The Toronto Raptors will host the Washington Wizards, as they look to tie their franchise record of nine straight wins.
The Raptors have won their last three matchups against the Wizards, with their latest and most convincing win coming on Jan.8, by a score of 97-88. After getting swept by the Wizards in the first round of last year’s playoffs, the Raptors will have the chance to return the favour with a season sweep tonight at the Air Canada Centre.
The Wizards will be without Bradley Beal, who has a broken nose after getting hit in the face during last night’s matchup against the Celtics. DeMarre Carroll of the Toronto Raptors will also miss tonight’s game, making it his tenth straight DNP.
Cage’s Keys to the Game
Strong First Quarter
The Raptors have quietly improved their first quarter scoring since the start of the New Year, which has been a big reason for their success. Since the start of January, they’ve been the ninth highest scoring first quarter team, averaging 26.7 points.
A big improvement from being the third worst in the league in the month of November, and the 11th worst in December.
When the Raptors don’t focus in the first quarter, it’s been reflected in the loss column. Of the Raptors last 10 losses, they’ve been outscored in seven of those first quarters. That’s a troubling stat considering the Wizards are the 10th best first quarter scoring team in the league, averaging 25.5 points.
The Wizards are also the third best second quarter scoring team, with 26.8 points, making it critical that the Raptors don’t fall behind early.
A lot has been made of how solid the Raptors backcourt has been this year, but not nearly enough has been said on how great Jonas Valanciunas has played.
In the month of January, Valanciunas is the only player in the league to average at least 12.7 points on 55.1 per cent shooting, 9.6 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks. Those are true big man numbers, which sound even greater when you consider he’s only averaging 27.3 minutes a night throughout January.
Valanciunas should be expecting bigger minutes tonight, when he goes against one of the toughest front courts consisting of Nene Hilario, and Marcin Gortat. And with the Wizards backcourt missing Beal, the Raptors should have enough of an advantage to try to give Valanciunas some extra touches to build his experience, and confidence against a potential playoff matchup.
When he does get those touches, and shots over 10 field goal attempts in a game, the Raptors are 9-2. He’s also just coming off a 20-point, 8-rebound night against DeAndre Jordan and the Los Angeles Clippers, so he does have momentum on his side.
Crash the Glass
When the Raptors snatch over 50 boards in a game, they are 7-0.
Fifty should be the goal tonight, since the Wizards are the worst rebounding team in the league, averaging only 40.1 boards a contest. The Raptors have already taken advantage of their poor efforts on the glass this season, with three of their 15 best rebounding performances coming against the Wizards, which have all resulted in wins.
Even though the Wizards are horrible at crashing the glass, it doesn’t mean that the Raptors can take a night off. Since the Wizards’ three highest rebounding performance have all resulted in wins.
Tonight should also be a bigger challenge on the glass, with the Wizards most likely rolling with a bigger starting lineup consisting of Garett Temple, now that Beal will be sidelined due to injury.
X Factor: Kyle Lowry
Kyle Lowry will be going against his Eastern Conference All-Star running mate, John Wall. Last year they were paired together in the starting lineup, but unfortunately for Wall he was left out this year because of the fan vote.
Something that will surely be on Wall’s mind tonight, when he tries to make a statement for who truly deserves the starting role.
Lowry should be up for the challenge on both ends of the floor. On defence he’ll have to make sure that Wall doesn’t go over his season average of 9.7 assists a game. A great way to do that is create constant ball pressure, something that Lowry has been great at this season. He currently sits as the second best in the league at stealing the basketball, with 2.23 steals a night.
He just needs to make sure he’s not over anxious, like in last year’s playoffs against the Wizards where he picked up 18 fouls in four games.
Offensively, Lowry just needs to keep on playing his game by continuing to force acton inside and out. He’ll need to drive to the basket, where Wall has allowed defenders to shoot 59.8 per cent. At the same time, he’ll need to dial up from distance, where he’s been shooting a career high 38.3 per cent.
All stats for this article are from BasketballReference.com and NBA.com
You can follow Bryan Meler on Twitter @BryanMelo97