The Toronto Raptors begin their series with the Washington Wizards tomorrow morning. Judging by comments at yesterday's media availability from Masai Ujiri, Dwane Casey, and the players, there's certainly an expectation that the team has learned from last year's Game 7 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
The common thread between this year's Wizards and last year's Nets is, of course, Paul Pierce. If the Raptors needed a face to take their frustrations out on, Pierce is it, and there's been no shortage of commentary around his statement that the Raptors don't have "it".
Does this team have the It Factor? Lowry: [death stare] "Yeah, we do."— Daniel Reynolds (@aka_Reynolds) April 16, 2015
On learning of the Hawks lead, DeRozan exclaimed, smiling: "Aw shit, I want to see Paul Pierce."— Daniel Reynolds (@aka_Reynolds) April 16, 2015
Pierce clarified his comments yesterday (in the most Paul Pierce way possible).
Pierce clarified his "It" comment on Raptors. Said he meant that they and other East teams don’t have the superstars to take over games.— Jorge Castillo (@jorgeccastillo) April 16, 2015
In discussion more related to basketball, Toronto's leaders were quick to compliment each other.
"My man is playing at a high level, an unbelievably high level," Lowry says of DeRozan— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 16, 2015
"He didn't try," Lowry says of DeRozan last night, "and he got 16, 6 and 4."— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 16, 2015
DeRozan did so in Tupac socks.
There were a couple tidbits from Dwane Casey, one of them semi-cringe-worthy if you like James Johnson.
Oh, last note from Casey: He'll shorten his rotation. Last 2-3 players on end of bench will see reduced minutes.— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) April 16, 2015
"If we played one-on-one, I think I could beat him," Casey says of his former assistant, Randy Wittman.— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 16, 2015
Wizards head coach Randy Wittman, meanwhile, will not be oblivious to this bit of strategy, which could give the Raptors fits in a seven-game series.
Pierce said he played some 4 at practice today. Wittman told him to be ready for it.— Jorge Castillo (@jorgeccastillo) April 16, 2015
That's enough serious talk, though. What's a playoff run without dancing Landry Fields?
Finally, the Raptors front office replaced the famous "Pound the Rock" banner in the locker room with this (seriously awesome) "Family First" banner. As Greivis Vasquez shows you, it's got pictures of the players and their kids, which is... well, making me a little weepy.
Anything you take away from the comments from players and coaches? Are the Raptors taking Paul Pierce too seriously? Is that the last time we see dancing Landry Fields in a Raptors uniform? Hit us up in the comments.