Toronto Raptors vs Washington Wizards NBA Playoffs Series Preview: Lineups, preview & predictions
The Raptors begin their quest to exorcise some postseason demons as they take on the dangerous Wizards in the first round.
The Toronto Raptors are the top seed in the Eastern Conference after a terrific 59-23 season. The Raps followed through on their goal to reinvent their style of play with better ball movement and more 3-point shooting. DeMar DeRozan has taken another significant step this season with his impressive play while the Raptors’ bench has been unbelievable all year long. But despite their amazing regular season, Toronto’s true success will still be measured in the postseason where they have underperformed in each of the last few years.
Speaking of underperforming, the Washington Wizards did so to a worrying degree this season. With star point guard missing a good chunk of the season with a knee injury, the Wizards were a disappointing 43-39 to finish as the eighth seed in the East. But while they are maddeningly inconsistent, the Wizards have a very talented team led by Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter that will be a legitimate threat to pull an upset over Toronto if they play up to their potential.
Three keys to the series
Backcourt battle – These two teams will go where their All-Star backcourts will take them. But while DeRozan and Beal have been consistently great all year long, there are question marks regarding the point guards. Lowry has not quite been as dynamic as past seasons. And there’s also the small matter of the past playoff baggage of disappointing performances he must put to bed. Meanwhile, Wall is just a couple weeks removed from returning from a knee injury. With DeRozan and Beal potentially just canceling one another out, whoever comes out on top in the battle of Lowry and Wall could ultimately decide this series.
Raptors bench – The Toronto bench has been brilliant all season and has been a huge part of their success. However, the playoffs are a different beast, and it remains to be seen if they can come up with the same impact. It should also be noted that the Wizards bench has been much better after it let them down last season. But if Toronto’s young reserves can somehow continue to impose their will on the game, the Raptors will be in decent shape.
Lineup adjustments – Both teams often play with traditional centers in Valanciunas and Gortat, who have been staples in their starting lineups for years. But the postseason will likely see some alterations to their lineups, which includes going small to provide more spacing on offense. It will be key for both Dwane Casey and Scott Brooks to get those lineup adjustments right and maximize the tools they have at their disposal.
Matchups to watch
Lowry-DeRozan vs Wall-Beal – Obviously, all eyes will be on Lowry vs Wall and DeRozan vs Beal, and with good reason. Lowry and DeRozan have a reputation for not delivering in the playoffs while Wall and Beal have been the opposite. It will be fascinating to find out if those narratives remain true by the end of the series.
OG Anunoby vs Otto Porter – Another matchup to watch out for, though, is on the wing with Anunoby and Porter. Anunoby has been a revelation for the Raptors, with the rookie emerging as the 3-and-D win that they’ve sorely needed. But it remains to be seen if he can remain as effective in the postseason, and especially against a canny operator in Porter. The Raptors will have other options aside from Anunoby, but they’ll still need him to contribute in this series.
With Lowry’s numbers taking a step back this season, DeRozan will probably continue to do some heavy lifting for the Raptors offense. He’s delivered for the most part, especially against the Wizards. In four meetings against them, he’s gone off for 26 points, five rebounds, five assists, and two steals, which is quite an impressive stat line.
But not to be outdone, Beal has been even better. The Wizards guard has gone off for 29 points, five boards, and four assists against Toronto this season. Beal also has a track record of raising his game in the playoffs (22.6 points in his postseason career) so there could be even more to come from him.
Raptors projected starting lineup
PG – Kyle Lowry | SG – DeMar DeRozan | SF – OG Anunoby | PF – Serge Ibaka | C – Jonas Valanciunas
Wizards projected starting lineup
PG – John Wall | SG – Bradley Beal | SF – Otto Porter | PF – Markieff Morris | C – Marcin Gortat
Game 1 in Toronto: Saturday, April 14, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Game 2 in Toronto: Tuesday, April 17, 7 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Game 3 in Washington: Friday, April 20, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN 2
Game 4 in Washington: Sunday, April 22, 6 p.m. ET, TNT
Game 5 in Toronto: TBA (if necessary)
Game 6 in Washington: TBA (if necessary)
Game 7 in Toronto: TBA (if necessary)
Is it time to trust Toronto in the playoffs? Despite their wobbles late in the season, they should still be a good bet to get out of this first-round series. While the Wizards are a dangerous team with the ability to knock any team out when they’re at their best, they likely won’t be able to reach that level consistently enough against a Raptors team that’s just better on both ends of the floor. The Raptors win in five games.