The Washington Wizards visit the Air Canada Centre tonight trying to defeat the Toronto Raptors for the first time in four meetings this season. The Raps have smothered the Wiz’ offense, and will be prime position to do so again, as Washington has lost veteran power forward Nene. The talented Brazilian is likely gone until next year with a major knee injury. Drew Gooden has been signed to plug the gap, as the Wiz, currently the #5 seed, are desperate for a playoff spot. They can ill afford to stumble at this stage of the race; fans haven’t seen playoff basketball in the U.S. capital since 2008.
Washington is on a 4-game winning streak since losing to Toronto last week, although defeating sub-.500 teams like Orlando and New Orleans isn’t cause for celebration. The Wiz have 6 players averaging double figures in scoring this season. Four of them will start against Toronto, with rugged rebounder/defender Trevor Booker being tabbed ahead of the overpaid Martell Webster. Marcin Gortat always plays Jonas Valanciunas tough. The Polish Hammer can make jump shots out to 15 feet, so he’s much more than a banger. He will set picks for Wiz point guard John Wall, their best player by a considerable margin. Wall can penetrate at blinding speed, or pull up for a quality jumper. He leads the team in scoring, assists and (hardly surprising) minutes played. If he ever manages to get his 3-point shooting percentage up, he will be an automatic All-Star for year to come. Bradley Beal, in his sophomore season, also bids fair for All-Star status, strictly on the basis of his fine shooting. He’s a defensive liability. Trevor Ariza, an undersized power forward, is more my type of player. He scores, defends, rebounds – a complete pain for opponents.
The Raps can complete the sweep of this team, and will if they:
- crash the boards. Duh. Without Nene to fend off, Amir Johnson should be able to grab a dozen rebounds. JV need only concern himself with boxing out Gortat. I’d like to see Terrence Ross pull down more rebounds, although if he draws the assignment of covering Wall, that may be too much to ask.
- get the second unit back in gear. Patrick Patterson and John Salmons have been in mini-slumps and need to wake up. Greivis Vasquez has contributed some much-needed scoring, and we’ll need more of that. Will there be a Chuck Hayes sighting tonight? I’m thinking Yes, because his bulk and smarts can keep their rotation players off the boards.
- go right at this team. I think we can get them in foul trouble early, as Gortat is now their only rim protector.
Washington’s win streak ends tonight, as the Raps take a 98-90 victory.