Here we are. It's time for the Bullets Forever crew to make our predictions on how the fifth-seeded Washington Wizards will fare in their first round series against the fourth-seeded Toronto Raptors. We'll start with our least optimistic predictions and close with our happier ones. Feel free to add your own predictions in the comments.
Two things scare me about this matchup: The Raps going small with three point guards and Beal getting blitzed out of the pick and roll. Even if Wittman pulls out all the stops in unleashing Pierce as the stretch-4, who exactly is he sending out there to combat a Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez, and either DeRozan or Kyle Lowry lineup? Otto doesn't have the lateral quickness to keep up, and neither does Butler or Webster should they see any time at all. He could go with Sessions, Wall, and Beal, but that would kill their spacing offensively, and it really hasn't seen much time throughout the season.
I feel good about Wall coming into this series because he has proven to fair much better against Toronto's aggressive defense. If they think they can blitz him with traps, he'll pick them apart with his passing. If their bigs can't position themselves properly as they hedge, he'll slice through the middle and collapse their D. Toronto's D hasn't been good this season, particularly with their backline rotations, which Wall will eat up. But I don't feel good about what's around him aside from Gortat, and he very well could be the odd man out if small ball takes over.
Raptors in 5.
Prior to the end of the regular season, I wrote about why the Bulls would be a much easier matchup for the Wizards. I'm standing by that. This series makes me feel uncomfortable for a number of reasons. I think John Wall matches up well with Kyle Lowry, and from a one-on-one standpoint, Bradley Beal is a much better shooting guard than DeMar DeRozan. By my concern comes from two places: the Wiz's bench and Toronto's pick-and-roll. When Patrick Patterson is on the floor, the Raptors' pick-and-roll game has been great this season. Patterson and Amir Johnson both work well with Jonas Valanciunas and I just don't think the Wizards have the defenders to defend against it.
Then there's the bench. As Umair pointed out, there's just not the personnel for Washington for it to be able to match up well against Lous Williams and Greivis Vasquez for Toronto. Williams has an offensive rating of 114 this season, per Basketball-Reference.com and has a true shooting percentage of 56.4 percent. I don't trust Ramon Sessions to cover him, Otto Porter isn't quick enough and it simply doesn't make sense to have Martell Webster or Rasual Butler on the floor for extended minutes during the playoffs. Washington's X-Factor is playoff Paul Pierce, though. Even if Randy Wittman doesn't play Pierce at the four, Old Man Pierce still probably has a great playoff series or two left in his tank. In a seven-game series against the Raptors last season, Pierce led the Nets to a series win while scoring double-digit points in all but one of the games, shooting 46.5 percent from the floor in that series. Still, Toronto's bench is so much better than Washington's that I'm finding it hard to pick the Wizards.
Raptors in 6.
The Wizards have the benefit of winning a playoff series the previous year, and a number of key starters like Gortat and Beal, as well as their bumper crop of reserve bigs. Should they be able to continue to play defense effectively -- which the Raptors aren't so great at doing -- Washington should come out on top in seven games. However, if the Raptors get on a hot shooting streak from three, then this series could easily go the other way and in fewer games.
Final verdict? Raptors in 6.
While the Raptors have dominated Washington in recent memory, the Wizards will put up a better fight than most people are predicting. I see us stealing one on the road but dropping games at home as well because that's just #soWizards. I also expect to see John Wall to have a much stronger postseason than last year and Bradley Beal to step up (although not to the extent he did last postseason). I have a feeling Nene will struggle and that Drew Gooden will be the biggest X-Factor in this series. Unfortunately, I see the Wizards losing in 6 games. But boy, I hope they prove me wrong.
While the Raptors have largely had the Wizards number for the past two years, their recent struggles spells hope for a team that has been mired in mediocrity since the first couple of months of the season. The Raptors have been just as underwhelming since their hot start and this series sees two fan-bases who are unsure if winning a series is beneficial long term, but are not about to root for their opponents.
It should be remembered that the previous two games were toss-ups decided by some fluky shooting and crunch time luck for Toronto, so the 3 game sweep might not tell the whole story. However, the Raptors have the offensive personnel to give the Wizards' defense fits, and it will be up to Randy Wittman to adjust as the Raptors third ranked offense tries to hit its stride in the postseason.
Another key for the Wizards is to take advantage of Toronto’s sub-par defense. While the offense has been mediocre all season, Washington has the personnel to take advantage of the Raptors' weaknesses on the defensive end, and it will ultimately come down to play calling and offensive mindset to determine whether they will maximize these advantages. I expect this to be a fun and competitive series throughout, with fan bases continually chirping at each other, and perhaps even some chippyness between the players. However, given the Raptors psychological advantage due to sweeping 3 games and the fact that their strengths seem to counteract Washington’s, I see the Raptors winning the series in 7 games.
