TAI Roundtable: Wizards vs. Raptors — Round 1 Playoff Series Preview | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

TAI Roundtable: Wizards vs. Raptors — Round 1 Playoff Series Preview

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Updated: April 14, 2018

 

It’s been quite a mercurial week for the playoff-bound Wizards. Last Friday they laid an egg, without John Wall, against the Atlanta Hawks. Scott Brooks called his team selfish, but they righted the ship a few days later with an impressive win over the shorthanded Celtics on national TV.

The next night, with playoff positioning still on the line, the Wizards laid another egg and lost to the listless Orlando Magic, which sealed their fate as the last-seeded team in the Eastern Conference. A date with the Toronto Raptors was set.

Adding to the ever-changing theme, Washington’s front-office curiously signed yet another point guard in Ty Lawson — two days before the playoffs. A day later, it was revealed that Jodie Meeks, a bench shooter, would be suspended for 25 games and miss the entire playoffs for violating NBA/NBPA anti-drug policies.

But come tip-off time at 5:30 pm ET today in Toronto, nothing that happened during the week or even the regular season has meaning anymore. The Wizards can focus on a singular goal: beating the North.

Here at Truth About It (dot net), we also have goals: to bring you the reader varied voices from different perspectives on all things related to the Washington Wizards. Sometimes we’re complimentary, sometimes we start a movement (#FreeSato), sometimes we’re “saving” the coach’s job, and other times, we are flat out angry.

We are Wizards fans who want to see the team win their first title in 40 years, but we are also writers who cover the team, which means that little cynicism devil has a permanent home on our collective shoulders.

If you’d like a traditional Raptors/Wizards preview, go check out Conor Dirks and I over at Raptors Republic. If you’d like to know the pros and cons of the Raptors sweeping the Wizards, check out the ubiquitous Conor Dirks and Adam Rubin wax poetic about that very subject.

For this Wizards/Raptors preview, me and the motley TAI crew Conor Dirks, Adam Rubin, Bryan Frantz, Troy Haliburton and Kyle Weidie answered two questions:

  1. What do you think will happen in this series?
  2. What do you want to happen in this series?

Let’s go:

Conor Dirks — @ConorDDirks

#1) I think that the Wizards will probably lose in six games. Those six games will include at least one of each of the following: 1) a blowout loss; 2) a loss in overtime; 3) a blown-fourth-quarter-lead loss; and 4) a 10-point loss after a competitive game. It will also include: 5) a convincing, chest-thumping win; and 6) an Otto Porter breakout win.

#2) I’m of two minds. I want the Wizards to join the Baron Davis Warriors as one of those rare teams to knock off a 1-seed as an 8-seed. And then I want them to beat the Cavs in Cleveland. Also I want the Wizards to get pummeled into submission and serious organizational change. I probably need to get some rest.

Adam Rubin — @LedellsPlace

Full Disclosure: When I started writing this I intended to predict Washington winning in seven games. The news that Otto Porter and Mike Scott are questionable for Game 1 puts a damper on things (not so much the Jodie Meeks bombshell). My thought was if Washington can just win one of the first two games, then Toronto’s playoff demons will rear their ugly. Without Porter and Scott, that task becomes much harder.

I still think Washington can do it, though, and this quote from Kyle Lowry is encouraging: “Our Game 1 is our Game 7 tomorrow.”  Lowry is referring to the fact that Toronto is 0-10 all-time in playoff Game 1’s. The Raptors are putting entirely too much pressure on themselves. Washington, on the other hand, has no burden of expectations at all, thanks to a horrific regular season.

Here’s what the Wizards have going for them:

  1. Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi will actually get to play this series because Toronto uses a few non (or very limited)-three-point shooting big men (Jonas Valanciunas, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl). This greatly expands the Wizards’s depth and lessens their reliance on Markieff Morris.
  2. Toronto’s greatest strength — its bench — will be slightly mitigated in the playoffs when starters play more minutes. This means not only will the Raptors bench play fewer minutes, but also when they are on the court, they won’t play as many minutes against their opponents’ bench.
  3. The issues that plagued the Wizards in the regular season — lackadaisical play, uninspired defense, poor effort against sub .500 teams — do not apply in the playoffs. Once the bright lights of the post-season shine, every team ratchets up their intensity. Washington has a history of playing up (and down) to its opponents. I don’t expect that to change.
  4. John Wall is on a mission. He only played four games after returning from his most recent knee surgery, but that was enough time to show that his explosion is back. Those back-to-back 28 and 29 point performances against Cleveland and Boston were no accident. Sure, the turnovers are a problem, but Wall is ready to make a statement in the playoffs. Don’t think he’s forgotten all those “everybody eats” comments.
  5. PLAYOFF #FREESATO

Alright, I’ve convinced myself. Washington in seven.

No. 2) What do you want to happen in this series?

I want the Wizards to win, obviously. But more than that, I want them to play at a level that shows this core has a future. That the seven-game series against Boston was not their peak. I want the Wizards to move the ball and play solid help defense and execute down the stretch. I want them to do more than just eke out a series win. I want them to do something that allows us all to erase the 2017-18 regular season from our memory and believe once again that Washington is headed in the right direction.

