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Wizards – Raptors Playoff Preview: TAKE THE NORTH

rapswiz

Washington vs. Toronto

2015 Eastern Conference First Round

Game 1 – Sat. April 18, Washington at Toronto, 12:30 PM, ESPN
Game 2 – Tue. April 21, Washington at Toronto, 8:00 PM, NBA TV
Game 3 – Fri. April 24, Toronto at Washington, 8:00 PM, ESPN2
Game 4 – Sun. April 26, Toronto at Washington, 7:00 PM, TNT
Game 5 *- Wed. April 29, Washington at Toronto, TBD
Game 6 * – Fri. May 1 ,Toronto at Washington, TBD
Game 7 * – Sun. May 3, Washington at Toronto, TBD


Tale of the Tape

[ezcol_1third]WIZARDS[/ezcol_1third][ezcol_1third][/ezcol_1third][ezcol_1third_end]RAPTORS[/ezcol_1third_end][ezcol_1third]46-36[/ezcol_1third][ezcol_1third]TEAM RECORD[/ezcol_1third][ezcol_1third_end]49-33[/ezcol_1third_end][ezcol_1third]98.5[/ezcol_1third][ezcol_1third]PPG (own)[/ezcol_1third][ezcol_1third_end]104.0[/ezcol_1third_end][ezcol_1third]97.8[/ezcol_1third][ezcol_1third]PPG (opp)[/ezcol_1third][ezcol_1third_end]100.9[/ezcol_1third_end][ezcol_1third]Lost 2[/ezcol_1third][ezcol_1third]W/L STREAK[/ezcol_1third][ezcol_1third_end]Won 1[/ezcol_1third_end][ezcol_1third]0[/ezcol_1third][ezcol_1third]HEAD-TO-HEAD WINS[/ezcol_1third][ezcol_1third_end]3[/ezcol_1third_end]


HERE. WE. GO. Postseason basketball has returned to the District, and its familiar buzz is sweeping through the fan base like a fabricated Ebola crisis as our Wizards of Washington, re-branded and playoff-tested, march into the North for a first round clash against the Toronto Raptors.

Much are the story lines revolved around this series:

Vengeance is at stake for the Wizards, who lost all three games vs. Toronto this season.

LINK: Game Notebook 54, Wizards at Raptors: Swept Away in the North

I’ve got a few Canadian friends, who are Raptors fans, who’ve irritated me all season and after every Wizards loss to the Raptors. #WeTheNorth plastered all over my Facebook timeline. A rude, emoji infested text. Hope they had fun, because this is about to be Shawshank fucking Redemption.

An All-Star Backcourt Battle Royale: John Wall vs. Kyle Lowry.

File this under: Some things that will never get old: Wall swatting Lowry’s ball into the bleachers, then promptly stepping over him.

Paul Pierce’s recent playoff history against Toronto and his even more recent comments on the team’s “it” factor, or lack thereof.

Yeah, they’re not terribly fond of Pierce in T-Dot, which makes this all the more fun since we know he has a knack for blaring back at fans when they annoy him.

Anwho, Pierce did this to Raptors fans right in their face last year when he was with the Nets:

Then, he said this about the Raptors in an interview with ESPN this past week:

“We haven’t done particularly well against Toronto, but I don’t feel they have the ‘It’ that makes you worried.”

The Raptors’ shitty team slogans.

Irfan will tell you he approves this slogan but I (Abdullah) won’t offer you the same opinion. I think I’m just hating. Ok, right, I’m totally hating. But it’s probably not as bad as I make it come off as. No, it’s bad.

balldontstop14

But then the mighty #RTZ (another hash tag of theirs I hate), decided to switch things up and bring back Michael Jackson’s final tour, you know the one he never actually made it to.

Drake.

I must say, for as much as the Eastern Conference gets trashed for its supposed inferiority in the face of the West – and they do get trashed (see meme below) – this forthcoming Wizards-Raptors matchup totally exceeds any low expectations fans may have in terms of excitement and appeal. Trust me this series will be everything but a toddler pillow fight. So let’s pregame for it.

