If I had to make a list of teams I'm most interested in seeing this season, say, a top five, the Washington Wizards would be on it.
Ok, so say I made the list in August, before John Wall got hurt and had to sit out at least a month.
Yes, THEN the Wiz would be on the list.
The team was horrific last season, but actually won eight of it's final 10 games, including six straight to cap off the season. Sure, a few of those wins came against elite teams sans their elite players, but point being, the Wiz looked like they had finally found some common ground, in particular after guys like Nick Young and JaVale McGee were sent packing.
(Let's not even get into Andray Blatche, one of my top picks in my main fantasy basketball pool last year.)
In their stead, were veterans like Nene, Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor, who combined with some interesting youngsters like Wall, Jan Vesley and now Bradley Beal, might be capable of surprising clubs this season.
It was this intriguing mix of frankly, underperforming youngsters and overpaid but productive vets, that made me so curious as to how this club would do this season. Without Wall for a while, they're in for a rough start no question (unless you think AJ Price or Jannero Pargo are on the cusp of breaking out) but in the second half of the season they might be one of the teams that makes a strong push for a final playoff seed in the East, something the Raps are also hoping for of course.
Tonight though, the Wiz are minus one Mr. Wall, and here are our three keys to a Raps' win:
1. Point Guard Play. Shocking that we would have this as the top key right? I know, I know, Pargo, Price and Shelvin Mack should dominate their match-ups so it's imperative that...
Yeah, we'll stop there.
While I'd take John Lucas over any of the Wizards' current point guard options, this match-up might be closer than one would expect. Kyle Lowry is supposed to make his Raptors' debut tonight, but based on comments from Coach Casey yesterday, he's going to need some time to get his conditioning back.
It sounds like Jose Calderon will be good to go, but if he's not quite 100 per cent either, it might be a lot of Lucas, and perhaps a bit of guys like Jerel McNeal, something that gives the Wizards more of a chance at winning this positional battle then it would appear at face value.
2. Rebounding the Basketball. It's only three games in, and it's pre-season, but one thing that's bothered me is the lack of rebounding from the team early on. The club actually has one of the league's worst rebounding differentials right now and again, this can be caveated in all sorts of ways, but if you've been watching the action, you know that it's been a major pain point. The club just hasn't done a great job boxing out, getting to loose balls, or mixing it up. Jonas' play last game was encouraging, but I'd love to see some of the newcomers like Fields and Ross get in on the action more frequently.
Washington has some solid rebounding types both inside (Okafor) and on the wings (Ariza), so it's imperative in this one that Toronto gets on the glass.
3. Andrea Bargnani. And now we come to the part of the program where we pick on Andrea!
In all seriousness, Bargs' has looked like he's simply going through the motions so far in pre-season, and while yes, again, it's pre-season, it would be nice to see him lock in for a match before the real games start. I'm not talking about shooting 50 per cent, although that would be nice, but doing things like chasing his missed shots, rebounding the ball, attacking the paint, posting-up, etc, etc. So far we've seen a lot of the 2007-2011 version of Andrea and against a club like the Wiz, who really has no one close to being able to guard him, it would be great to see him take over.