting 6 game Western Conference road trip. The Raptors didn’t play any semblance of team-oriented basketball that night, getting down 16 by halftime and not having enough down the stretch to really close out a comeback. It was rock bottom for the starting unit which had once again let the team down with an unacceptably slow start. The Raptors were beaten to loose balls, and got outrebounded 46-36 in the process. Not to mention John Wall wasn’t even in the lineup for Washington. Sure, we could’ve probably won it down the stretch, but even so…we didn’t deserve to win that game.

And so…exactly 2 weeks later, the Wizards return to Toronto. After knee soreness he claimed to experience following the Wizards’ loss to Miami on Friday, John Wall may be forced to miss playing the Raptors for the second time already this season. Listed as “questionable” as of last night, we’ll have to see if Wall wants to push through to ensure his team makes it 2-0 against the Raptors this season, or if resting that knee may be better for the long-term. If I had to guess, I’d say he plays … but what do I know. Either way, we should know by shoot-around as to Wall’s status for the game.

The balance of power

The Raptors and Wizards have had a rocky history. For basketball fans, this matchup has always been a fun one, as it always seems like one team is clearly better each year. The Raptors overall have won the matchup consistently, leading the all-time matchup with 46 wins to Washington’s 36. And in the past couple of seasons, they have battled amongst the top of the Eastern Conference fighting to prove their worth against the powerhouse Cavs. But even before all of that, there were a lot of good memories against the Wizards. Remember the Mo Pete shot in DC against Michael Ruffin, Gilbert Arenas and the crew in those old and awkward white, blue, gold (and black?) Wizards jerseys?

In recent years, the power shift between these teams has been genuinely intriguing. The Raptors dominated the regular season against the Wizards in the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 campaigns with 7 straight regular season wins. Remember the early-season game in 2014-2015 with the Raptors dismantling the Wizards by 40 in a sea of throwback Raptor purple shirts? Or the road game in 2015-2016 where DeMar showed sublime play-making in the clutch hitting Cory Joseph for a wide open buzzer-beating 3?

And yet, somehow the Wizards destroyed the Raptors in the 2014-2015 playoffs, while exposing Toronto’s defensive flaws and destroying Kyle Lowry’s physical and mental drive in the process. It was clear the Raptors could always beat this team, but somehow…the Wizards always seemed threatening. And with an undeniably talented core of John Wall and Bradley Beal, it was for good reason.

But we’re at a turning point now – the Raptors have valuable winning experience in the playoffs since they last played the Wizards in a playoff series, and with a younger lineup in the pipeline featuring the likes of Jakob Poeltl, OG Anunoby, Norm Powell, Pascal Siakam, and Delon Wright (get well soon), the truth is…the Raptors have evolved. The Wizards, while arguably more talented on the top-end, don’t boast as much supporting depth as the Raptors. Sure, Kelly Oubre Jr. is nice, Marcin Gortat cooks JV every time he plays him, and you’ve got a few other guys who can contribute…but nobody that really makes you go…damn, I’d like to see that guy in 3-5 years. So it will be interesting to see how these two franchises fare in the foreseeable future. And if a playoff matchup manifests itself any time soon…we’d have a good one to say the least.

Game details

  • Tipoff: 3:30 p.m
  • TV: Sportsnet One
  • Radio: Sportsnet 590 The FAN
  • Probable starters
    • Wizards:  John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Jr., Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat
    • Raptors: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Jonas Valanciunas.

The Raptors, at 10-5 as of today, are in third place in the Eastern Conference behind the surprisingly hot Celtics and Pistons. The Wizards trail the Raptors at just 1 game back. With things as tight as ever in the Eastern Conference, it’s all the more important for the Raptors to take this matchup seriously and avoid the risk of going down 0-2 to a competent conference rival. The Wizards are coming off a disappointing loss to the Miami Heat at home on Friday, in which they tried but ultimately failed an attempt to come back from a 21-point halftime deficit. As usual, Washington seems to exhibit world-class talent on some nights and terrible efforts on others. But even if John Wall misses the game today, Toronto will have their hands full with Bradley Beal who cooked the Raps two weeks ago dropping 38 points including some key buckets down the stretch to put the Raptors away. As good as Beal is, I really think that was a worst-case scenario for the Raptors and we’ll probably see a much improved approach to guarding the 24-year old swingman.

Keys to the game

  • Strong start: I hate to mention this yet again, but the way we start games is really that important. In games where the Raptors outscore their opponent in the first quarter, they’re 6-1. It’s especially important for guys like Serge and JV (the usual culprits in bad starts) to take the start really seriously. But things have looked up since OG has entered the starting lineup in place of Norm. I like the energy we get from the opening unit, and with Kyle hitting his shooting stride again, I think these starts will work themselves out.
  • Bench production: The Raptors have a better bench than Washington. Period. The numbers prove that with the Raptors bench averaging close to 39 points a game, nearly 18 boards, and 8 assists a night. All of those stats beat the Wizards who are clocking in 31, 15 and 6 respectively. But the on-paper talent proves this as well…the Raptors have the energy of the young guys fueling a pass-first offense that defends their butt off. But the Wizards often put out dysfunctional bench lineups (that sometimes still torch the Raptors nonetheless) featuring Kelly Oubre Jr., Ian Mahinmi, Jason Smith, Jodie Meeks, etc. No disrespect to those guys, but the Raptors bench has to come out and whoop some behind . They’re just better.
  • Kyle has to be Kyle: We’ve seen KLow finally turn the corner this season, as his shooting and scoring percentages are slowly creeping up to where we expected them to be. As he’s starting to figure out this new style of offense, Kyle’s been on the record saying that it has been a tough transition, but things have and can continue to trend upward. As long as he stays aggressive in all aspects of the game and shows the leadership we need from him (as opposed to last game against the Wizards when he got himself tossed before halftime), we’ll be fine. But we need Kyle to be Kyle man.

Coach Casey, Kyle Lowry and CJ Miles spoke to the media after practice yesterday and addressed the strong bench play, managing lineups in light of recent injuries, game preparation and adjusting to the pace of play of their opponents.

Regardless of the numbers, or even the keys to the game, if the Raptors come out the way they did two Sundays ago, you can throw all of that away and this will be a guaranteed loss. But as we’ve seen from the Raptors this past week (a week in which they went 3-0 with an avg. point differential of +16) when this team moves the ball on offense and their best guys are taking confident shots, I like our chances against anyone.

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