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The Raptors

– by Irfan K

What to watch:

Career high in points for a couple of Toronto Raptors:

  • Terrence Ross – 51 points vs LA Clippers, January 25th, 2014
  • Demar DeRozan – 42 points vs. Houston, March 30th, 2015
  • Kyle Lowry – 39 points vs. Utah, December 3rd, 2014
  • Louis Williams – 36 points vs. Cleveland, November 22nd, 2014

During the regular season, game planning and adjustments are at a minimum.  The most important factor is to determine what your team does best, and then implement that at a high level night after night.

During the playoffs, game planning and adjustments are at a maximum.  In the playoffs, the most important factor becomes variety and flexibility.  Opponents are going to try to take away what you do best, and they are going to succeed.  When that happens, you have to find different options.  If your options are limited, so are your chances to win.

The Raptors have a number of people who can flat out score (see above).  In other words, the Raptors have a variety of ways to beat you, in the form of a variety of different players who can take over a game.  If you watch the Raptors, you don’t feel like you’re watching a dominant, efficient offensive team.  You’ll see some pin-downs and double high screens, but nothing that makes you shake your head like the Warriors or Spurs.  And yet, the Toronto Raptors rank fourth in offensive efficiency.  FOURTH!!  Behind the Clippers, Warriors, and Cavaliers, and ahead of the likes of the Hawks, Spurs, Mavericks, and Rockets.

So how do they do it?  Of course, the Raptors run some sets to get easy baskets or open threes.  But the Raptors run many sets for their primary scorers and playmakers (Lowry, DeRozan, Williams) to simply get the ball in their favorite spots, and then let them go to work.  Initially, the Raptors appear to play more isolation basketball than most high efficiency offenses.  But they make it work: First, by getting their best isolation players in the right spots.  Second, by learning to move to the right spots to create playmaking opportunities off of those isolation sets.

Additionally, watching the Raptors sometimes gives the impression that they can turn into a midrange jump shooting team, particularly Demar DeRozan and Louis Wiliams, two of their primary creators.

But look at the Raptors team shot chart:

Untitled

Some midrange, but not nearly as much as the Wizards.  Why the disconnect between what you sometimes think you’re watching, and what you’re really watching?  Check this out: 

Williams and DeRozan DO NOT SETTLE. Williams leads the league in fouls drawn on jump shots, and DeRozan is third, despite missing twenty games. Cut off their forays to the rim, and they get you to foul them on a low percentage shot anyway. Fouls on jump shots make coaches (and fans) pull their hair out. Williams and DeRozan could drive Wittman (and Wizards fans) bald.

And the propensity to draw fouls does not stop there. The Raptors rank 7th in the NBA in free throw attempts (compared to 22nd for the Wizards). Lowry, Williams, DeRozan, and even Ross will attack the rim relentlessly, and draw contact in the process.

The chart above also reflects a high concentration of three point shooting, reflecting the Raptors understanding of the value of the three point shot. The Raptors rank 7th in three point attempt, and 12th in three point percentage. The Wizards rank 27th in three point attempts, yet rank 9th in three point percentage. Advantage: Raptors.

Go under the screens, and Williams and Lowry aren’t shy to launch long range daggers. Go over, and they’ll turn the corner and get to the bucket. Cut off the drive, and they find the open three point shooters spotted up intelligently around the perimeter.

The Raptors don’t have guys that you think of as high efficiency players a la LeBron James or James Harden or Chris Paul. They don’t have a dead eye floor spacing shooter like Kyle Korver, JJ Reddick, or Danny Green. But they execute a high efficiency offense centered on attacking the basket, finding three point opportunities, and getting to the line. And they do it with multiple perimeter playmakers, which is what makes them difficult to guard for everyone, and what could make them a nightmare to guard for the Wizards.

Key matchup:

Wizards vs. Raptors Small Ball. Wizards coach Randy Wittman has proven time and again that he will adjust to his opponent’s line-ups when they go small. The Wizards have proven time and again that they struggle to guard stretch-4’s. The Raptors love to go small, and they have a very good stretch-4 in Patrick Patterson.

