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NBA Playoffs 2015: Wizards vs. Raptors first round series preview with Raptors HQ

We talked with Sean Woodley of Raptors HQ about what to expect out of Washington's first round playoff opponent, the Toronto Raptors.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Bullets Forever: Let's start things off with something simple: Why have the Raptors struggled recently?

Sean Woodley: Where to begin.

Defense has been the biggest weakness for this team all season long, and it's been amplified in the last few months. Mike Prada touched on this in his Raptors playoff preview. Dwane Casey's defensive system asks his players to be ultra-aggressive, trapping the ball-handler in pick-and-roll situations and relying on perfect and precise defensive rotations to compensate. And the Raptors simply don't have the talent to play such a high-risk system. Jonas Valanciunas is too immobile, Greivis Vasquez can't keep anybody in front of him, James Johnson plays sparingly and Amir Johnson, the Raptors' best overall defender who often cleans up the mistakes of others, has been hobbled by ankle ailments all season and recently missed some games.

And on top of the poor defense, the schedule simply got a lot harder. The first two months of the schedule was full of weak Eastern Conference opponents, and was very home-heavy. Since the New Year, it feels like they've played three out of every four games on the road, and they played many of the league's best squads in February and early March. Couple that with a worn-down and injured Kyle Lowry, and Toronto has been exposed as the good-not-great team it has always been.

More on Wizards vs. Raptors

BF: Lou Williams is looking like a strong sixth man of the year candidate, but the Raptors' bench as a whole has been great all season. Which bench players do you think Casey will use in his playoff rotation?

Sean Woodley: The Raptors have five main guys that have regularly been in the bench rotation this year. As you mentioned Williams has been excellent for most of the season - even though he takes mind-boggling shots with regularity, so he will get loads of run.

James Johnson was brought in pretty much as a direct response to what Joe Johnson did to the Raptors in last year's playoffs. But Dwane Casey has been stingy with his minutes. Since his shooting kills the Raptors' spacing, I only see him getting major minutes if Bradley Beal is hot and needs stopping.

Patrick Patterson is the key off the bench for me in this series. I think the threat Patterson poses from deep at the four spot is the key for the Raptors to open up the Wizards defense. Only problem is: After shooting around 46 percent on threes in November/December, he's made just 31.4 percent since the New Year. He'll probably get destroyed on the defensive glass when he plays in this series, so if he doesn't find his shot, he'll quickly become a liability.

I would imagine Wizards fans are somewhat familiar with Greivis Vasquez and his impressively bad perimeter defense given that he played at Maryland. Casey seems to love him, and he has an ability to hit clutch shots, but the idea of him getting matched up with John Wall terrifies me. Then there's Tyler Hansbrough, who has somehow been the Raptors' best plus-minus guy all season. I could see his minutes getting cut just because playoff rotations normally get shortened, but I'm very hopeful of a Hansbrough-Gortat dust-up two.

BF: Paul Pierce seems to be going out of his way to get under Toronto's skin. How do you think the Raptors will respond on the court? Do they play better or worse when they have a point to make?

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Sean Woodley: As a Raptors fan, it's very odd to see someone throwing shade the team's way because it's been so anonymous and largely terrible for most of its existence. So in a weird way, some animosity is nice to see.

As far as the players go, there are a number of guys who have dealt with criticism throughout their careers and always seem to play like they're trying to make a point - with Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez probably being chief among them. Frankly though, I think the Raptors - and particularly Lowry - will draw more motivation from what happened against Pierce and the Nets last year than anything he has said this week. Lowry was absolutely crushed when Pierce blocked his game-winning attempt in Game 7 last spring, and I think he'd love a chance to avenge that loss.

The Raptors aren't exactly chalked full of trash-talkers either (and they haven't won anything of significance, so they probably shouldn't be trash-talking anyway). Masai Ujiri is probably the most outspoken member of the organization, and he already avoided making any scathing remarks when asked about Pierce today. So for the most part I see the response to Pierce's words mostly coming on the court - if they feel the need to respond at all.

BF: True or false: The winner of Wizards-Raptors will be determined by who shoots less midrange shots between Bradley Beal and DeMar DeRozan.

More on Beal's midrange issues

Sean Woodley: False. I think this series is going to come down to whether or not the Raptors can make threes consistently. They average about nine more three point attempts per game than the Wizards, and a big disparity in points from beyond the arc will put some serious pressure on the Wizards to maximize their possessions - something that isn't easy when mid range jumpers are such a massive part of their game plan - and it will be made even harder by the fact that the Raptors are excellent at taking care of the basketball, giving the Wizards fewer opportunities to make up the difference.

I also think consistent shooting from deep from the likes of Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross will force Wittman to remove Nene or Gortat and place Pierce at the four in order to allow for a more perimeter-focused defence - which could open up opportunities for DeRozan, Lowry and Williams to get into the paint, and get to the line the way they have all season long. A free-throw heavy game will then limit John Wall's ability to run, which will be crucial.

BF: What is your prediction for the series?

Sean Woodley: I think the Raptors three point shooters will find a groove, and it will cause problems for Washington. The Raptors home court advantage will be a major factor and the Raptors will win in six games. But based on how the last half of the season has gone down, I am not at all confident in that and can totally see Washington pulling it out too. Despite the malaise these two teams have been in, I think this has the potential to be a surprisingly entertaining series.

Many thanks to Sean Woodley for answering our questions. To see the questions they had for us, click here.