The Toronto Raptors are back in the playoffs meaning it’s the most wonderful time of the year to be a Raptors’ fan. The two team tango between the Chicago Bulls and the Raptors for the 3rd and 4th spot is over. The dust has settled and the two-time Atlantic division champions will face the Washington Wizards in what’s sure to be the most electrifying series in NBA history.
Maybe not, but I sure am excited!
On the 4th seeded Toronto Raptors you have DeMar DeRozan “The Chosen” & K-Low Kyle Lowry ready to lead their team to redemption against Paul Pierce and his new teammates for single handedly preventing the Raptors from advancing to the second round last year.
Then on the other hand you have the 5th seeded Washington Wizards led by all-star John Wall and rising star Bradley Beal. The duo are trying to move up that proverbial “best backcourt in the league” ladder by taking on arguably the second best backcourt in the NBA.
The Raptors couldn’t have asked for a better matchup as it seemed this series was a match made in the stars. The Toronto Raptors versus the Washington Wizards will be the most competitive first round series in the Eastern conference.
Gilbert Arenas got the party started early…
Then of all people, Paul Pierce gets involved and gets Toronto even more fired up.
“We haven’t done particularly well against Toronto, but I don’t feel they have the ‘It’ that makes you worried. There isn’t a team I look at in the Eastern Conference that makes me say, ‘They are intimidating, we don’t have a chance.’
THEN MasaiI “Our Savior” Ujiri went and threw gallons of gasoline on that fire by sending shots back to Pierce!
And Gilbert is still going on…
While Paul Pierce tries to do some damage control
“I really was talking about a number of teams. It wasn’t everything was focused on Toronto,” Pierce said. “I think I was voicing my opinion on a number of teams that over the years, when you see those contenders and are just like, ‘Man, they’re going to be really hard to beat. They got a chance to win a championship.’ That’s what I was really focusing on. Not to take anything away from Toronto. They’re a great team in their own right. But I guess what I mean when you’ve faced a guy like a LeBron James over the years in the playoffs, a guy that can really turn it around by himself, guys like Vince Carter and Allen Iverson.”
It may not have the same impact as a straight up F**k Washington…but we get it and Jurassic Park is more than ready to rally behind our guys in white, red and black.
HEAD TO HEAD
Raptors vs Wiz : 106 ppg 40 REB 20.6 AST 44.9 % FG
Wizards vs Raps: 97.6 ppg 46.6REB 23.3AST 42.9% FG
The Raptors and Wizards played 3 very competitive games over the year.
The Raptors swept Washington in the regular season series. Based on the numbers alone, the Raptors shouldn’t have any problems scoring on the inconsistent defence presented by the Wizards. They’re a veteran group hoping that their experience will get them over the hump this year.
Game 1: November 7, 2014 – Raptors win 103-84
In a battle of 4-1 teams, the Toronto Raptors were clearly the better squad beating the Washington Wizards 103-84. The Raptors biggest lead stood at 28 points. This was the Raptors first complete victory of the season after five ugly games to start the campaign. They shot 41% from three and made it to the free throw line 31 times. For the most part they moved the ball well and looked in sync. When the Wizards cut into the lead, players like Kyle Lowry and Terrence Ross stepped up to make sure the game was never truly close. The closest the Wizards got was 15, and that was late in the fourth quarter.
The Wizards shot 36.1% from the field and 15.8% from three. John Wall in particular was shut down, registering eight points on 3-13 shooting.
Lowry ensured that this team didn’t lose their grip on their stranglehold on Washington. Lowry had a triple-double and had a great command of the game. He knew when he had to distribute the ball and he knew when he needed to be assertive and score. He greatly outplayed Wall and was the Raptors best overall player on the night.
Game 2: January 31, 2015 – Raptors win 120-116 OT
This game against the Wizards saw the Raptors overcome losing an 18 point fourth quarter lead to eventually beat out the Wizards in OT. Paul Pierce hit the game-tying three pointer with under 30 seconds remaining and Lou Williams came up big off the bench. The Raptors commanded the majority of that game until their late game meltdown which saw the Wizards go on a 19-6 run to close the gap.
