This season has arguably been the most successful one in the entire history of the Toronto Raptors. Coach of the Year candidate Dwane Casey has his team playing some excellent basketball, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are healthy, and the path to the NBA Finals in the East at least looks a little more feasible than years prior.
But in order to get to that date with a Western Conference foe, Toronto (59-23) has to first get past the dangerous yet bipolar Washington Wizards (43-39) in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The two teams split the season series, with the Raptors winning the last matchup 102-95 on March 2nd. Interestingly enough John Wall has not faced the Raptors at all this year, as he was injured in every matchup between Toronto and Washington. The two teams faced each other in the NBA Playoffs in 2015, with the Wizards sweeping Toronto despite not having home court advantage.
2018 NBA Playoffs: (1) Toronto Raptors vs (8) Washington Wizards
The Wizards are a puzzling team this year. They lost Wall just before the All-Star break to a knee injury and appeared to be dead in the water. Instead, they rattled off some impressive wins and became one of the league’s best passing teams. Now with Wall back in the fold, the Wizards have their backcourt fully healthy. Wall and fellow guard Bradley Beal give Washington one of the more dynamic guard duos in the NBA when things are going right. The issue is things have, for the last few seasons, found a way to go amiss.
Washington limps into the NBA Playoffs as losers of nine of their last 12, with losses to bottom-feeders Chicago, Atlanta, Orlando, and New York. This is where the bipolar-ness comes in. The Wizards, in the middle of February, had a stretch of six wins in seven games including big road wins at Cleveland and Milwaukee as well as a nice home win against the now nuclear Philadelphia 76ers. It is never clear which version of the Wizards will show up: the bickering, underperforming squad or the team-oriented and well-balanced one.
The same cannot be said about the Raptors, who have been the definition of “consistent” this season. Toronto has seemingly gone about their business every night en route to a 59-win season, second-most in the NBA, and the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Perhaps the biggest win of all is not having to rely on stars DeMar DeRozan or Kyle Lowry like the last few seasons. DeRozan is averaging fewer minutes and points per game, while having a higher eFG percent. Lowry too is averaging five fewer minutes per game, with his 32.2 MPG being his lowest since the 2012-2013 season. Both players have lower usage rates as well. To make up for this, Toronto has something they have not had in recent years: depth.
The Difference Maker
The difference in the series will likely come from the depth each team has. The Raptors have one of the league’s top bench units with Fred Van Fleet, Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam, C.J. Miles and Jakob Poeltl. Toronto’s bench was a net positive in both wins against the Wizards this season, a combined +44 and +59. In the two losses, the bench was a combined +12 and -20. The Wizards have a thinner bench led by Tomas Satoransky and fiery forward Kelly Oubre, but have little after that to throw out. Washington will need to get more out of their second unit if they want to fend off the Raptors.
Toronto is as well-rounded as it gets, all while having one of the best coaches this season in Casey. The fatal flaw with this Raptors team appears to be themselves. The NBA Playoffs have proven to be insurmountable at times for Toronto, with guys just underperforming on the biggest stage and the brightest lights. If Washington can get in their heads, this series may last longer than it should. I don’t think it will. Toronto wins the series in 5 games.
Game 1: 4/14 WAS at TOR – 5:30 pm EST
Game 2: 4/17 WAS at TOR – 7:00 pm EST
Game 3: 4/20 TOR at WAS – 7:00 pm EST
Game 4: 4/22 TOR at WAS – 6:00 pm EST
Game 5*: 4/25 WAS at TOR – TBD
Game 6*: 4/27 TOR at WAS – TBD
Game 7*: 4/29 WAS at TOR – TBD