As we head into Game 1 of the Toronto Raptors vs. Washington Wizards series on Saturday afternoon, the staff at Raptors HQ got together to discuss which team should be the favourite and how they feel things will play out.
Participants: Christopher Walder (@WalderSports), John Gaudes (@johngaudes), Mitch Robson (@MitchyRobson), Sean Woodley (@WoodleySean), James Park (@jykpark), Russell Peddle (@rustypedalbike), Joshua Santos (@jsantos502)
Walder: I was never pining for one scenario over the other, really. It was just frustrating having to wait until the very last second of the regular season to find out which team the Raptors would pair up with in the first round. I understand the logic behind wanting a series with the Milwaukee Bucks, considering the youth and playoff inexperience on their roster. Their length gives me the heebie jeebies, though. Having to go to war with a vulnerable Wizards squad that's struggled just as much as the Raptors have since the All-Star break isn't the worst thing in the world, I suppose.
Gaudes: I would’ve preferred the alternative, but this will be a more fun series to watch. Both these teams will try to win scoring the ball, we get Paul Pierce running his mouth again, Kyle and DeMar are back in f.u. mode. This will be a hell of a ride.
Robson: Many fans seem thrilled with this matchup against the Washington Wizards, whomever the Raps played was really a split decision for myself. The Raptors and Wizards play similar styles and the Raps have shown they can play very well against a team that mirrors them going 3-0 against the Wiz in the regular season. Although the Bucks are playoff rookies this year, and with the Raps knowing exactly how that feels after last season, a matchup with Milwaukee could have made the mental game easier for the team.
Woodley: Truth be told, I would have been okay with either of the potential matchups. Both Washington and Milwaukee have trouble scoring the ball and spacing the floor, and they are both excellent defensive squads. Randy Wittman and his offensive scheme – which is far more infuriating to watch than the Raptors – break the tie for me though. Toronto probably would have been a favourite over Milwaukee, but I’d rather take my chances with the hapless Wittman instead of super-genius Jason Kidd and his line-up of 6-foot-8 trees.
Park: As much as regular season performance in head-to-head matchups can be indicative of what to expect in the playoffs, I would have much preferred the Bucks. This is not to say that they aren’t good; their defense is one of the best, and have athletic players that have bought into the system. That said, the Wizards are a stronger team who have the size, skill and experience to be a scary opponent.
Peddle: Both the Wizards and the Bucks feel like teams we could have a chance at beating in a seven-game series, given that they each had late-season struggles that were comparable to ours. On the other hand, they both have Raptor killers employed on their teams, as Bucks coach Jason Kidd has been responsible for ousting Toronto in the first round each time we've won a division title and the Wizards' Paul Pierce tore our hearts out last year. Honestly, after all the "It" talk from Pierce, I'm excited to have a second crack at him. A 3-0 season series sweep shows the Raps can solve Washington, so I'm perfectly ok with drawing them in round one.
Santos: I actually hoped Toronto got Washington in the first round. The Raps seem to play well against them, winning the season series 3-0 and Washington is weak on the wings as Beal and Wall have been playing sloppy as of late. Also, (bear with me, I know I may be going over my head) this route enables the Raps to play Atlanta in the second round instead of Cleveland so this gives the Raps a better chance at making the Conference Finals.
Walder: The red-haired wonder from the second unit needs to see some serious run. James Johnson doesn't need to score 15 points a night, but defensively, he can be the ultimate difference-maker. We've all seen his willingness to get to the rim and his underrated post game, but where Johnson will truly shine is on the defensive end by containing the Bradley Beal's and Paul Pierce's of the world. He was brought back to the team specifically for this purpose. Someone like Lou Williams will probably end up being the Raptors' third scoring option, but Johnson will be the third-most important player, as long as Casey doesn't cut him out of the rotation completely.
Gaudes: It has to be Jonas Valanciunas. He’s so important on both ends in this series, because he has to guard Marcin Gortat on defence, then go at him on offence. The play of the Washington bigs hasn’t been stellar this year, but they were huge in the 2013-14 playoffs. Valanciunas has to stay out of foul trouble and be an impact player.
Robson: To be able to beat the Wizards we’ll have to outgun the Wizards, so "6 Man" Lou Williams will need to be good Lou in this series and shoot in the mid 40’s percentages wise to be the dependable third scoring option the Raps need.
Woodley: Patrick Patterson is going to be crucial in this series. Washington’s tandem of Marcin Gortat and Nene are a double-edged sword. They offer a supreme ability to seal off the interior and keep the ball away from the basket; but the duo is also very immobile. If Patterson is hitting his threes – something he simply hasn’t done enough since the New Year – it will put pressure on Gortat and Nene to move out to the perimeter, and may force Randy Wittman to remove one of them in place of a more mobile big like Kevin Seraphin (or go small with Paul Pierce at the four). And that will open things up for the likes of Lowry, DeRozan and Williams to attack the rim.
