Toronto will be in Washington D.C. Sunday afternoon for an early 1:00 p.m. EST tip-off. In what is seemingly becoming yearly tradition, the Wizards are without John Wall, and of course, that means they’re a better team. The Raptors have taken the first two meetings between the two Eastern Conference rivals, one without Kawhi Leonard and one with — where they beat Washington handily 125-107.
Toronto, already missing Jonas Valanciunas (thumb surgery), could also be without forward C.J. Miles (doubtful) to a bruised hip, and Fred VanVleet (questionable) due to his recent thigh contusion. However, Toronto’s dominant starting five is expected to be in tact.
The Wizards on the other hand, have found a new lineup and have stuck with it. It features Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza and fresh-on-the-scene Thomas Bryant — a bruising big-man from Indiana University (and former teammate of Raptors’ forward OG Anunoby). Toronto has found themselves in trouble — sans Valanciunas — with bigger teams like the Wizards are these days, so that’ll be something to watch for.
Bryant has been a revelation for the Wizards this season, after playing just 15 total games in his rookie season with the Los Angeles Lakers. Bryant, you may recall, was the player who became only the second player in NBA history (other than one Wilt Chamberlain) to make at least 14 baskets without a miss. He’s been efficient in his minutes this season.
Here are your details for today’s game:
1:00 p.m. EST, Sportsnet One
Raptors — Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Wizards — Tomas Satoransky, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Jeff Green, Thomas Bryant
Raptors — Jonas Valanciunas (thumb — out), C.J. Miles (hip — doubtful), Fred VanVleet (thigh — questionable)
Wizards — John Wall (heel — out), Markieff Morris (neck — out), Dwight Howard (back — out)
Raptors Need to Play the Perimeter
Over their last three games, the Wizards have been on fire from the field — especially from beyond the 3-point arc. While they lost the first of those three to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Wizards have averaged 15 3-pointers made per game, helping defeat the 76ers in a rematch, along with the second place Milwaukee Bucks two nights later.
The addition of Trevor Ariza has helped the Wizards stretch the floor, and their new starting lineup plays big minutes, and shoots a lot of threes — including Jeff Green, who’s never been particularly known for his shooting.
However that matters no longer, as it appears the Wizards have a new lease on life this past week. The Raptors will have to stay aggressive in the passing lanes and Serge Ibaka will need to contain Thomas Bryant in the middle, should the floor spread out and Beal begin to look for the 7-footer in the post.
A Game for Greg Monroe
If things open up at the rim, it’ll be tough containing the Wizards shooters, so it’s best to stop the onslaught from the point of attack, and that means limiting the team’s perimeter play. However, if the Raptors are forced to keep their Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Pascal Siakam helping Ibaka in the post, it could mean heavy minutes for Monroe — the only healthy player on the roster that can matchup with Bryant’s size.
While Bryant isn’t a stat-machine, he’s capable of playing heavy minutes in the right matchups, and if that happens, it means Scott Brooks and the Wizards have found something that works on offense against the Raptors defense.
Since Washington primarily plays small (with some Jeff Green at centre) outside of Bryant-centric lineups, it means Kawhi and company need to get him into foul trouble early so that they can eliminate the threat before it becomes an issue. Expect a lot of inside-out play this afternoon, including an early post-heavy offense — and if Ibaka struggles defensively, it could be a game for Monroe to use his size.
The Bench Mob
Toronto’s bench unit has played exceptionally well this past week, helping the team win four-straight games for the first time since the beginning of December. Norman Powell has become a legitimate scoring threat the last six games, averaging 11 points on 47 percent, in just 22 minutes per game.
Along with a healthy Kyle Lowry pushing VanVleet back to his preferred position, the bench unit is finally looking healthy and beginning to get into a rhythm. Anunoby is excelling as the team’s de facto back-up power forward, and Monroe is filling in admirably as the second unit’s centre.
As long as the bench can maintain leads, the Raptors starting-five can continue to do the heavy lifting.