The Toronto Raptors are set to begin a three-game home stand Wednesday evening when their old friends the Washington Wizards invade the Air Canada Centre. The Wizards have been an inconsistent bunch so far this season and sit outside of the NBA playoff picture as 2015 draws to a close.
Things have been so bad in Washington many pundits around the league believed the seat under head coach Randy Wittman was getting hotter by the day, but a recent four-game winning streak has helped to bring some positivity back to America's capital. The Wizards' streak was promptly halted thanks to a 108-91 blowout at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday, bringing them under .500 once again at 14-15.
Toronto is coming off a lacklustre performance in Monday's loss to the Chicago Bulls after winning consecutive games over the Milwaukee Bucks and Dallas Mavericks, but it's not the wins and losses that have mattered the most lately. Toronto is healthy again thanks to the re-insertion of Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll into the lineup, which can only spell good things for a team that's been operating at less than 100 percent for the majority of the campaign.
Here are three things to watch for in tonight's contest:
Perhaps it's a result of a lot of mediocre basketball over the years, but the Raptors haven't developed a single true rival in their two decades of existence. In the wake of last season's forgettable first-round playoff sweep to the Wizards, it's safe to say John Wall and company have emerged as the biggest foes for Canada's sole NBA team.
The Raps and Wiz simply do not like each other, and even though trash talking extraordinaire and notorious Dino killer Paul Pierce is in L.A. now, there's still a lot of bad blood between the teams. The Raptors undoubtedly still have a sour taste in their mouths after the aforementioned postseason flameout, so there shouldn't be any lack of motivation on Toronto's side of the floor.
Washington's injury troubles
Washington has been a banged up club as of late, as Bradley Beal, Nene Hilario, Drew Gooden and Alan Anderson have been sidelined with leg injuries. The Raps, who are no stranger to the injury bug themselves, will need to capitalize on Washington's roster thinness now that front court anchor Valanciunas and the ever reliable Carroll are back in action (that feels nice to type).
That's not to say the Wizards will be pushovers, however. Garrett Temple and Kelly Oubre Jr. have shined after being thrust into starting roles, and Jarell Eddie has made solid contributions for a team that has needed to rely on some unlikely sources with so many missing bodies.
Tonight's game will mark the first of three meetings between the Raps and Wiz in less than a month, as Toronto heads to D.C. on Jan. 8th before they once again return north of the border for the finale of their season series on Jan. 26th. Toronto edged Washington 84-82 in their first clash of the season in late November thanks to a thrilling last second buzzer-beater by Cory Joseph.
Excluding the playoffs, the Raptors have traditionally fared well against the Wiz, emerging triumphant in seven of their last eight regular season tilts versus John Wall and company.
Where to watch: 7:30pm EST, TSN.