Park: James Johnson received consideration, and so did Lou, but against this team it has to be Jonas. Nene and Gortat are no joke. They’re big, talented, and given their experience, are likely to have an extra gear for playoff basketball. If the Raptors hope to carry on their regular season success against Washington, Jonas needs to match if not outplay the big men from D.C.
Peddle: Normally I would say Jonas Valanciunas, but he was pretty neutralized in the season series between these two teams, averaging a mere 7.0 points and 5.3 rebounds in 20.4 minutes per contest, and the Raptors still won them all. He just doesn't match up well with Washington's frontcourt of Marcin Gortat and Nene, despite the fact that they seem like the kind of bigs you'd need JV to have an impact against on paper. In which case, I think that Lou Williams is the real key. The Wizards' bench is pretty suspect and Lou averaged 19.7 points, 48.8% shooting from the field, and 38.9% from deep in the three wins against Washington this year. As long as the starters go toe to toe, Sweet Lou helping the bench put some distance between the two teams could be the difference.
Santos: He's young, but I think Valancuinas will have to be the third go-to guy. Nene and Marcin Gortat will push, shove and attack him in the paint, but if Jonas can make those easy buckets in the post, and outsmart those guys, the series may be over quick.
Walder: All Terrence Ross needs to be concerned with is knocking down open looks, remaining consistent from behind the arc and giving it his all on the defensive end. This isn't the time to experiment with anything other than what he's already shown he can do (on occasion). When expectations are so low, anything of a positive note is considered a bonus. As long as he's not a liability, he's golden.
Gaudes: For all the things that scare me about Washington, their defence is not one of them. Ross wasn't a big contributor in games against the Wiz this year, but the opportunity is there for him to make threes (which is all we can expect from him). Hit those shots, Boss. Everything else is gravy.
Robson: I think for Terrence Ross to be a factor in this series he needs to ramp up his defense back to last season’s level. His offense is a wash in my opinion, but there have been flashes in 2015 of classic T Ross defense, and if he can eliminate Paul Pierce from the Wizards offense the Raptors would be more than happy with that contribution.
Woodley: With the aging Paul Pierce and the not-aged-enough Otto Porter likely to draw the assignment on Ross (Garrett Temple may miss a chunk of the series), Ross should have the opportunity to be a factor. I just refuse to believe that he will suddenly become a reliable go-to option in the playoffs until I see it for multiple games. He probably won’t be given much opportunity to stand out defensively either, given that he’ll be returning the favour and guarding Porter and Pierce most of the time. Pierce isn't much of a creator off the dribble anymore and Porter is limited offensively, so as long as one those guys don’t absolutely go off, it will be a success for Ross.
Park: Honestly, it depends on which Ross we get. If he’s making shots, then yes, he can be another deterrent to John Wall, Bradley Beal, maybe Paul Pierce while serving as a secondary option on offense. That said, he needs to be a 2-way player. If he’s failing to score, look for his minutes to go to Vasquez or Johnson.
Peddle: Ross was so horrible in last year's postseason, that any kind of performance ranging from decent to good this year would be a huge step forward. Given that he plateaued a bit during this regular season compared to last, improved play in the playoffs could go a long way in giving us hope for his future development again. I don't expect him to suddenly be 51-point Ross or anything, but hitting timely threes, spreading the floor, and getting stops against guys like Paul Pierce and Bradley Beal during key moments are the kinds of things he'll have to do consistently to be a factor. Our expectations are probably so low at this point, that I'd say he has it in him to surprise us.
Santos: I don't see Ross being an influential factor on which way the series swings. He still has some hints of promise here and there but his inconsistently for the second half of the season has me thinking he'll perform the same during the playoffs. He might have some big saves or clutch shots, but I don't see him going on a tear anytime soon.
Walder: I'm not even going to take into account how the Raptors were 3-0 against Washington during the regular season. Two of those games were decided by four points or less and Bradley Beal didn't play in two of them. From a straight roster-for-roster analysis, I truly believe (homerism aside) that the Raptors are deeper, more talented and have the better coaching. I also trust their ability to score the basketball at a rate where Washington's stout defense becomes obsolete. If Toronto gets hot, the Wizards won't have enough in its arsenal to keep up, especially with their poor excuse of a bench.
Gaudes: The money ball, baby – especially in the corners. The Raptors shot lights out from deep against the Wizards in the regular season, making 42.1% of their three-point attempts. In the corners, that percentage swells to 54.2%. Is that clip sustainable in the playoffs? Probably not, but an efficient offence will have to win this series for the Raptors, because the other end is, well, bad.
Robson: If Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are 100% themselves during the entirety of the series. If Lowry is in peak form he can use his quickness and aggressiveness on defense to shut down John Wall and if DeRozan can outscore Bradley Beal the Raptors should be just fine.