Untitled

Raptors have no fear closing games with three guard lineups featuring Lowry, DeRozan, and Williams, alongside Patterson and one of the Amir Johnson/Jonas Valanciunas duo. All three of those guys can create off the dribble, and will have at least one huge perimeter mismatch against the Wizards anytime they throw them out there together. Other than Wall, who’s staying in front of those guys? And if the Wizards counter with Wall and Sessions, than the Raptors already have what they want. Terrence Ross can also step in for any of the Lowry, DeRozan, Williams trio. He’s less talented one on one, but he’s a better shooter than any of the three, and good enough to turn that shooting threat into strong drives to the basket when defenders have to close out hard. And look at his bounce!

And what if Casey goes psycho, and experiments with a line-up of Lowry, DeRozan, Williams, Ross, and Patterson. Hypothetically, the Wizards size should absolutely destroy that line-up, as would any team, which is why the Raptors have never used it. But would the Wizards still try to adapt to Toronto? Would Wittman go with Wall, Sessions, Beal, Pierce, and….Gooden? It would certainly be interesting to find out.

Small ball is one of the secrets to Toronto’s high efficiency offense without having highly efficient stars. With Lowry, DeRozan, and Williams sharing the floor, at least one of them always has a favorable match-up to generate a good shot, or get fouled. And with Patterson is the exact type of player that gives the Wizards fits. His shooting ability will space the floor, creating driving lanes for the Raptors tremendous attacking players. And if the Wizards bigs don’t get out to Patterson, he’ll kill them from three point range. There’s a reason the Raptors are 3-0 against the Wizards this season.Small ball has a lot to do with it.

On the flip side, the Wizards have a tremendous size advantage against the Raptors. The Raptors offense ranks fourth in efficiency, yes, but they also rank 25th in defensive efficiency, while the Wizards rank 5th. Valanciunas is not a rim protector. Neither is Amir Johnson. One of the reasons Toronto loves to go small so often is that they don’t really lose a whole lot defensively by doing so. Going small compromises your interior defense, but the Raptors don’t have great interior defenders anyway. Their best defense is a good offense.

Nene and Gortat have the ability to dominate the Raptors inside. If they can force Toronto to stay big, they can help the Wizards control the game. More importantly, the Wizards CAN NOT SETTLE for midrange two’s (but they probably will). Wall and Beal, and even Pierce, have no excuse for not attacking the basket against the Raptors subpar rim protectors. If they take what the defense gives them, the defense will give them open two’s. If they force the issue, and take it to the rim, the pressure will be on the Raptors to adjust defensively, compromising their offense. The Wizards have shown no propensity for doing this all season, against anyone. Maybe facing the same team repeatedly will force them to do so. We can only hope.

X-factor:

Amir Johnson. We already know that Louis Williams and Patrick Patterson kill the Wizards. But Amir Johnson is the guy who can secretly swing this series in the Raptors favor. Amir Johnson is the glue guy and energy guy for the Raptors. He’s an excellent and opportunistic offensive rebounder, and one of the Raptors best interior positional defenders. But Johnson is just 6’9”. He’s going to be undersized against the Wizards. He’ll try to make up for his lack of size by winning early on defense, pushing guys off their spots. And rather than block shots, he’ll try to cut off lanes early and take charges as his method of protecting the rim.

Offensively, Johnson knows his limitations, and knows his strengths. Johnson won’t try to turn himself into an offensive force, but he’ll be ready when his opportunities arise. Johnson slides nicely into open areas when his defenders have to help, ready to turn drop off passes into easy lay-ups and dunks. He especially adept at this in the Raptors small ball lineups, freeing himself up for easy scoring chances while the defense scrambles around trying to contain the repeated drive and kick action the Raptors go through. And Amir knows his personnel. He knows how Lowry and DeRozan attack, and he is always ready to hit the offensive glass when those guys draw defenders at the rim.

Johnson is also prone to foul trouble. He is among the Raptors highest rated defensive players, and the highest among all their bigs that play significant minutes. If the Wizards can get him off the floor on a regular basis, their chances in this series will improve dramatically.

