After a long season, everything is in place for the Washington Wizards as they prepare for the NBA’s postseason and their first round opponent, the Toronto Raptors.
Toronto (49-33) and Washington (46-36) enter the Eastern Conference playoffs as the fourth and fifth seeds, respectively. Although they finished just a handful of wins apart from each other, the Raptors have dominated matchups between the two teams over the last two seasons. Washington went 0-3 against Toronto this season, and doesn’t match up well against the Raptors’ depth, length and talent. But guards John Wall and Bradley Beal were magical in last season’s playoffs and hope to duplicate a similar performance. It’s going to take more than Washington’s athletic backcourt to outduel the versatile Raptors—do the Wizards have enough? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Green: Toronto’s roster is the exact sort of unit that gives the Wizards fits. The Raptors possess both size and athleticism in their backcourt to match Washington’s own, but their front court is a notch more agile and productive, plus they’re well coached by Dwane Casey. Washington knocked off Chicago in the first round of last season’s playoffs because they had an advantage in the backcourt with Derrick Rose lost due to injury, which limited the Bulls’ scoring chances. Toronto, however, is fully healthy and can match the Wizards at every position talent-for-talent and athlete-for-athlete. Wall gives the team a chance in most point guard matchups—but Toronto’s Kyle Lowry is just as effective as Wall, although he’s less athletic. We saw both Wall and Lowry struggle a bit in Game One, but I expect more from them as the series progresses.
Riley: I expect Wall and Beal to be better in their second playoff trip and I expect forward Paul Pierce to show his worth in the first round. The two young guards didn’t shoot well in Game One but Pierce showed up big time to lead the team to victory. Pierce and Nene give the team two hardened veterans that they can lean on when things get tight, and that’s something that the Raptors don’t have. We haven’t seen Washington’s best basketball since earlier in the year, but we saw glimpses of it over the last few weeks of the season. The Raptors don’t have any major players that will be absent due to injury, but Lowry dealt with a back issue during the second half of the regular season that slowed up what was a hot Toronto team. The Raptors were 13-16 after the All-Star break and don’t appear to be the same squad they were earlier in the year. Toronto swept Washington this season, yes, but all three games came before the midseason break and the last two contests were more than close. Look at how Washington struggled in Game One, yet still beat Toronto. My prediction is that the Wizards will win the series in seven games.
Green: I actually agree with Washington winning in seven, Riley. The Raptors have had the Wizards’ number for the last two seasons, so I don’t expect Washington to breeze through this series just because they stole home court advantage in Game One. There’s just something about this Raptors team that gives the Wizards trouble. For the last two seasons they’ve been faster and simply better than Washington, and I don’t see that magically changing within the next week or two. Even when both teams were at their peak earlier in the season, Toronto was still obviously better by a stretch. The only way the Wizards win is if Brad Beal can actually live up to his potential and be one of the most dominant players in the series. He needs to hit jump shots consistently, average 20-plus points and take pressure off of John Wall.
Riley: Beal doesn’t have to dominate the scoring load, but he does have to play well for Washington to have a chance. I agree on that point. The Wizards are built to share the ball and get contributions from across the roster. If Wall hogs the ball and tries to do too much, the series will be over quickly. But when Washington has played well this year it’s been because the team has played well, not an individual. With Marcin Gortat, Nene, Beal, Pierce and even emerging contributors off the bench such as Otto Porter and Kris Humphries healthy and in the lineup, Wall needs to spread the ball around to guys who can get it done. The Wizards backup point guard situation still frightens me, but I think Washington has enough everywhere else on the roster to make up for a lack of production from the point guard position in the second unit. If the Wizards win the series, it’ll be hard fought. It definitely won’t be like last year’s first round where Washington exited the series against Chicago basically unscathed.