Gameday: Raptors @ Wizards, Feb. 19

With the break over, two teams who shouldn’t be suffering from All-Star hangovers will tangle Tuesday night in Washington. In one corner, we have the winners of four straight and featuring the newly-crowned king of the NBA dunk contest: the Toronto Raptors (21-32), in the other, the surprisingly frisky Washington Wizards (15-36), winners of four of their last five, though they did drop their final pre-All Star break game against Jose and the Pistons. Long story short, we have two of the NBA’s hottest teams matching up tonight, however unlikely and insane that sentence sounds.

The Wizards’ recent streak, which included wins over the Clippers, Nets, Knicks, and Bucks, was largely due to a long-overdue improvement on the offensive side of the ball. The Wiz are still last in the league in points per game, but dropping over 100 points on the Knicks and notoriously stingy Bucks is nothing to sneeze at, and the Raptors will have to be careful to avoid turning this game into a shootout. The key matchups are Lowry vs. Wall and Amir vs. Nene, though the Wiz are woefully thin at the wing and there should be a plethora of opportunities for both Gay and DeMar to get theirs.
In any case, it’s the first game out of the All Star break, and the Raptors have one of the league’s worst teams on the sked, which is about all you could ask for to begin the playoff push, if that’s what you’re into. Let’s go to the tale of the tape:

Tale of the Tape
O-Rating: Toronto 107.3 (11th), Wizards 98.27 (30th)
D-Rating: Toronto 108.4 (24th), Wizards 102.6 (5th)
Pace: Toronto 92.4 (24th), Wizards 94.3 (14th)
Strength: Toronto ball control (2nd), Wizards defence (again, 5th)
Weakness: Toronto Freebies (30th in Opp FTA/FGA), Wizards offense (simple, I know – but they’re last in the league)

Positional Breakdown
Point Guards: Kyle Lowry and John Lucas v. John Wall and AJ Price
One of the few times where the Raptors will have the advantage at the backup point guard spot given Lucas’ recent string of hot play. John Wall is an excellent player and has more upside than Lowry, but Kyle’s veteran savvy and tenacious defence should be enough to at least counteract the former number 1 overall pick. There’s a very good chance that Wall and Lowry could trade highlights back and forth for a good chunk of this game, if Lowry’s interested in playing streetball.

Wings: Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan, Landry Fields, Alan Anderson and Terrence “The Champ is Here” Ross v. Brad Beal, Garrett Temple, Martell Webster, and Trevor Ariza
The Wizards’ wing rotation is littered with hot-and-cold scorers (Beal, Temple, Crawford) and tough defenders (Webster, Ariza), but, on paper, Gay and DD are clearly the two most talented players on this list. Hopefully the weekend off did Rudy well, as the Raps will likely need him to carry the scoring load, rather than expect another huge night from Alan Anderson.

Bigs: Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas, Andrea Bargnani (*edit – apologies for missing him earlier), Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy v. Emeka Okafor, Nene, Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, Jan Vesely, and Cartier Martin
Nene and Okafor should be stingy on the defensive end, so I’d imagine the bulk of the Raptors’ scoring will come from outside tonight. There isn’t really anyone on the Wizards I’d imagine to have big scoring games in the block – Nene and Okafor are both solid low-post players, but the Raptors have typically done a good job defending players like that this season, and their weakness (floor-stretching big men) are in short supply here. I’d imagine the Wizards’ advantages will be in more of the “neutralizing” department.

The Picks

Vegas: Wizards -3.5
Hollinger: Wizards -3 (thanks Blake)
Garrett: Vegas favours the Wizards, who have been hot lately, but the Raptors’ wing rotation should prove to be too much for this young squad (imagine saying that a few months ago). I can’t wait for the Lowry vs. Wall battle, but I think the Raptors win by 5. Streaking: up through the quad and right into a five game winning streak.

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