When the month of March officially closed, it was clear the Raptors were desperate for a win. Not only because they had gone 1-13 last month, but because in a season in which they are playing more than 2,000 kilometres from home in a pandemic, this team was playing against the COVID-19 virus as well. Multiple key players were out for weeks, and when they did return, they have admitted it has been difficult to get back to their normal ability.
A 53-point victory over the Warriors last Friday was important for the morale of the entire roster. You could sense, even all the way from Toronto, the team felt defeated — on and off the court. The Raptors’ win provided new perspective and a bit of hope for the final month and a half of this season.
With a victory to start a new month, the Raptors hope to keep the momentum rolling against the Washington Wizards. Only 1.5 games separate these two in the standings, so a win will only further separate the Raptors from the bottom of the Eastern Conference. And, yes, a loss will pull them closer to better lottery odds.
This is a Wizards roster that could go either direction as well. In my opinion, they should hope to trend towards the best lottery pick possible having lost six of their last eight, or even worse 11 of their last 14.
This could also be a game that’s played without some of both teams’ stars. For Washington, Bradley Beal has missed four games and is questionable; meanwhile Kyle Lowry is out for Toronto and Fred VanVleet remains questionable as well.
The best way to describe tonight’s game is two teams lost at sea with no real sense of direction back to land.
Here are the details for tonight’s game.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 7:00 PM EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Aron Baynes
Washington – Russell Westbrook, Garrison Matthews, Deni Avdija, Davis Bertans, Alex Len
Toronto – Kyle Lowry (foot – OUT), Fred VanVleet (hip – questionable), Jalen Harris (hip – OUT), Paul Watson Jr. (health and safety protocols – OUT), Patrick McCaw (knee – OUT), Rodney Hood (hip – OUT)
Washington – Bradley Beal (hip – questionable), Rui Hachimura (shoulder – questionable), Daniel Gafford (ankle – OUT), Thomas Bryant (knee – OUT)
Feeling Déjà Vu
The last time the Raptors and Wizards met was February 10. Back then, the game turned into a 22-point victory for the Raptors, with the good times going strong. After that victory, the Raptors had won five of their last six. Yes, they lost their next two after that, but then would proceed to win the next four. It feels like a long time ago now, but the whole month of February was going great until COVID-19 took out a handful of the roster.
Now, coming off a 53-point win, maybe the Raptors can once again string together some wins. Washington is a struggling team and after tonight the Raptors host a depleted Lakers squad. This could be the momentum this roster has needed after a stretch of bad luck.
Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby seemed to both have their best games on Friday night since returning from the health and safety protocols. The former put up 36 points on 58 percent shooting, while adding seven rebounds and five assists. The latter has had some good scoring games over the last seven, but against the Warriors it was an efficient 21 points on 67 percent shooting in 26 minutes. Add Gary Trent Jr. scoring a combined 55 points over the last two games for Toront, and there seems to be something brewing in Raptor-land.
If these three can keep it rolling, and eventually get a healthy VanVleet and Lowry back, the Raptors have a lot of positives to look forward to in the final stretch that is filled with some winnable games.
Capitalize on Missed Shots
The Wizards are going to miss a lot of shots. That’s what bad teams do, even though the Raptors do have a worse field goal percentage for the season than Washington. That doesn’t excuse the fact that Washington is bad.
Rebounding hasn’t been a strong suit for the Raptors this season either, but in their previous contest against the Wizards the rebounding difference was zero. The Wizards did win the offensive rebounding category by +3. It points back to the above paragraph: the Wizards are going to miss shots, and the Raptors need to grab the boards.
What’s more, that stat is actually quite good for the Raptors, considering they rank dead-last in rebounding in the entire league. Keeping Washington off the glass and limited second chance opportunities will be a major key to success tonight.