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Open Thread and Contest: Game 71

Regular Season Game 71
Raptors (39-32) at Wizards (38-32)
Verizon Center
7 PM

Previous Results:
Raptors 116, Wizards 111.
Raptors 119, Wizards 109.
Wizards 129, Raptors 109.

Hey, talk about timely.  The subject of Ivan's article today?  "Every Game Affects Wizards' Standing."

The Washington Wizards have reached the point in this up-and-down season where the outcome of each game has the potential to drastically alter the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

They learned that Wednesday night when a 111-108 home win over the Philadelphia 76ers combined with a Toronto Raptors victory over the Miami Heat vaulted them from sixth in the East to fourth and also moved them a half-game ahead of the Heat in the Southeast Division.

It's a pretty obvious point, but it's one still worth mentioning.  There are four possibilities for the Wizards in terms of the playoffs.  They could win the division, get the third seed, and play Miami with homecourt advantage.  They could win the division, get the fourth seed, and play Chicago.  They could also lose the division and play Miami without homecourt.  

But the fourth situation is probably the most favorable.  The Wizards could lose the division, get the sixth seed, and play these Raptors in the first round, provided T-Dot finishes with a better record than the Heat.  Obviously, we shouldn't advocate a situation where we "tank" to get that sixth seed, but I'm pretty sure everyone here would rather see the Raptors than the Heat.

That's not to say the Raptors aren't formidable.  Their point guard duo always kills the Wizards, and Chris Bosh is a tough matchup for this slow frontcourt.  But things sure got a lot easier with two recent injuries.  First, rookie sensation Andrea Bargnani went down with an appendectomy injury.  Then, in the Boston game, fellow rookie Jorge Garbajosa suffered a gruesome leg injury, and is definitely out for a very long time.  This injury was Shaun Livingston-esque gruesome, and it's a big loss.

Kelly Dwyer explains why this injury will hurt Toronto far better than I ever could.

The injury is unfortunate, as Garbajosa quickly established himself as one of the NBA's better glue guys (extra passes, good help defense, range on the jumper) in his first season. Like most European imports, his three-point shooting improved considerably as the season progressed and he grew accustomed to the NBA's longer three-point line. With fellow rookie Andrea Bargnani potentially out for the rest of the regular season after having his appendix removed, Toronto was counting on Garbajosa's outside touch to keep defenses honest while they tried to check Chris Bosh down low and keep point guards T.J. Ford and Jose Calderon (devastating slashers, suspect outside shooters) out of the lane.

At the same time, however, this game could turn ugly if the Wizards are letting Jose Calderon and TJ Ford get into the paint.  Without Bargnani and Garbajosa, I expect to see Toronto go small a lot, which pretty much plays into the Wizards hands.  But this also means that wing defenders like DeShawn Stevenson and Caron Butler can help out on dribble penetration and still use their length to bother Toronto's shooters.  What made Garbajosa and Bargnani so effective is that they were tall enough to shoot over anyone.  That's a luxury guys like Juan Dixon and Morris Peterson don't necessarily have.

By the way, if you're going, send over your thoughts in a diary, because this is a major game.

Raptors blogs: Raptor Blog, I Hate the Raptors.

Your lines for tonight:

Raptors at Wizards: Wizards by 4.5.
Over/Under on Big 3: 67.7 points.

This is an open game thread, so if you're the Canadian blogger that hasn't been around here for a while, come say hi.