Bryan Frantz — @BFrantz202

#1) I guess this isn’t the worst-case scenario for the Wizards, but it’s hard to get too excited about anything related to this team. The Wizards, for the, what, third year in a row (?) were supposed to take “the next step.” Despite some marginal individual improvement, this team remains the same team it’s been for years. Meanwhile, the Raptors have improved significantly (thanks to a GM who has unearthed gems in Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and others — shoutout Ernie Grunfeld, Ramon Sessions, and Ty Lawson!) and look ready to move on to bigger and better things.

#2) Washington will likely make this competitive, especially if John Wall has the physical stamina to endure the series, but an upset seems unlikely. I’m predicting Toronto wins this series in five games, though an inspired Wall could drag it to six or seven. In my dream world, the Wizards get swept and fire Ernie Grunfeld, then enjoy a busy offseason that sees them move on from Marcin Gortat and invest in young, high-upside wings. But I doubt very much that will happen.

Troy Haliburton — @TroyHalibur

#1) The Wizards will ultimately continue their streak of winning in the first round. The thing that gives me so much confidence is not the sweep from 2015, but the fact that in four games with Toronto this season the two teams were separated by a total of five points. They split the season series 2-2, and John Wall did not play a second of the four games. Wall, arguably the best player in this series (he certainly was in 2015), will have a major impact with his ability to control the pace of the game. The Wizards will come into Game 1 not showing any fear against a team they know they can dominate in a matchup of stars.

Toronto finished with an amazing point differential of plus-7.8, which was second best in the NBA behind the Rockets. Part of the reason why the Raptors had so much success this season was the play it bench unit. They led the league in point differential, outscoring opponents benches by 10.4 points per game. For Washington to win the series, they will need Tomas Satoransky to show just how much he has improved this season as a playmaker.

#2) I want the Wizards to win because I honestly believe this core group is too fragile mentally to have another unsuccessful playoff run on their resume.

Rashad Mobley — @rashad20

As much as I want to believe that the version of the Wizards we saw toward the end of the regular season will give way to a meaner, more focused team who crushes the dreams of the Raptors three years after Paul Pierce helped them do it, I just don’t see it happening.

I think Wall will continue to be indecisive, Beal’s fatigue will start to show even more, and the “supporting” cast will not be able to keep the team afloat. Conversely, I think DeRozan will continue to play like a man possessed, and Lowry will strike that balance between being deferential and taking over in crunch time. I see the Raptors winning in five or six games.

But that’s not what I want…

What I want to happen is for the Wizards to win in five games to extend Toronto’s playoff misery.  Then, I’d like to see the Cavaliers defeat the Pacers in seven games, which would setup yet another classic Wizards-Cavs series, and I’d want Washington to win that, too.

But none of that is possible, unless they first defeat the fragile Toronto Raptors.

Kyle Weidie — @truth_about_it

#1) The Wizards in six games, because I’m a last-minute optimist — all the while bitching and moaning along the way. But I’m not so sure Washington takes this series on its own merits, necessarily. They will need Bradley Beal to carry the first round, f0r sure. But I more so get the feeling that the Raptors will just do something to blow it.

Bare with me for a second. My Mississippi State Bulldogs trounced the Louisville Cardinals on their home floor — the KFC Yum! Center — in the N.I.T. quarterfinals about three weeks ago. They were up 25-12 by early second quarter, and then 49-29 midway through the third quarter, never looking back and leading by as much as 27 points.

What struck me was Louisville’s crowd. The 22,000-seat arena wasn’t half full according to box score, but those who were there were loud. The whole game. In a blowout. At one point the Cardinals cut their deficit to 18 points in the fourth quarter, and the crowd cheered as if the comeback were complete and their team had just tied the game. It was truly amazing, even watching over television.

Of course, the Bulldogs went on to get blown-out by Penn State in the N.I.T. semi-final — in front of my very own eyes at Madison Square Garden. You can imagine the fun of sitting near the Penn State band as the Nittany Lions went on a 24-0 run between the first and second quarters.

Back to the Wizards, and Raptors. Even if the Raptors do finally win a Game 1, the psyche of Toronto fans, who are incredibly awesome fans, is nonetheless, fragile. Players, too, probably. If Beal and Wall can muster enough punch in any game on Toronto’s home court, it might just be enough to do the damage, bench units be damned.

#2) Sure, I want the Wizards to win. And I’ll admit, I’m a person who hates losing more than I love winning. But that kind of changes in the playoffs — or at least in those moments of anticipation before the playoffs start.

But in another way, I’m numb to the slog of this season, numb to the slog that team management is seemingly dragging potential through. Sometimes the forest needs to be burned in order to replenish the nutrients. Think I’m just afraid the Wizards will do something like advance to the second round, making everyone praise the front office since the media will focus on an 8-seed beating a 1-seed when the reality is that this could be the most evenly-matched 1-8 series of all time … only then to have the Wizards lose to Cleveland in the same old way with the same old blemishes. What are we to do?

We are to basketball. Let’s get Wizard.


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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, USAToday.com, Complex Magazine, and the DCist. He considers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a hero and he had the pleasure of interviewing him back in 2009.