The Toronto Raptors visit the U.S. capital for a date with the improving Washington Wizards, who have won 5 of their last 7 starts. While it’s absurd to forecast these things so early, if the playoffs started tonight, the Raps would face the Wiz as the Eastern Conference’s #4 and #5 seeds, respectively.
The chief whiz for the Wiz is point guard John Wall, who’s rapidly entering the All-Star conversation in his fourth season. He leads Washington in critical stats like points, assists, minutes and steals. Wall might not be the fastest man in the NBA since injuring his knee in 2012, but he’s still very young and has serious speed. Kyle Lowry will need help when Wall tries to turn the corner. Wall poured in 37 points in the first game of the season between these two, a Toronto victory. The recipient of many of Wall’s passes is shooting guard Bradley Beal, one of the most NBA-ready rookies I’ve ever seen. He’s in his second season, and shoots like he’s been around forever. Will coach Dwane Casey entrust Terrence Ross with the formidable task of staying in this guy’s face? If so, DeMar DeRozan will draw the versatile Trevor Ariza as his cover. Jonas Valanciunas gets to trade blows with the Polish Hammer, Marcin Gortat. We will have a size advantage at power forward, where Amir Johnson should be able to carve out space to shoot over Trevor Booker. Whether Amir can make any of the shots he creates is a different matter.
I’m stressing the starting matchups because I believe these two teams would be within a bucket of each other if the starters could contrive to play all 48 minutes. This not being a computer game, it’s out of the question. The Raps can grab another road victory if they:
- win the battle of the second units. While the Wiz’ Nene and Martell Webster are solid pros, our guys are too, and we’ve got more of them. If there ever was a game where we need passes and points from Greivis Vasquez, it’s this one. John Salmons must find his stroke in a hurry.
- crash the boards. That’s motherhood, I know, but particularly true against this team. They try a lot of 3-balls, which always leads to additional rebounding opportunities, as the 3 will forever be a lower percentage shot than the average 2-pointer. The Wiz’ rebounding is nothing special; there’s no Roy Hibbert lurking. Which leads to….
- …get in the paint. DD can beat his man off the dribble and Amir should be able to roll to the bucket. I look for a ton of interior scoring.
This will be a tight affair. I’ll be a homer and call the Raptors to leave D.C. with a 99-96 triumph.