Last year, the Toronto Raptors galvanized a nation to come out and support them in the playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets. Even though that series did not go the Raptors way, people were still behind this team and who would not blame the Raptor fans for doing so. The Team was legitimately good this year, DeRozan and Lowry were playing at an All-Star level, Lou Williams has a song made about him and the #MyNorth ads all over television, brought a sense of nationalistic pride.
For the Washington Wizards, they were looking to build on their playoff run last year, where they shocked the Chicago Bulls (albeit injury laden bulls) the first round. They have play great defence, solid interior presence, and two exciting guards in John Wall and Bradley Beal.
Why am I talking about two different teams?
Well as many sports fans already know, the NBA playoffs are underway. Living in Toronto, my focus is obviously on the Raptors vs. the Wizards series. This series in many people's eyes was going to be tight. The reason why is because many people thought both teams were at the same crossroads. Both teams have elite guards, and both teams have the same expectations, to win a round. Therefore, when I saw both teams were facing off, I expected a 7 game war. However we might be looking at a possible sweep.
Game one went the Washington Wizards way in a 93-86 OT win and game two was not even close. In fact the 117-106 final score in favour of the Wizards did the Raptors a favour, making the raptors look like they were in the game. People were expecting a war, yet the Wizards took home court advantage away completely and that has many people wondering why.
Game 2 might be an allegory for the whole series. There were a lot of things that really hurt the Toronto Raptors in game one. First was the Raptors inability to stop the ball. Asking any guard to try and stop John Wall going full speed is nuts, reason why all five players must run back. Raptors' guards also must take care of the ball against the Wizards because in the half-court set they are a train wreck.
While the Raptors actually did a great job of this, many people forget that the raptors half-court defence is terrible when Kyle Lowry is off the floor. Let me explain, Kyle Lowry is the only decent perimeter defender for the raptors but is injured and right now is having trouble getting passed screen-n-rolls, which leads him to foul and thus he getting into foul trouble.
Therefore you have Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez come off the bench, and while offensively the duo together is good, defensively they are a joke and right now John Wall is recognizing that and getting an open lane to the basket, forcing the interior defender to come help. This leads to the second problem which was rebounding.
The Raptors best rebounding duo is Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas but defensively they're not very useful, especially Valanciunas whose pick-n-roll defense might be top five worst in the league. The best defensive bigs for the Raptors is Tyler Hansbrough and Patrick Patterson but they give up size and as a result the Raptors rebounding suffers. Therefore when John Wall is getting to the Rim against the first duo, Wall is probably getting a basket. On a miss the Raptors are probably getting a defensive rebound with the first duo, but Dwane Casey has to look to his bench and go get Patterson (because Tyler Hansbrough is starting) because of the open lane.
As a result, when the tandem of Hansbrough and Patterson force a miss, the rebound is going to the Wizards because of two reasons. One is the obvious basketball reason of when the Raptors big men go to help, rotations get screwed up and the Wizard bigs are able to sneak into inside position for the rebound. The second reason is physical, both of the Raptors big men are 6’9 when Dwane Casey goes to his defensive lineup while Nene is 6’11 250 and Gortat is 6’11 250. Add Drew Gooden to the mix who is 6’10 250 and it is no wonder why the Raptors are getting bullied on the glass.
Thus, Dwane Casey is in a perplexing situation where he does not have rebounding or defence, which go hand in hand. So now with each play he has to wonder whether he should sacrifice his teams overall defensive or his team’s ability to rebound, and more often than not, he chooses defense but the consequence is the Raptors are getting destroyed on the boards.
Injuries are also a factor. The usual starting lineup for the Raptors is Lowry, DeRozan, Ross, Amir Johnson and Valanciunas. Here is the problem, Lowry has been hurt since February because where DeRozan suffered a significant groin injury, Lowry really over exerted himself to keep the team afloat. While that was the reason Lowry got the All-Star starter nod, it is also the reason why since the all-star break Lowry has looked sluggish. Mix that in with Amir Johnson having two bad ankles, Valanciunas suffering from a crises of confidence on the Defensive end, Ross having a crises of confidence on the offensive end, and Dwayne Casey’s unwillingness to play James Johnson for obvious offensive reasons, ehich equals deep trouble for the Raptors.
It should also be said that the Wizards are a good team. John Wall is an All-Star, Bradley Beal is holding his own, and even though he cannot draw up an offensive play to save his life, Randy Wittman really has this team working on a string defensively. The way the Wizards help the helper is impressive and Wittman deserves some credit. However, it should also be said that even though the Raptors have all these problems they lost game one in overtime, and during game two, showed that they can explode offensively. What I am saying is in my mind the Wizards are winning this series but I think the Raptors might still have some fight left.