This will be a series where we'll be reminded of all the things that make the Wizards and Raptors incredibly tantalizing and incredibly frustrating. It's hard to see either team getting out of their own way enough to win this series decisively. In a battle of two teams that have struggled the past few months, it's hard to go against the team that won all three head-to-head meetings and finished with the better record. Raptors in 7.
Despite the Raptors traditionally giving the Wizards problems over the last couple of years, I think this is a solid matchup for the Wizards. John Wall has been consistently good against this team with their lack of rim protection and aggressive defensive scheme. He's been able to beat the hedges the Raptors' defense has given him all season, even without a wing who was really capable of stretching the floor. Bradley Beal missed two of the three matchups in the regular season and the last two games were particularly close.
Marcin Gortat is playing much better now, the Wizards have found a solid bench mix for the bigs between Drew Gooden and Kris Humprhies and have a backup point guard in Ramon Sessions who can play with Wall and pushes the pace when he's a lead guard. As bad as these Wizards have been, the Raptors have been just as bad and are worse defensively. The Wizards are all finally healthy once again and that is important.
It'll take some tweaks from Wittman to win the series, but give me the Wizards in 6.
This is the matchup that the Wizards should have wanted. Like Washington, Toronto has been trending in the wrong direction for most of the calendar year after a great start. Kyle Lowry may not be completely healthy, and the Raptors need everything they can get from him to counter John Wall. Raptors fans have just as little faith in Dwayne Casey as Wizards fans have in Randy Wittman; both should be coaching for their jobs in this series. Accordingly, I expect Wittman to step out of his comfort zone a little bit and use some smaller lineups when Valanciunasis out of the game, allowing the Wizards to better defend in space and give space for John Wall to operate. After bringing his hyperbaric chamber on the road, Paul Pierce will emerge reinvigorated to hit clutch shots and once again leave Drake and Toronto fans with a bad taste in their mouths.
Wizards in 7.
As someone who has recently become a Washington Wizards fan, it is both easy and hard for me to speak about the team in the postseason.
After actually attentively tuning into them midway through their series with Indiana last postseason, the first thing I noticed was how easy it is for the offense to get out of rhythm - which obviously, starts with John Wall.
Fast-forward to this season, I watched the team in just about every game. With a few players missing and a few players added from last season - I saw the same tendency this season of how easy it was to disrupt the Wizards offense, which thus would spread to the defense and alter the outcome of the game either to be a loss or a close victory.
As I’ve spent so much time watching the team this season, I’ve noticed - unfortunately for them - that there is still so much wrong with the team. It’s so hard to get them to sync up and then so easy to ruin what fluidity the team gets. This to me will be a HUGE problem against Toronto, which has so many offensive threats. Not to mention, the team has a psychological advantage over Washington, who hasn’t beat them this season. For a team that is so seemingly mentally unstable, this usually bodes poorly for a playoff series - especially because the Wizards a) don’t have home court advantage and b) spent most of 2015 in shambles.
That being said, the playoffs are a whole different animal (sorry I’m really making this long and poetic, aren’t I?) and I believe that they will find a way to win the series. It starts with how weird the Raptors were playing at the conclusion of the regular season, especially defensively. To me, John Wall is just too good and too motivated by the hate. Bradley Beal, who appears healthy finally, got his swag back end of season. Not to mention, Marcin Gortat has been playing with a fire under his a** that though is probably not because of anything good (i.e. coaching, losing, not playing in the fourth quarters, etc) but it’s still there. Paul Pierce and Nene have been rested fairly well the past few weeks and seem to come alive with veteran passion in the playoffs anyway. And of course, Otto Porter has been decent on both ends of the court. Kris Humphries and Kevin Seraphin have also been playing well for the Wizards off the bench in times when the team’s rhythm is in disarray.
It’ll be a very … interesting series to watch, with very little pomp and circumstance, in my opinion. But, I think the Wizards will continue to build off of what they did last postseason, and despite a very ‘meh’ regular season, win this series. Wizards in 7.
I'm not really watching this series to see who wins the point guard battle between John Wall and Kyle Lowry. I'm watching this series to see if Paul Pierce can get under any of the Raptors' players skins (or executives, looking at you Masai Ujiri). Anyways, I expect the Wizards to out-muscle and ultimately beat the Toronto Drake's in six games. The Wizards need not to shake hands after their victory either because - well, you know how it goes, "No New Friends, No New Friends."