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The Wizards need to get out to early leads to have a shot at beating the Raptors

Thoughout the season the Wizards have been superb at starting strong, but they'll need to do even better if they want to upset the Raptors.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Thoughout the season, we've talked about the Wizards' struggles at holding leads. They go from being one of the best performing teams in the first quarter to one of the worst at the end of games. And while there's been plenty of scrutiny over the Wizards' performance in specific crunch-time situations, the Wizards wouldn't have to deal with those issues as much if they were able to maintain their early leads better.

The Raptors present a unique challenge, because they operate in a much different fashion; starting slow but coming on stronger as the game goes along. Below, we've put together a chart showing where the Wizards and Raptors ranked in the NBA this season based on Net Rating (a calculation of the point differential of a team over 100 possessions):

Wizards Raptors Net Rating

The glaring differences between the Wizards and Raptors can be attributed to the relative strengths and weaknesses of their starters and bench. The Wizards have one of the better starting fives in the NBA, but it comes at the expense of a dependable bench unit. The Raptors' starting five doesn't blow you away, but they roll deep with Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, James Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough off the bench, which is a big part of why they're so good in the second quarter, when most teams rely on their second units.

Still, what's more concerning for the Wizards is their performance in the fourth quarter, where thanks to some rough outings to close the year, they finished dead last in fourth quarter Net Rating. The Wizards were outscored by 6.6 points per 100 possessions. To put it more simply, here's how their point differential varies from quarter to quarter.

1st Quarter 2nd Quarter 3rd Quarter 4th Quarter Overtime Clutch
+163 +33 +10 -140 -7 -51

Hopefully, the Wizards figure out a way to crack the code on how to maintain success into the fourth quarter. The good news is that now that the playoffs are here, the Wizards can mitigate some of the issues with their bench because they can rely on their starters to carry larger loads in the playoffs. But if that doesn't stop the bleeding their only other course of action is to invest as much as they can into racing out to as big of a lead as possible and holding on for dear life.