Another tight game that was ultimately decided by Raptors guard Kyle Lowry. Lowry put the team on his back during overtime and salvaged a victory in what could’ve very well been one of the Raptors most disheartening losses of the season.
Game 3: February 11, 2015 – Raptors win 95-93
In a hard fought game to close out the first half of the season the Toronto Raptors defeat the Washington Wizards 95-93. With that victory the Raptors sweep the season series against John Wall and the Wizards. The game was tight for entire 48 minutes, with the Raptors trailing by as much as 10 points in the fourth. Lou Williams led all scorers with 27 points off the bench. In the absence of Bradley Beal, Paul Pierce stepped up in a big way for the Wizards on both ends of the court before getting iced by DeMar DeRozan with game winning shot
The defence from Toronto was this night. The Wizards presented a tough matchup at nearly every position until they start reaching into their bench. The starters for the Wizards carried the load as expected, but Toronto was able to force Washington to commit 16 turnovers
Coaching: Dwane Casey vs. Randy Wittman
When it comes down to a battle of bench bosses in this series there is no clear cut winner when it comes to x’s and o’s. Both have seen similar success this year, barely improving their records from last season and getting into the playoffs with questionable momentum. Both coaches have taken a nose dive in the second half of the season floundering their glorious early season records; one or five disappointing losses at a time. Another glaring similarity is that both coaches neglect their big men in favor of quicker lineups which ultimately backfires. However in this series the edge will go to Raptors bench boss Dwane Casey as he’s led the Raptors to a season sweep over the Wizards. That 3-0 record against a solid Wizards opponent gives him solid game tape to exemplify winning habits and behaviors against the Wiz. Wins over Witt baby…wins over Witt.
Point Guard: Kyle Lowry vs. John Wall
The juiciest matchup in this series goes to the head-to-head between Kyle Lowry and John Wall. Eastern conference all-star starters battling it out on the ultimate stage. Wall will prove problematic due to his relentless ability to attack the rim. Wall is able to change his pace at will, causing problems for anyone in front of him. Lately Wall’s numbers have come back up as he’s been averaging 15.4 ppg and 12 assists over his last 5 games. However in 3 games against Toronto, Wall is averaging 19points 9 assists on 41 percent shooting.
Wall is arguably the best player in this series, but Kyle Lowry will not let him know that. Lowry’s will to win is what gives him the edge. Lowry averages 16.6 points 6 rebounds and 6 assists against the Wizards this season. He’s been the reason Toronto was able to seal the victory in 2 out of the 3 games. If Lowry’s will to win doesn’t affect his shot selection and decision making, than the Raptors will be fine. However sometimes a player’s greatest strength can also be their greatest weakness.
Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan vs. Bradley Beal
Another great matchup in the back-court, this time between DeRozan and Beal. Beal is coming into his own as one of the top rising shooting guards in the league and had a great game against Toronto this year dropping 26 points. Beal is a player that shouldn’t have any problems getting his on the offensive end of the floor. However when it comes to defending his position – that’s a different story. Over the past few weeks, DeMar has been playing some of the best basketball of his career so he gets the edge in this matchup. DeRozan has the size, composure and a much-improved crossover. Combine that with the way he gets to the free-throw line at will, and there you have the best shooting guard in this matchup. Bradley Beal is good and all, but at this point he can’t hold a flame to DeRozan. If Wall and Lowry are able to contain eachother, look for DeMar to take over and change the course of the series.
Small Forward: Terrence Ross vs. Paul Pierce
This might be the most essential matchup of this series. Paul Pierce has been notorious for torching the Raptors over the years. Terrence Ross has underperformed for a majority of the season. If T-Ross can keep pierce under wraps than we have this in the bag. Unfortunately Pierce’s veteran experience and leadership give him the edge in this matchup. Plus when it comes to playoff time, The Truth always finds a way to step it up. Please Terrence, do not let Pierce control the fate of the Raptors.
Power Forward: Tyler Hansbrough/Amir Johnson vs. Nene
If I were Casey, I’d stick with Hansbrough in the starting 4-spot against Nene. In this matchup Hansbrough will be able to bring an active body who’s willing to bang with Nene down low. He may not get stops, but he’ll be able to make his opposition uncomfortable by getting them off their spots. Nene is a big who’s an extremely efficient scorer (51% FG) and gives the Wizards a post presence. Not only can Nene dominate inside, but he also can hit the mid range jumper with confidence. Nene gets the edge regardless of the matchup because he’s a flat-out beast. His motor may not be the same from his Denver Nuggets days, but he still gets after it.
