The Toronto Raptors (21-32) are in Washington DC to take on the Washington Wizards (15-36), their first game back from the All-Star break.
They hope to get the second half of the season off to a strong start, similar to the way they ended the first half of the year. The Raptors have won five of their last seven games since acquiring Rudy Gay, including notable wins over the Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks.
The Raptors are currently sitting 6.5 games outside of a playoff spot with the Milwaukee Bucks being the 8th seed.
Cage’s 5 Keys to the Game:
1. Defend HARD
It’s not easy to score against this Wizards team. They have excellent paint protection thanks to Emeka Okafor and Nene Hilario and are solid on the perimeter as well. It will be tough for the Raptors to score tonight so they will need to defend hard for 48 minutes.
2. Crash The Boards
This is an excellent rebounding Wizards team with Okafor, Nene, and Kevin Seraphin down low. Amir Johnson will have to be his usual stellar self on the boards and Gay and Jonas Valanciunas will have to chip in as well.
3. Close Out on The Shooters
The Wizards have some lethal shooters on the perimeter in Bradley Beal, Jordan Crawford, Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza, and A.J. Price. The Raptors will need to close out on the three ball all game long and try to force long twos instead.
4. John Wall
Since John Wall came back from injury the Wizards are 10-8. He has averages of 15.6 points, 8.6 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals in his last seven games. Those are all-star calibre numbers from a point guard who is rarely mentioned along with the league’s elite guards. He must be slowed down.
5. Jonas Valanciunas
The Raptors will need paint protection of their own and Valanciunas is the one that can give it to them. He has been plugged into the starting line-up going forward and will get all the minutes he can handle. He will just need to learn how to stay on the floor by keeping out of foul trouble. He has tremendous upside.
Tonight’s X-Factor for the Raptors will be Kyle Lowry. Wall is a main initiator of the Wizards’ offence and can cause a lot of problems. Lowry will be to be near perfect tonight on the defensive end and must try his best to slow Wall down.
Photo credit: FRED THORNHILL / REUTERS