Raps beat Wiz, maintain hold of sport's worst division

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

The Raptors inched closer to .500 with a 96-88 win over the Wizards and still sit atop the Atlantic division. Is that a good thing? I'm confused.

After he missed a long jumper in the second quarter, a smattering of boos rained down on Rudy Gay. It could have been the beginning of something ugly, but Gay redeemed himself by scoring the last six points of the game to seal a 96-88 win over the schizophrenic Washington Wizards.

It was at times hard to watch - Nene's attempt at a 30-foot no-look pass comes to mind - but the result was all that mattered as the division-leading (copyright Matt Devlin) Raptors extended their dominance over the worst division in sports.

The first quarter saw both sides clicking, with Kyle Lowry leading a Raptors offense that looked nothing like the iso-happy unit we've come to know and hate. The ball moved with purpose and every Raptor got involved, including Amir Johnson, who had been off to a somewhat anonymous start to the season. With 67% shooting and nine assists, it was one of the best offensive quarters of the season.

Gay did his best to erase all that good work in a forgettable second quarter that prompted those aforementioned boos. He fell into old habits, taking bad shots and turning the ball over while starting 1-7 from the field. At one point he passed up an open three-pointer to take a contested jumper in the lane.

Fortunately the wing rotation was stabilized by DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross, both of whom might be playing the best basketball of their careers right now. DeRozan passed the ball well, dishing out four assists in the first half alone and generally showing improved shot selection and decision-making.

Ross had his second straight game scoring in double digits. He worked along the baseline for open layups, knocked down a three and played solid defense throughout. There's still a lot of inconsistency in his game, but Ross is starting to show more consistent flashes of his immense potential. If he continues to progress, he might make Gay expendable in a future trade.

Those who think the Raptors should tank this season got more ammunition for their argument when John Wall went supernova in the third quarter, scoring 18 of his 37 points, including one drive where he roared past four Raptors before finishing with a typically explosive layup. Along with Bradley Beal - who has one of the five most beautiful jumpers I've ever seen - Wall brought the Wizards to the edge of victory, but not quite over. It was a virtuoso performance and a reminder of the value of high lottery picks.

In the end, though, it was Gay who got the last laugh, even though it's becoming clear the Raptors faithful have an uneasy relationship with him.

Other notes:

  • Jonas Valanciunas finished with a solid double-double of 11 points and 13 rebounds despite making only two of his first 10 shots. I still think the team should be getting him involved in the pick-and-roll more often, rather than relying on a post-up game that is still predictable and unrefined.
  • Kyle Lowry looks as good as he ever has in a Raptors uniform. He's shooting the ball well, playing good defense and getting everyone involved. It's a win-win: he's helping the team win games and, if Masai Ujiri wants to move him, playing this well can only help his trade value.
  • These games are a constant see-saw of emotions and I'm never sure if I should be rooting for a win or loss. At 6-7, the Raptors are leading the pathetic Atlantic division and, with the roster as is, are a good bet to be a playoff team. I don't think that's what the team should be hoping for, but I have no idea whether Ujiri feels the same way. He's too damn secretive.
  • Next up for the Raps on Tuesday is perhaps the league's most disappointing team, the Brooklyn Nets. It'll be interesting to see what's wrong with that team. Mikhail Prokhorov is one of the world's richest men but it can't feel good to have a $100 million payroll and a 3-9 team.
  • Final note: All references to the "division-leading" Raptors should stop. Immediately. Leading your division with a record below .500 is a reflection of the stink around you, not an accomplishment.
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