Centre: Jonas Valanciunas vs. Marcin Gortat
This matchup is a draw. Jonas Valanciunas and Marcin Gortat are similar in nearly all aspects of their play. All the way down to how they’re utilized (or underutilized) by their coach. Valanciunas however has had terrible games against the Wizards this season averaging only 7 points & 7 rebounds. Gortat is averaging just 6 points & 6.7 rebounds versus the Raptors. Both players averaged less than 26 minutes over the 3-game series. Both the Wizards and Raptors are going to need more than modest contributions from their big men in this series, let’s just hope JV awakens first.
CAGE’S KEYS TO THE SERIES
Utilize team depth
The combined effort of Toronto’s bench players will be the major difference in this series. Toronto will have to use a balanced approach to counter the Wall-heavy Wizards. Expect John Wall to increase his productivity in every aspect. Toronto needs to take advantage when Wall isn’t on the court and build their lead with the talent of their superior bench unit. James Johnson, Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson will all have their moments to come up big for Toronto. It’s just a matter of if they shy away from that opportunity or take it head on and conquer.
The Raptors have the best fans in the entire NBA hand down.
Establishing an inside presence
The Raptors musn’t fall into the trap of firing their 3-ball at will. Now that it’s the playoffs, it’s time for the Raptors to abandon that perimeter heavy approach and establish their offence from the inside out. We’ve seen what Jonas Valanciunas can do when he’s involved in the offence. He doesn’t necessarily need to score, but by feeding him the rock it allows others to generate off-ball movement to break down the defence without dribbling. JV isn’t the only one who needs to establish themselves down-low. DeRozan and James Johnson are the other two premier post-up players the Raptors have. Every time there is a mismatch for one of these two gentlemen, they need to get the ball and exploit it.
Force Washington to the perimeter
Toronto needs to step up their defence again for this series. John Wall will find his way to the rim some way, some how. Washington doesn’t’ really have anyone other than Nene who’s a legitimate offensive threat inside. Other than that, it’s pretty much a toss-up. Clog the paint and force the Washington guards to heave it from downtown. The Wizards don’t have many perimeter threats. The most capable shooters on their roster are Beal, Pierce and Rasual Butler. I know right…Rasual Butler (lol). The Raptors need to protect the paint and force Washington into contested low percentage attempts from mid-range and beyond.
Shut Paul Pierce Up
I don’t want to see this guy smiling. I don’t want to see him hollering after a bucket. I don’t want to see Paul Pierce doing absolutely anything. Shut him down and shut him up. It’s time for the Raptors to exorcise those demons of yesteryear.
Raptors in 6. Deeper roster with superior back court – which is the strength of both teams. It’s no coincidence that the Raps have won all contests vs the Wiz this year – they are a good match up. As long as Lowry doesn’t let Wall get out of control, we should see a series win.
Raptors in 5. The Raps are too deep for the Wizards to handle over the course of seven games. Yes the post-season is a clean slate, but if it weren’t for a serious mental lapse, the Raps would have two blowout victories against the Wizards. So if the Raptors can focus, I don’t see this being a contest. The Raptors will drop one on the road, but that will be enough of a lesson for them to correct their mistakes. The match-ups are close at every position, but the Wizards just lack the necessary depth to compete against the Raptors. This is the year. I can feel it.
The Raptors will take the series in six games, just for a couple reasons.
They possess a far stronger back-court – All-Star back-court if I might add – mobility and versatility of the big guys and the forwards, a strong, energetic second unit, and tons of defensive weapons. Overall, the Raptors have a far more talented team to throw onto the court, aside from them also being well-equipped in the specific individual match-ups that Washington might punch at the Raptors. Should be a fun series with all the talk that’s already fired up, but expect to see DeMar DeRozan at another level this weekend.
