In an action-packed NBA Saturday schedule, the Toronto Raptors’ contest against the Washington Wizards may be the most enthralling off the board.
Following a close 127-122 overtime victory over the Brooklyn Nets, Toronto (32-15) will have their eye on a sixth straight win to match a season high as they visit Washington (31-16) in an Eastern Conference showdown. The Raptors hold a narrow lead for second place over their counterparts, but a win by the Wizards would swing the balance of power in the East. Both teams are vying to avoid the dead zone of the no. 4 and no.5 playoff seed as a series versus the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers would be likely, hence the significance of this affair. The Hawks? Well they keep on winning (just as everyone predicted preseason) and show no signs of slowing down so finishing first overall is a tall order.
Luckily, Toronto has fared well against the Wizards, winning five of the past six head to head matches. In those five victories, the Raptors have won by an average margin of 11.6 points. In November, Toronto was led by the triple-double of All-Star Kyle Lowry as they steamrolled Washington 103-84. Let’s hope an impressive effort like that will be echoed tonight.
Cage’s Keys to the Game:
Defend in Transition
The Wizards feature athleticism at every position and are especially harefooted with the backcourt of John Wall and third-year guard Bradley Beal. The tandem combines for 32 points, 13.3 assists, 8.1 boards and 3.28 steals per game, further solidifying their case as one of the best backcourts in the association – althought Lowry and DeMar DeRozan would have something to say about that. Wall is still questionable tonight as he did not participate in the morning shootarounds but a talent like Beal could easily decide Toronto’s fate. The former Florida Gator is an elite shooter with great speed and is versatile with his scoring – DD will have his hands full.
The Wizkids are a bit inattentive when it comes to ball security and rank 21st overall in the NBA with 14.2 turnovers per game. The biggest culprits are the aforementioned Wall and Beal but the forwards consisting of Nene Hilario, Paul Pierce and Marcin Gortat have combined to average 3.2 a match. The Raptors are specialists in this category, forcing 14.2 per game, and recently amassed 17 in a victory over the Sacramento Kings. Look for the Raptors to design set defensive plays to exploit this weakness.
Pedal to the Metal
If there was a grouping of teams who have a tendency to squander first half and second half leads, Toronto would certainly top the list. Not to belabor this point, but the Raptors need to improve in this regard come playoff time. Case and point last night. They had a 17-point margin in the second half yet required heroics from Amir Johnson and a missed shot by Brooke Lopez in the final minutes to seal a win. No lead is safe in the NBA – keep bringing that intensity and don’t go on cruise control.
X-Factor: Louis Williams
Williams is regaining that mojo he showcased in the early season as he torched the Nets with 25 points, four rebounds and three assists on 50 per cent shooting. This was also off the bench, where he has been most effective for the Raptors. The 28-year-old is arguably having the best season of his career and is in the running for sixth man.