Honestly, a loss wouldn't have angered me. Winning on the road without Bradley Beal in the raucous Air Canada Center is a tall order. But this? This is worth getting upset about. It's not just that the Wizards lost, it's that they lost without being competitive for a single second.
The final score was 103-84, but this game was over in the first five minutes when Toronto jumped ahead to a 14-2 lead. The Wizards scored six of the next eight points, but Amir Johnson got a layup off a nice pass from Terrence Ross to push Toronto's advantage back to 10. The Wizards never got the lead to single digits after that. This is at the five-minute mark of the first quarter.
Yes, the Wizards were undermanned, but this is very discouraging. This played out like many Toronto-Washington games since both teams improved. Toronto's big men dominated the Wizards' higher-paid duo, John Wall couldn't (or wouldn't) get into the paint, nobody could hit a perimeter shot and the sloppier Wizards were blown away by Toronto's pressure defense. Toss in a torrid Terrence Ross, an unusually terrible Wizards performance around the rim and (fiiiine Buck I'll give these a token mention) some weird illegal screens, and you get that.
5 things we learned
1. This team isn't there yet: Tonight was proof that the old Bill Parcells cliche doesn't apply to early NBA-season hoops. The Wizards may have been 4-1, but they really had only played one good half (second half vs. the Knicks) and a third good quarter (third quarter vs. Orlando). The only reason they were 4-1 was by the good graces of the schedule -- tighter-than-expected wins over Orlando, Milwaukee, New York and Indiana don't exactly prepare you for a road game in Toronto.
This can be a positive in the long run provided the Wizards react to failure the right way. We saw through the cracks during this 4-1 run, whether it was the poor rebounding, spotty bench or everything that happened against the Pacers. Maybe now that the Wizards have been humbled, they'll see them too.
2. The bigs came up small: It's unfair to some degree to tie a player's production to his salary, but I'm going to do it anyway. Nene and Marcin Gortat will make over $24 million combined this season. Meanwhile, Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson make about $16.5 million. Yet it was the latter trio that dominated the painted area, as they often do in Wizards-Raptors games. How do your starting big men go a combined 3-12 in the paint? How does Gortat only shoot two free throws?
Two plays stood out to me. On one, Nene made a beautiful baseline spin move on Valanciunas, only to lose his balance and wildly fling a sidearm spin of some kind off the side of the backboard. So much for going up strong. On another, John Wall forced Kyle Lowry into a wild floater, only for Valanciunas to wedge rebounding position and beat Gortat to the ball. Neither were incredibly costly plays in the grand scheme of things, but they illustrate just how much both Wizards big men were pushed around by their counterparts.
3. Perimeter defense remains a problem: The Raptors are one of the rare teams with scoring threats at both wing positions, a problem because the Wizards' perimeter stopper from last year is now in Houston. This proved to be a big issue. Ross and DeMar DeRozan combined for 43 points on 28 shots, with DeRozan wedging his way to the free throw line 11 times. Paul Pierce had no shot chasing Ross around and Garrett Temple, bless his heart, couldn't keep DeRozan out of the middle of the lane.
Against many teams, the big men can save the day. But as the Wizards get deeper towards the playoffs, they're going to run into teams that can exploit their lack of quickness on the perimeter.
4. Toronto's pretty good: We're crushing the Wizards' effort, as we should, but give credit to the Raptors. Lowry and DeRozan deserve far more attention in the best backcourt debate, and they have a surplus of bigs and aggressive defense that'll keep them in every game. Toronto also hasn't really been clicking this year, but they looked very scary tonight.
Lowry in particular provided a model for John Wall on how to overcome bad shooting nights, shoving his nose in for 11 rebounds and continuing to create for his teammates. More importantly, when the Wizards started to make a run in the third quarter, Lowry rose to the occasion, hitting a three, a driving layup around Wall and a floater in the lane to push the lead back to 21. The Wizards never threatened after that. That counts as seven points in the box score, but far more given the flow of the game.
Yes, it helped that Lowry had his running mate in DeRozan to lean on as he was struggling, but he still kept himself level as he was shooting poorly. That's one of Wall's biggest challenges and it cost him tonight.
5. Maybe give Kris Humphries more time? The Wizards' somewhat significant frontcourt signing has been buried in the rotation, but played well when called upon, delivering 11 points and five rebounds in 15 tough minutes. He was the only Wizards willing to mix it up with Toronto's bigs and his perimeter shot was falling. That's exactly why Ernie Grunfeld got him, so maybe it's time for Randy Wittman to elevate him in the rotation and end the Kevin Seraphin experiment.