The Raptors are 6-1 against the Wizards over the past two seasons. Simply put, they match up well against them. The Wizards strength is their backcourt, led by John Wall, but the Raptors can counter with a pair of all-stars in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan has been playing the best ball of his career over the past month. If Lowry can play at the level he was at earlier in the season before he was ran into the ground, the Raptors can win the battle of the backcourt. One of the Raptors greatest strengths is their bench, a weak spot for Washington. Don’t be surprised to see Casey go 10 deep in certain games, especially with the recent play of Tyler Hansborough. Terrence Ross will be the x-factor: If he can’t provide the Raptors with solid perimeter defense against Wall and knock down open shots, the Wizards could be moving on. However, I think Ross will be able to erase the memory of last years post season, the Raptors will win the battle of the back courts, and their bench will be too much for the Wizards.
Raptors in 6
I know we have dominated them in regular season matchups as of late but this is a whole new season. Both teams are so evenly matched that this will be an absolute slugfest. With that being said I truly believe the raptors have the edge. While are starting lineups are comparable talent wise, the bench is where we take the lead. With guys like Lou, Patterson, Johnson and Vasquez who can go off for 20 on any given night, the raptors bench trumps guys like sessions humphries porter and Webster. Look for lou to be huge. Finally, while the Raptors have struggled mightily on defence, the Wizards offences isn’t an insurmountable threat. They are 17th in scoring putting up a modest 98 ppg. Raptors in 7
Raptors in 7
2015 Raptors record: 26-25
2015 Wizards record: 24-27
It’s a battle of regression candidates. Both squads waned considerably in the New Year and pretty much secured their current seeding due to strong first halves and a weak Eastern Conference. The backcourts match up pretty evenly, but I’d argue John Wall has a better chance of carrying a team on his back and winning a series over a Kyle Lowry. That Bradley Beal kid isn’t bad too. The slight edge goes to Washington in terms of their frontcourt that features Marcin Gortat, Nene Hilario and the ostentatious Paul Pierce but the Raptors counter with a more skilled and deeper bench. Coaching is dead even, as both Dwayne Casey and Randy Wittman have their fair share of head scratching moments. This should be a competitive series and will go the distance, but I’m going to be a homer and go with the Raptors in seven.
The Raptors ended up in the right bracket to make a run to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Wizards have a solid starting line-up lead by a trio of John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Paul Pierce. However, they can be compared to the team from Hogwarts. They have Harry, Ron, and Hermione and very little beyond that. Maybe Gorcat will emerge to play the role of Hagrid manning the frontcourt but his effectiveness will be limited against JV who was a beast come playoff time last year. After Gortat, the Hogwarts Five have few reliable options upfront leaving Amir, Pat-Man, and Psycho-T to run wild on the glass. Furthermore, the Raptors backcourt holds up well against the Wiz and if Lowry gets hot, Wall won’t be able to stop him. It doesn’t end here the rest of Team Dumbledore will fold under the unending penetration of Lou Williams, earning him many trips to the charity stripe. In general The Raps bench will easily extend leads giving our starters much needed rest for the second round. My bet is on the Raptors devouring our favourite Wizards as if they were mere muggles. Last but not least, T-Ross is going to be the first dinosaur to perform a magic trick, making Paul Pierce eat his words with stifling defense.
Raptors in 5!
Here we are, one year later with a chance for redemption. The regular season – which set a new franchise record for wins (49) – drew mixed reviews from many. The team started hot, cooled down when injuries hit, and appears to have found a bit of rhythm again heading into the postseason. This year’s opponent: the Washington Wizards who happen to have Paul Pierce— one of the players who killed the Raps last April. The dynamic duos of Wall & Beal in the backcourt, and Nene & Gortat down in the post will provide Toronto with a challenge, but I believe that the Raptors are up for it. The Raptors offense – although wonky at times – is among the best in the Association, while the Wizards defense is among the best league-wide. On the other side of the coin, Washington is offensively challenged at times, while the Raptors defense is a shell of its former self (from last year). Still, down the stretch, the Raps have improved in this aspect. There are a few positives for the 4-seed— the Raptors have superior depth (side note: if Lou Will doesn’t win the Sixth Man Award, we riot), the team finally is healthy, Lowry has a chip on his shoulder (following last year’s Game 7 vs. Brooklyn), and DeRozan is playing some of the best basketball of his career. Take that, Paul Pierce.
Raptors in 6. This should be a fun series.