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The Wizards need to unleash Paul Pierce as their stretch-4 vs. Raptors

The Wizards finished up the season ranking fifth in defensive rating. But if they want to beat the Raptors, they'll need to stray from their scheme and use Paul Pierce at power forward.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

There isn't a single team in this league that flaunts a more contrasting style of play to the Wizards than their first round opponent. The Raptors launch threes, get to the free throw line like madmen, and hit tough, contested jump shots. They can burn teams by going small with a three-guard look, or match-up accordingly against the more traditional lineups.

It's for that reason the Wizards have dropped six of their last seven against them dating back to last season with an average margin of defeat of over seven points. And had Toronto not blown an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter back in January, that figure would be higher.

Even then, Washington isn't that much worse on paper. Both teams have been in free-fall since the new year, and two of their meetings this season came with Bradley Beal sidelined. Randy Wittman has constantly dug deep into his rotation in these games, decisions that would ultimately swing the outcome. An all-bench unit to start the second quarter in a game in late January, sparking a 19-3 Toronto run, or Garrett Temple starting in place of Beal back in November which created spacing hell and effectively took them out of the game by halftime are quirks he isn't likely to run into with a shortened rotation in the playoffs.

These may not be the same teams we saw in those past meetings, but the matchup problems Toronto presents still exist.

They have nearly every earmark you look for in an analytically-driven offense. They're high in free throws and threes while sporting one of the lowest turnover rates. They hoard multiple ball handlers on the floor at all times, and will often use three at once to keep the defense guessing.

But between Lou Williams and DeMar DeRozan, they take an absurd amount of contested jump shots and will often aimlessly dribble around the floor looking to iso against their opponent. They're better than most in these situations, sure, but it goes against everything we know about today's era of pace and space.

And yet they've finished in the top-ten in offensive efficiency two years running. They do a great job with getting the ball to their shot creators on the move. They'll run dribble handoffs way beyond the three-point line to get the defense in tough help-and-recover situations:

And that in turn breeds easy drive and kick opportunities for their guards:

The Raptors entire offense is built around this. They have four guards that can take their man off the dribble at moments notice, and they arm them with a trove of screen-setters and floor spacers. It's dribble-drive offense at heart, except for one thing: they're not very good passers. The Raps assisted on just 54.7 percent of their field goals this season, a bottom five mark this season, and a slight dip from last year thanks to Kyle Lowry's injuries.

That would explain their low turnover marks. Only six teams this season passed the ball less frequently on average, and of those teams, the Raps finished dead last in assist opportunities.

This partially led to their undoing against Brooklyn last year. The Nets flipped the script on them, coaxing them into 37 turnovers in the first two games by switching every screen along the perimeter and sending hard traps at DeRozan as he came curling off screens. They were proactive in their approach, and while it left them vulnerable on the boards, it proved to work out in the long run.

Washington scheme is a far cry from the one Jason Kidd crafted in the second half of last season. Take a look at the second clip again. Nene cedes an open look to Patterson, but can you hardly blame him?

nene d

This is how Toronto hurts you. They'll run multiple pick and rolls designed for the sole purpose of dislodging your help defenders out of position, and then they'll move into their main action. All three of their point guards -- Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez, and Lou Williams -- use head fakes and crossovers as well as anyone, and know exactly when to reject a screen if they sense their defenders leaning too far one way.

This will go against Wittman's ethos, but he can't go into this series playing the same way. The Raptors have bullied the Wizards for the past two seasons, averaging 107 points per 100 possessions, and it's Wittman's predilection for staying big and utilizing a soft-show strategy in the pick and roll as being the reason why.

hump show

ross drive

Switching is the natural antidote to it, and it starts with Paul Pierce shifting up a position in the lineup. Wittman is already halfway there. He's staggered Bradley Beal and Nene into the second unit -- which works out two-fold as Gooden and Porter have acclimated themselves alongside Gortat and Wall. The next step is finding a happy medium between toggling Pierce with both sets of lineups while still finding a role for Kris Humphries to occupy.

It's a tricky situation, but with players' minutes ramping up this time of year, it's not impossible. The Wizards can't afford to let Toronto's second unit pummel them as they so often have done in their previous meetings. Dwane Casey knows it's their Achilles heel, and he'll make sure they see high doses of his three-guard lineups this series.