After a much needed personal extended All Star break, I am beyond excited to cover the remainder of the season for you guys. A season which has been weird, and for the most part disappointing, has started to look a lot brighter as of late.
The Toronto Raptors are unquestionably playing their best basketball, dating back to slightly before the acquisition of Jakob Poeltl. They have won eight of their last ten, including a decently big win over the Chicago Bulls last game.
This mini three game stretch where Toronto faces the Bulls, and Washington Wizards twice is a big one for a few reasons. First off, both of these teams are within the play-in mix. As much as the Raptors may have their sights set on cracking the top-six, beating those teams ahead of you, or surrounding you, is a large part in that.
Another reason is that in order to prove you are a worthy playoff team, and to simply end the season with enough wins to be a playoff team, you have to beat opponents who are worse-than playoff caliber regularly. No, you don’t have to beat every single team who isn’t in the top six, every time you play them. But, a sign of a good team is not just those who are competitive with opposing playoff teams, but those who can take care of their business against weaker opponents.
Where to watch
Sportsnet, 7:00PM ET
Toronto Raptors — Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl
Washington Wizards — Delon Wright, Bradley Beal, Kyle Kuzma, Kristaps Porzingis, Daniel Gafford
Toronto Raptors — Otto Porter Jr. (Out - Foot)
Washington Wizards — Vernon Carey Jr. ( Out - Away from team), Monte Morris (Out - Back)
It was nice to finally see this full Raptors team in action with everyone healthy, and all the new acquisitions in the lineup, including Will Barton, who was picked up just hours before last game. Tonight, he gets the opportunity to avenge the team that bought him out. Maybe he’ll drop 20 in the Will Barton revenge game?
With Barton, and now the move to bring Gary Trent Jr. off the bench, it is nice to finally have some legitimate scoring options on the second unit.
One thing that I found interesting was the move to finish the game with their starting lineup, but replace Gary Trent Jr. for Jakob Poeltl. Of course, this is an option that the Raptors have the ability to turn to now. Coach Nick Nurse often refers to this team as having six starters, although I think you could include Precious Achiuwa in that mix and call it seven starters,
It probably was partially because it was one of the only times that the Raptors looked competent for a consistent stretch. A lazily played, unable to get anything going game for the first three quarters, resulted in a Scottie Barnes defensive takeover in the fourth.
Two of these “seven starters” will have to sit down the stretch of games, and I would refuse to believe that Poeltl will be one of them the majority of the time. Especially against a team like Washington who starts two 7-footers alongside Kyle Kuzma, who himself is 6’9”. The Raptors are going to need the size to rebound and protect the rim more often than not. Obviously, a big reason why they picked him up.
This likely leaves Gary Trent Jr. on the bench when closing games. Having too much talent is one of those things that we could refer to as a good problem. You will never complain about having too many good players, but when it comes to minute distribution and role assignment, things can get questionable. I would look tonight for how Toronto handles the fourth quarter with their rotations, if it ends up being another close game.
Hopefully there will be no need to worry about late-game rotations because the Raptors will take care of business. Dating back to the 2018 playoffs, where the Raptors officially ended the Wizards curse and beat Washington in six games, Toronto is 11-2 against the Wizards. These two matchups will be the first times that they face-off this season.
The Wizards are a team who have found themselves in bad-average purgatory. A team destined for play-in battles, and that is exactly what this is. The Raptors currently sit one game ahead of Washington in ninth spot, and have the ability to create serious separation over these next couple of days. They also have the ability to lose the spot to the Wizards, or simply stay where they are.
These are the types of games that I am referring to. The games where you need to take care of business against a weaker opponent, if you see yourselves as a playoff team in the East. Because after these two games, Toronto heads out West for another brutal road trip.
Tonight, we will see if the playoff hopes are real, or if this team has dug themselves too big of a hole, and doesn’t quite have it within themselves to play above the level of the play-in.