Toronto Raptors Game Preview: Raptors vs. Wizards


Toronto Raptors Game Preview: Raptors vs. Wizards

After dropping two winnable games at home against the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets, the Toronto Raptors responded in a big way over the weekend.

The Los Angeles Clippers rolled into the Air Canada Centre, built up an early 20-point lead, and then got blown out of the water by the Raptors.

Dwane Casey’s group followed that up with a signature win versus the defending-champion San Antonio Spurs on Sunday. The Raptors held their opponents to a paltry 33 percent shooting in that one.

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Tonight, Toronto faces the Washington Wizards (the team directly below them in the standings). With the all-star break looming, the second-place Raptors have a chance to put some more distance between themselves and the rest of the Eastern Conference pack.

It will not be easy as the Wizards are coming off consecutive victories after a five-game losing streak. Toronto has won both contests on the season, so Washington will be hungry to salvage a game in the season series.

Key to Victory #1: Defend from start to finish

See what happens when you bring a defensive mindset from the opening tip? As the old saying goes, “defence never slumps.” Even if your shot isn’t going down, if you dig in on the other side of the ball, you can remain in ball games. The Raptors proved the validity of that statement on Sunday against the Spurs, Toronto did not shoot the lights out, but holding an opponent below 35 percent is a recipe for success. The Wizards are gifted in the art of the three-point shot, ranking third in the league at 37.7 percent, so the Raptors will need that same defensive intensity this evening at the Air Canada Centre.

Key to Victory #2: Win the battle of the backcourt

February 19, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Toronto Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan (10) dribbles the ball past Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal (3) in the third quarter at Verizon Center. The Raptors won 96-88. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to the season, Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal boasted that he and teammate John Wall comprised the best backcourt in the NBA. Well, the folks in Golden State would certainly have an issue with that statement, as would those in Toronto. Outside of the Splash Brothers, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan form arguably the best one-two punch at the guard spots in all of basketball. Whichever tandem is able to deliver a better performance will likely determine which team heads into the all-star break on a winning note.

Key to Victory #3: Finish what you start

The two previous matchups between these teams have had a similar theme even though the results were drastically different. Donning the purple throwback jerseys for the first time, the Raptors manhandled the Wizards from start to finish on Nov. 7. On Jan. 31 in Washington, the Raptors again opened up an enormous lead, but would eventually need overtime to top their hosts. If the same theme emerges this evening, Casey must push his team to bury the Wizards as soon as possible.

Marquee Matchup: Kyle Lowry vs. John Wall

Nov 7, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) and Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) point out the play in the first period. Toronto won 103-84. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

These two players will suit up alongside one another on Sunday, forming the starting backcourt for the Eastern Conference all-stars. Tonight, however, they will go head-to-head as leaders of two contending teams. Lowry’s numbers are impressive: 18.8 points, 7.2 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. He also contributes on the rebounding front, pulling down nearly five boards a night. However, the point guard has seen his shooting percentage drop of late, perhaps due to the immense workload he has handled thus far in the season. Lowry must shake off whatever fatigue he may have against one of the quickest players in the NBA in Wall. The first overall pick in the 2010 draft nets better than 17 points per game, while simultaneously leading the association in assists at 10.2. He will also pick your pocket, swiping nearly two steals every time he takes the court.

Prediction: The Wizards appear to be turning their fortunes around heading into the break, but Toronto has had their number so far this year. Both teams will lay everything on the line as neither plays again until Feb. 20. Look for the Raptors to earn the season sweep tonight at the ACC and move their record in a tough month of February to 3-2.