Fun factor:

“This is it!” The Raptors new playoff slogan has replaced #WeTheNorth, and really, I’m not sure why. Their playoff slogan last year was much better, and hopefully, the same will be said about their playoff performance. However, the Raptors crowd is awesome, and there’s no reason to think they won’t duplicate this scene from last year:

And of course, there’s always Drake. Earlier this year he gave us this:

drake

Last year he gave us the “Lint Roller” Twitterfest. What will he have in store this time around?! Good times!

Why the Raptors can win:

Small ball + home court = Advantage Raptors. This series is going to come down to a contrast of styles: The Wizards will try to use their size to control the Raptors, and will try to take advantage of John Wall in pick and roll and in transition. The Raptors will counter with smaller line-ups that spread the floor, open driving lanes for their playmakers, and take advantage of the three point line. Controlling style is one of the major perks of home court advantage, and the Raptors have one of the best home crowds in the league (27-15 home record). Home court has shown statistically shown to be less significant during this regular season compared to the past, but the playoffs is different story, particularly in a 4 vs. 5 matchup. I expect the Raptors to control the tempo, and style of play in their home games, a style that causes the Wizards major problems. The Raptors have more home games in this series, so I expect them to have more wins in this series as well.

Series prediction:

Raptors in 7


The Wizards

– by Abdullah

What to watch:

Paul Pierce do what we brought him here to do.

While the Raptors are faced with the task of finding their ‘it’, the Wizards made sure they had found theirs last summer, just a few hours after they let Trevor Ariza walk in free agency. Ariza’s replacement in Pierce did render a few setbacks, like 3-point makes and efficiency (yeah, weird), and an obvious regression on the defensive end. Here are some numbers:

Trevor Ariza 2013-14: 180-442 from 3PT; .407 3P%
Paul Pierce 2014-15: 118-303 from 3PT; .389 3P%

However, any imbalance between the two small forwards was to be resolved by the veteran/future Hall of Famer intangibles Pierce would lug in with him. And so Pierce set the hard-nose, bullyish tone early – wayyy early – in a preseason game against the Bulls when he clotheslined Jimmy Butler, then blessed Joakim Noah with an anointment of Truth.

Pierce’s establishment of a more nitty-gritty attitude in the Wizards locker room will be expected to be on full display beginning on Saturday afternoon in Canada. After all, his outspokenness has already taken front stage this past week when he spilled the juicies on a variety of topics, including his opinion on the Raptors, as well as questioning his young teammates’ desire to be great:

“I keep telling Wall and Beal, ‘You’ve got to make up your mind. Do you want to be good, or do you want to be great? Because if you want to be great, you gotta do it every single night, not just when you feel like it. Both of those guys have the potential to be great. I love them. But sometimes I’m not sure they realize what it takes.

Pierce enters this series with an archive of sound bites. His assertion that the Raptors don’t have the ‘it’ didn’t bode too well with DeMar DeRozan, who has pretty much offered us the notion that he has all intentions to quiet Pierce. Not to mention, Raptors fans are still burning from Pierce’s final-second shot block of Kyle Lowry in last year’s deciding playoff game. It’s about enough drama to expect Pierce to be freckled with red dots throughout this series and especially in the games played in Toronto.

And how will Pierce’s teammates respond to him calling them out? Wall obviously feeds off any criticism, be it the media or surely his own teammates. I also wonder if Otto Porter has been punched yet. I totally wouldn’t be mad if a little bluish hue was creeping from under his goggles. Pierce has the respect to chew through any of his teammates, like we’ve constantly see him do Gortat. The good thing is they embrace his attitude and they make every effort to feed off of it. Countering the pressure and tenacity of the playoffs and all its drama is why he was brought here in the first place. Which brings me to that exact subject…

Key matchup:

The Wizards vs. playoff drama

This was understandably a bigger area of concern last season as the Bulls series loomed. With John Wall and Bradley Beal’s playoff cherry just getting popped, how they would perform in the face of an overwhelmingly disruptive aura like the NBA Playoffs was highly questionable. However, the youngins showed incredible resolve, overcame the intimidation of a strong-minded and playoff-experienced opponent, and dictated the series to a decisive 4-1 win. This year, the core combination of Wall, Beal, Nene, and Marcin Gortat enter the postseason having been playoff-tested together, with the addition of Paul Pierce hopefully padding that chemistry. Like Chicago, Raptors fans (sans Drake) can make Toronto a dramatically hostile environment; can Wall and Beal remain resilient once again?

