When: Saturday, April 14 at 5:30 p.m. ET
Where: Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada
TV: NBC Sports Washington and ESPN
Win probability: Kevin Broom’s Win Predictor gives the team a 17 percent chance of winning Game 1 and a 9 percent chance of winning the series. FiveThirtyEight gives Washington a 16 percent chance of winning Game 1 and a 5 percent chance of winning the series.
Raptors: Fred VanVleet (Our, Shoulder), Lucas Nogueira (Questionable, Hamstring), Pascal Siakam (Questionable, Shoulder), Serge Ibaka (Probable, Mouth)
What to Watch for: Can the Wizards recapture their 2015 success?
There are a lot of parallels between this year’s playoff series and the Wizards and Raptors’ meeting in the 2015 playoffs. Toronto was riding high after outperforming expectations and Washington looked D.O.A. after an underwhelming finish to the season. Then, when the playoffs started the Wizards were able to hit a turbo button the Raptors didn’t have and pull away for an easy sweep.
Washington could follow that same plot again here, even if it takes a little longer than four games. For all of Washington’s foibles, they’ve performed well against the best teams in the league, including the Raptors. When the Wizards are dialed in, they can beat anyone. And let’s not forget the Raptors have lost several Game 1’s at home over the years. Toronto sure can’t seem to forget:
"Our Game 1 is our Game 7 tomorrow" - Kyle Lowry— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) April 13, 2018
To pull off the upset this time around, the Wizards are going to understand this Raptors team is a bit different than the one they saw three years ago. Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Dwane Casey are still the key figures, but a lot has changed around the periphery which will affect how this series plays out. Here are three key differences between 2015 and now that the Wizards will need to account for:
Toronto’s defense is better
The Raptors had the 23rd-ranked defense in the league entering the playoffs and had a roster loaded with players Washington could exploit on defense like Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez, and Tyler Hansbrough.
It won’t be that easy this time around. The Raptors finished with the fifth-best defense in the league and have a slew of players who can guard multiple positions and make things more difficult for John Wall and Bradley Beal this time around. They’ll need a lot from Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre Jr. in this series to make up the difference.
The Raptors’ bench is more versatile
Toronto exceeds expectations in the regular season thanks to their spectacular bench play. They dominate when the starters are off the floor and that difference is usually enough to help the Raptors overcome whatever shortcomings their starters might have. It’s harder to get away with that in the playoffs when star players play more minutes.
Three years ago, the Raptors ran into serious issues with that because the strength of their bench came from playing together as a unit. Patrick Patterson was the only bench player who fit seamlessly with Toronto’s other starters. This year, the Raptors’ bench is still good, but it’s more dynamic because Dwane Case can mix and match his pieces. Fred VanVleet, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, and C.J. Miles all have unique strengths that work well with the starters, so it won’t be quite as easy to negate their impact.
Washington needs to figure out who their closer is
Washington finished the 2015 regular season with the third-worst net rating in clutch situations, in which there are less than five minutes to go in the game with a scoring margin of five points or less. Everything changed in the playoffs when Paul Pierce (can’t have an article about the Raptors in the playoffs without mentioning Pierce!) hit big shots in Games 1 and 3 to end the series before it even began.
The Wizards have struggled once again in clutch moments this season. They finished 23rd in clutch net rating with the fourth-worst offense in those situations. They won’t have Paul Pierce to bail them out in close games this time around, so they’ll need to figure out another solution.
The good news is, the Raptors haven’t fared much better in the clutch. They had a -3.4 net rating in the clutch, the 17th-best mark in the league. If Washington can just get a few more shots to fall in the closing moments, they could really put some pressure on the top seed in the East.