Woodley: Toronto simply boasts more offensive talent. While Washington is a very good defensive unit, the multitude of three-point options on the Raptors could open up the normally air-tight Wizards defense. If the Raptors guards are afforded the opportunity to attack the rim, they should be able to do what they’ve done all year – win games from the line. A high number of made free-throws will also help eliminate the Wizards’ ability to run, and force them to execute their stagnant offense against an organized half-court defense.
Park: Because the Raptors at their best are better than the Wizards at their best. People have short-term memories, but lets not forget that in the first half of the reason, the Raptors looked like legitimate contenders. Trust in Lowry. Trust in DeMar. Trust in the North.
Peddle: They are a deeper team. The two starting lineups are pretty even, pound-for-pound, but once you get into bench units, the difference is huge. Give me any one of Lou Williams, Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez, James Johnson, and even Tyler Hansbrough over just about any guy on the Wizards bench every day of the week. Other than the start and end of games, when things should be fairly even, the Raptors will have a major advantage when the Wizards have to rely on guys like Kris Humphris, Otto Porter, Ramon Sessions, Rasual Butler, and Drew frickin' Gooden.
Santos: Raps will win because of their offense. Lou, DeMar, Lowry, Jonas, the Johnsons; the team can score buckets. According to Hollinger's NBA Team Stats, the Raptors are ranked 3rd in offensive efficiency at 108.1. The only teams better are the Clippers and Warriors.
Walder: Well, I did just say that the Wizards don't have enough of an offensive punch to continue going toe-to-toe with the Raptors if they start lighting up the scoreboard. Then again, Toronto's defense is do dreadful more often than not that maybe it won't matter. Washington loves the mid-range game (second in NBA in shots taken from 10-14 and 15-19 feet), settling for jumpers when several of its wings are capable of penetrating and creating contact. If the Raptors leave their man and spawn openings, the Wizards will adapt and make them pay dearly.
Gaudes: The Wizards win this series if John Wall realizes he can get into the paint at will. This season against the Raptors, 38.6% of Wall’s shots are on pullups, of which he made 23.5%. Meanwhile, 43.2% of his shots have been at the rim, at a phenomenal rate of 63.2%. If Wall decides he wants to get a bigger share of his shots inside, the porous Raptors backcourt won’t be able to stop him.
Robson: A lack of timely defensive stops. As we've seen on many an occasion (especially in the last week against the Celtics) the Raps really have not been able to consistently get that one stop they need on a last possession to hold on for a win. If a situation like that arises during a home game and the Wizards can steal one on the road it could swing the momentum of the series totally the way of D.C.
Woodley: Perimeter defense could very well be the Raptors’ demise here. John Wall is the engine that powers this Wizards team, and if he is regularly able to penetrate and collapse the defense around him, his kick-out passes to Pierce and Bradley Beal could prove devastating. Though Beal has had an up-and-down year, and Pierce is on the decline, they’ve shot 41.1 and 40.7 percent respectively on seven combined catch-and-shoot three point attempts per game (per Synergy). And as we know, the Raptors have allowed mediocre point guards to attack at will all season long. John Wall is decidedly not mediocre.
Park: Because they have a really balanced team. They have two physical bigs that can score, a backcourt tandem that demands respect, and a wily vet in Paul Pierce who has been in the playoffs more times than the entire Raptors starting-five combined. This isn’t a team where you can focus on shutting down one player and the fact that they have a lot of different sources for points scares me.
Peddle: The Raptors' defence. The Wizards' biggest problem is that they rely too heavily on the long two, instead of taking advantage of John Wall's ability to drive and create opportunities for himself and his teammates at the rim and on the perimeter. The Raptors defence can get so bad at times, that I'm worried the Wiz will be able to break their mid-range habits with all the open lanes they'll get. Hopefully Casey and the boys will ramp it up a bit on the defensive end for the postseason, but a series loss would almost certainly come down to defence (the old Achilles heel), or perhaps rebounding (where Washington is a fair bit stronger than Toronto).
Santos: Wizards might win because of their defensive productivity and rebounding. As aforementioned, the Wiz have two great bigs in Nene, Gortat and also have DeJuan Blair, Humphries, Gooden and Seraphin who could rebound and defend. Per Hollinger's Team stats, Washington ranks 3rd in defensive rebounding (Charlotte and Indiana are ahead) and 5th in defensive efficiency.
Walder: Raptors in 6. Even with home-court advantage, I don't think Dwane Casey wants this going the distance. The better team will prevail.
Gaudes: Raptors in 7.
Robson: Raptors in 7. Let’s get that first series win since 2001.
Woodley: Raptors in 6. Toronto just has more guys who can score when needed, and Amir Johnson’s time off should have him at a level where he can help clean up the poor on-ball defense we will inevitably see played on Wall.
Park: Wizards in 7. I really hope that I’m wrong.
Peddle: Raptors in 7. It'll be closely contested, but the Wizards stink on the road (17-24) and I don't want to imagine how much a first-round loss as the home team for the second year in a row would ruin all the #WeTheNorth fun we've been having.
Santos: Raptors in 6. The Raps' offense will overcome Washington's defense.