Opening Statements: Wizards vs Raptors, Game 53
All-Star weekend, with all its pomp, circumstance, dancing and entertainment, is now a memory, and those happy feelings are replaced with the stark realities of second-half playoff runs—particularly for the Raptors and the Wizards. The Raptors have a record of 28-24, and they are currently third in the East—seven and a half games behind the second place Miami Heat, but just one game ahead of the Chicago Bulls. The Wizards find themselves below the .500 threshold at 25-27, a half-game ahead of Brooklyn and a half-game behind the Atlanta Hawks. Both teams are young and in uncharted territory, and they are led by coaches under pressure. It is playoffs or bust for Randy Wittman, and significant improvement or bust for Dwane Casey. Sustained stretches of good play during the last 30 or so games would be a tremendous confidence boost for both teams, while an untimely, long losing streak could mean the exact opposite … or worse.
Is this melodramatic enough?
Teams: Wizards vs Raptors
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Verizon Center, Washington, DC
Television: CSN, TSN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, CJCL
Spread: Washington fav’d by 2.5 points
Wizards tickets … anyone?
Click to get them served up for cheap via TiqIQ and TAI.
Q #1: Despite the malaise that seemed to hang over this year’s All-Star Game, from the Wizards’ perspective, it was nice to see Wall (dunk champ as a first-time All-Star) and Beal (the 3-point contest runner-up) have positive showings. What are the takeaways from a Toronto Raptors perspective?
@ryanmcneill: The big takeaway from the weekend is Toronto has three nice, young pieces to build around. DeMar DeRozan only scored eight points in the All-Star game but he showed confidence while on the court with the rest of the NBA’s elite. On top of that, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross got the experience of being part of the weekend. For a young, rebuilding team to have three core players involved in New Orleans is a good thing. The opportunity that trio will have over the next 30 games as Toronto makes a push to win their division and make the playoffs will be invaluable, too.
Q #2: Kyle Lowry was one of the players with career/All-Star-type numbers (16 PPG, 7.6 APG, 3.3 assist-to-turnover ratio, 20.1 PER) who did not make the team. And now, to add (possible) insult to injury, his name is being mentioned as trade bait—although ESPN’s Marc Stein says otherwise. What do you foresee for Lowry in the second half of the season, and what happens to this Raptors team if he is indeed traded? If he isn’t traded, what do the Raptors still need?
@ryanmcneill: One of the positive things for Masai Ujiri right now is there are plenty of dominoes to fall in the next few months. In regards to your question, Kyle Lowry is one of the larger dominoes. I personally think the team holds onto Lowry because he is needed for a playoff push and his expiring deal this summer has value as well.
But, if Toronto were to trade Lowry, dealing him to Oklahoma City for Reggie Jackson makes sense as well for both teams. If OKC isn’t sure Russell Westbrook can return to 100 percent, or if they feel that Jackson will fetch more than they can match this summer, then adding Kyle Lowry might be good insurance. For Toronto it’s a win-win as they would have Jackson’s rights this summer, and he’s a much younger player without the same kind of baggage that Lowry has. (Lowry’s attitude and personality are a big part of the reason why GMs are hesitant to give up a first-round pick for him and why coaches failed to vote him into the All-Star game.)
In regards to moves Toronto might make, I don’t see them doing anything big unless a great deal presents itself. Ujiri had to ditch Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay, and now that he has, he no longer has any big cap hits moving forward. Toronto is poised to have a bunch of cap room this summer and next so it’s unlikely the team adds any contracts to muddy a good situation.
However, with that being said, Ujiri recently traded Carmelo Anthony and snuck his way into the Dwight Howard deal, so if there’s a good move to be made, he won’t hesitate to jump into the mix. Ujiri holds his cards pretty close to his vest so it’s tough to gauge what may or may not be percolating.
Q #3: The Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn wrote this piece on Vince Carter this past weekend, and he waxes nostalgic over his career in the NBA. If LeBron’s return to Cleveland for a possible second is a possibility (maybe), do you think Toronto would be willing to accept Vinsanity for his final season?
@ryanmcneill: One of the highlights for me this year covering Toronto was hearing the Air Canada Centre finally start to warm up to Vince Carter again. It’s about damn time! Yeah, he sulked his way out of town, but the true story of what happened came out through a brilliant article by Michael Grange and when coupled with a great documentary on the topic that Sportsnet ran it should be enough to change perspective.
I was able to chat with Vince Carter about his impact on a young generation of Canadian players like Tristan Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Tyler Ennis, and he literally beamed about his legacy and impact on basketball in Canada. It’s clear that Carter still values his time playing here in Toronto and appreciates the impact he had on basketball in Toronto and across Canada. I think fans in Toronto are warming up to him and if he were to return to the Raptors for his final season it should ensure the team can retire his number and hang a banner honoring him in the rafters at the Air Canada Centre.
Q #4: Wizards owner Ted Leonsis pretty much made a “playoffs or else” proclamation at the start of the season, and so far—partly because the Wizards are playing well and partly because the Eastern Conference is weaker than usual—the team is holding up their end of the bargain. The Raptors did not quite go that far, but Dwane Casey, who is in the final year of his contract, will be judged on the Raptors’ growth. Has he done enough to warrant a new contract? And have you seen growth from the young players?
@ryanmcneill: I think Dwane Casey has done a great job this season now that he finally has the freedom to coach the way he wants—it’s no secret that Bryan Colangelo had too much say in playing rotations and put too much of an emphasis on offense. So, with that being said, seeing Toronto as one of the better defensive teams this season alone has been huge. Also, seeing the slow and steady growth from DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas has been encouraging.
BONUS with Rashad Mobley: Kyle Lowry vs. John Wall
@rashad20: This isn’t exactly a rivalry on the scale of Durant vs. LeBron, or Noah vs. Garnett, but tonight’s point guard matchup between John Wall and Kyle Lowry definitely contains some juicy, discussion-worthy subplots. Wall just spent his weekend (albeit with a heavy heart) dunking, dancing, and putting his 15 minutes worth of flair on the All-Star game, and letting the NBA community (along with Bradley Beal) know that the Wizards actually matter once again. Lowry was overlooked as an All-Star selection, and has endured season-long whispers about being traded, despite leading the Raptors to a better (and winning) record than the Wall-led Wizards.
The last time the Raps and Wiz met on Jan. 4, Lowry got the best of their matchup by putting up 19 points, 11 assists, five rebounds and three steals in just 35 minutes of play. Wall had just 11 points (on 4-of-15 shooting) in 31 minutes of play, and watched Lowry and the Raptors outscored his team 36-16 in the third quarter—a scenario that has played out far too often in the Wizards’ losses.
Both Wall and Beal told The Washington Post‘s Michael Lee that they will work to be more aggressive and more consistent:
“I think we both have to improve our play. We have to be more consistent, especially myself. And that’s one thing. In order for us to move forward, we both have to be on top of our game. And if the other one is not, we have to be strong enough, mentally tough enough to pick him up and pick up the rest of the team and I think we’re more than willing to do that and we’re capable of being able to do so.” —Bradley Beal
“We’ve got to get back on the right track of playing the right way, playing defense first and moving the ball offensively. I think we turned a corner, we just got to try to figure out a way to play against teams like OKC, and the Trail Blazers and the Miami Heat. We have to find a way to play that way for the rest of these 30 games so we can get a better playoff spot.” —John Wall
Speaking of Lowry, he owes Bradley Beal some payback after this happened in their last matchup:
Also, don’t miss John Wall’s reflections on the All-Star Game:
Midrange Me, Bro
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