Opening Statements 03: Wizards vs. Raptors — Two Teams Passing in the Night | Wizards Blog Truth About

Opening Statements 03: Wizards vs. Raptors — Two Teams Passing in the Night

Updated: November 2, 2016


Just one year ago, the Washington Wizards and the Toronto Raptors were two teams seemingly headed in opposite directions.

The Wizards had swept the Raptors in the 2015 playoffs to advance to the second round, where their progress was thwarted by the Atlanta Hawks. Paul Pierce left the team that summer, but conventional wisdom said a healthy John Wall and Bradley Beal (who proclaimed themselves to be best backcourt in the NBA), along with Otto Porter, Nene, Marcin Gortat, and the rest of the gang had all the tools to advance to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1979. Most importantly, coach Randy Wittman seemed to be free and clear of the proverbial hot seat.

The Raptors, in contrast, seemed to be regressing at the start of the 2015-16 season. They lost a close seven-game series to the Brooklyn Nets in 2014, but the sweep at the hands of the Wizards the following year represented a clear step back. DeMar DeRozan was a good player (inside the arc), but he’d yet to ascend to a consistent great player. Kyle Lowry was good, but he was overweight and ineffective in the 2015 playoffs. Coach Dwane Casey found himself firmly planted on the hot seat, and the general feeling was that the Raptors needed to a strong showing in the second round of the playoffs to keep his job.

What a different a year makes.

Last season, Lowry was in shape, and an All-Star. DeRozan was consistent, clutch, and an All-Star as well. Coach Casey was no longer on the hot seat, as his Raptors fought through two seven-game series in the first two rounds before falling in six games to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Finals. The play of Lowry and DeRozan not only vaulted them in the discussion as one of the best NBA backcourts, but they both played on the 2016 Olympic team.

Meanwhile: The Wizards missed the playoffs, Wittman was fired and replaced with Scott Brooks; Kevin Durant didn’t sign as a free agent; and the backcourt of Wall and Beal seemed to be sniping at each other over the summer. Forget the Eastern Finals, the Wizards would be happy just to return to the postseason.

The season is only two games young for the Wizards, which means ’tis the season for grandiose predictions gleaned from small sample sizes, but already tonight’s game has been deemed as a must-win. They gained, then lost late leads in the first two games, and the team has looked anything but cohesive heading into the home opener. Meanwhile the Raptors have won two of their first three games, DeRozan is on fire, and Lowry (29 points in his last outing) seems to have found his rhythm.

Joining TAI today is Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) from Raptors Republic, a Toronto Raptors blog. I also discussed the Wizards on Raptors Republic, and that can be seen here.

#1) Did Casey change his style or his philosophy? Or is his supposed resurgence just a case of patience finally paying off?

I am especially interested in your answer since Randy Wittman was not able to get the Wizards over the hump last season, and he was fired.

I’ve always been more of a pro-Casey voice than most, not because I don’t recognize some of his tactical weaknesses, but because he’s a very good 365-day coach. That he’s struggled in the past in high-leverage spots is notable, as was his increased flexibility and openness a season ago—the offense varied a little more in the regular season, he showed a willingness to ride younger players if it was deserved (even sitting DeMar DeRozan during a key stretch against Indiana), and his game-to-game adjustments were far more pronounced than in the Brooklyn or Washington playoff series. So he’s tweaked and flexed, but nothing like reinventing the wheel—he knows how the team eats.

#2) Speaking of the playoffs, why did the Raptors lose to the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals?

Was it as simple as too much LeBron and Kyrie? And if so, was done in the offseason to give the Raptors a better chance should that matchup arise again?

Yes, it was too much LeBron. It’s really as easy as that—the Cavaliers are more talented and more experienced, and they employ the best player in the world. The Raptors taking two games off of them was an unqualified success. It can be a little disheartening to answer the “where do they go now?” question, because there hasn’t been a move available to them that would close the gap with Cleveland. They’re stuck being pretty good with a great team ahead of them right now. Given where the franchise has been, that’s a pretty comfortable lot in life for the near-term.

#3) Kyle Lowry had been struggling a bit (until Monday night’s 29-point outburst), but clearly DeRozan, through three games, is in the zone.

He’s shooting better, playing more aggressively on both ends, and making a concerted effort to get in the lane? Is he just hungry to get back to the brink of a title? Or perhaps is he getting a boost after playing in the Olympics this summer?

I’m not really sure what’s gotten into him, and he hasn’t seemed to have an answer he can put into words, either. Sometimes, you’ve just got it going like that. I mean, apparently … I wouldn’t know. He and Lowry have long had a sense of when to let and facilitate the other going off, and DeRozan’s done a great job of using opponent game plans—namely, switching rather than letting him get the edge and force a rotation—to his advantage. The hope would be that on a night his shot is off or a defense sells out to protect the paint, he’ll shift to facilitating for others more, and that’s something he’s done a good, if inconsistent job with in the past.

#4) True or False? By season’s end, Jared Sullinger will be be 100% healthy and make Raptors fans totally forget about Bismack Biyombo.

False. Because some Raptors fans will miss Biyombo no matter what any time an opposing team is feasting near the rim. Sullinger makes the Raptors better when healthy, and the sum of all the new parts (Siakam and Poeltl have looked good so far, too) might help make up for Biyombo’s overall contribution, but I think because Biyombo’s presence was so visible/obvious/loud, it’ll be tough for people to evaluate the trade-off accurately.

 Pre-Game Quotes.

Memories for the Road…

washington wizards, toronto raptors, paul pierce, playoffs, game 1, truth about it, canada, nba playoffs, 2015

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Rashad Mobley
Reporter/Writer at TAI
Rashad has been covering the NBA and the Washington Wizards since 2008—his first two years were spent at Hoops Addict before moving to Truth About It. Rashad has appeared on ESPN and college radio, SportsTalk on NewsChannel 8 in Washington D.C., and his articles have appeared on ESPN TrueHoop,, Complex Magazine, and the DCist. He considers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a hero and he had the pleasure of interviewing him back in 2009.