X-factor:

Drew Gooden. After spending much of the first half of the season in warmups, it’s pretty evident that for the past two months Randy Wittman has been prepping Gooden for significant playoff minutes. Check out the escalation of his MPG from one month to the next:

  • January: 6.5 MPG
  • February: 16.5 MPG
  • March: 21.2 MPG
  • April: 24.9 MPG

Despite Gooden’s age and his semi-regression as a shooter, his tenacity and energy remains a vital ingredient to a successful playoff team, something that was well witnessed in last year’s playoffs. However, the more powerful attribute attained by Gooden is his ability to space the floor and be a stretch defender, an area the Raptors obliterated the Wizards in all season long with their stretch 4s. Where Gooden lacks is consistency, both as a scorer and as a defender. He’ll give you 6-10 shooting and knock down all of his 3’s in one game, but will turn it around and put up an 0-8 dud after bricking a bunch of line-drive long 2’s. For more on whether Drew can be ‘GOOD-En-Ough’, read Irfan’s column about it here.

The Raptors can beat you using a variety of options. Be it Kyle Lowry creating off the dribble or knocking it down from long range; DeRozan penetrating the lane; Terrence Ross in the open floor. Their key to success, however, has been the ability to stretch the floor with their small ball lineup and get their ‘bigs’ in position to hit from long range. They’ve been successful at this simply because the Wizards don’t have the adequate personnel to counter it.

Until Drew Gooden is in the game.

Check out Patrick Patterson’s numbers when Drew Gooden is on the floor vs. when he’s not.

Nov. 7
Gooden: played 11 minutes
Patterson: 1-3 from 3PT, 7 points

Jan. 11
Gooden: DNP
Patterson: 3-4 from 3PT, 16 points

Feb. 11
Gooden: played 29 minutes
Patterson: 0-3 from 3PT, 2 points

As you can see, Drew Gooden puttin’ the whole 355 on his back when he’s out there countering small ball lineups. As evidenced by the critical drop off in numbers for Patterson, Gooden’s mobility practically fazes out the ability to find your stretch bigs for an open look around the perimeter. In the one game where Gooden played a significant amount of minutes, the Wizards filled a huge void in defending the Raptors smaller lineup, and Patterson was left completely useless in a close 95-93 Raptors win.

Fun factor:

Wale vs. Drake. Both the Wizards and Raptors have strong hip-hop contingents repping their teams and while Drake is more of the giggly, touchy fan boy sitting courtside, Wale – a questionable Wizards fan – has established the label of the ‘creative liaison’ for the team. Still not sure what that entails. Expect both stars to be sitting courtside, expect them to be trash-tweeting the other team, or each other, expect it to be a great sideshow, but I’m not sure if you should expect another Jay-Z vs. Soulja Boy.

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Why the Wizards can win:

John Wall.

The Wizards will go as far as John Wall takes them. He is their leader, their creator, and MVP. He has to play like it. If Wall is aggressive, and attacking, the whole team will be aggressive and attacking. If Wall creates good looks for his teammates, his team will shoot a higher percentage. If Wall attacks the rim and gets to the line, he’ll set the tone for his teammates to do the same. And if Wall locks down on defense, and sets the tone on that end as well, everyone will fall line. But if Wall is passive, and let’s the game come, and takes all the open midrange twos the defense will happily allow, his teammates will follow suit. If Wall is passive, waiting for the right moment to attack, the moment will pass him, and the Wizards, by. This is the playoffs. This IS THE MOMENT. Last year, Wall admits, he wasnt’t fully ready. This year, I believe he will be.

Series prediction: 

Wizards in 6

Hoop District Staff

Collaborative efforts from the Hoop District Staff.

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