The disappointing regular season for the Washington Wizards is over and the playoffs will begin on Saturday afternoon with Game 1 against the Toronto Raptors. Before the Wizards enter the Air Canada Center, let’s take a look at the individual matchups that will take place in the 1-8 matchup that is closer than the seeds would indicate.
John Wall vs. Kyle Lowry
Wall was only able to play half of the regular season, but still showed his lethal level of play by averaging 19.4 points and 9.6 assists per game to go along with a career-high 37.1 percent from beyond the arc. Lowry had his lowest scoring season since 2012-13 and finished this regular season averaging 16.2 points, 6.9 assists, and 5.6 rebounds per game.
Wall has not played in any of Washington’s four matchups with Toronto this season due to injury, but the two point guards have gone against each other for years including in the 2015 playoffs. Wall averaged 17.3 points and 12.5 assists per game in the four-game sweep, while Lowry averaged 12.3 points on 31.6 percent shooting. There really is no reason why the Wizards should not have the advantage in the point guard matchup as Wall always seems to take his game up to another level in the postseason, while Lowry seems to fold.
(Photo: Greg Fiume via Getty Images)
Bradley Beal vs. DeMar DeRozan
Beal finally earned his first All-Star honor this season, while DeRozan will be making an All-NBA team for his efforts this season. In a career-best 82 games, Beal averaged 22.6 points and 4.5 assists per games, but his efficiency suffered a tad without Wall for half the season. DeRozan had a career-season with 23 points and 5.2 assists per game, while making a career-high 89 three-pointers on 31.2 percent shooting.
Toronto’s shooting guard has clearly had the better regular season, but Beal has gotten the best of him previously in the playoffs. Then just 21-years old, Beal expressed his emotion by saying he hates when DeRozan even touches the ball leading to a stellar defensive season from him. Even though the Raptors win this matchup on paper, Beal will level things when it matters most.
(Photo: Nick Wass via The Associated Press)
Otto Porter Jr. vs. OG Anunoby
Porter has continued to be a lethal three-point shooter in the NBA for the second year in a row by finishing third in the NBA in percentage at 44.1 ahead of guys like the Warriors’ trio. Anunoby, 20, was thrown into the starting lineup as a rookie this season but only plays 20 minutes a game in which he averages just 5.9 points and 2.5 rebounds.
Assuming Anunoby continues to start, Porter must take advantage of his non-existent playoff experience. Washington’s third max-contract player will likely also see matchups with CJ Miles and Norman Powell who account for Anunoby’s lack of starter’s minutes. Miles is a career sharpshooter and will need close monitoring so that he does not drop six three-pointers as he did last month in Washington.
(Photo: Frank Gunn via The Canadian Press)
Markieff Morris vs. Serge Ibaka
For stretches, Morris can look like the best big on the floor when he his crashing the boards and knocking down his midrange jump shot. His numbers are down in points and rebounds per game, but his shooting percentages are up as he is taking 2.5 fewer shots inside the arc. Ibaka remains consistent in his production during his career, but is having a slight down season compared to last with just 12.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game to go along with 1.3 blocks.
Both power forwards are quite similar and Scott Brooks is familiar with Ibaka’s talents after coaching him in Oklahoma City. Morris will need to avoid unnecessary fouls that can land him on the bench or in bad graces with officials following choice words because he should have a slight edge on Ibaka if he can stay on the court.
(Photo: Keith Allison)
Marcin Gortat vs. Jonas Valanciunas
At 34, Marcin Gortat has played 82 regular season games for the third time in four years, but his play has certainly declined since his first three seasons in D.C. His playing time is the lowest it has ever been as a starter and his field goal percentage is the lowest it has been since his rookie year in Orlando. Three years ago, he averaged 17.3 points on 74.4 percent shooting, 10 rebounds, and 3 assists per game in the sweep over Toronto.
Valanciunas spends most of his 22.4 minutes a game in the paint to get his 12.7 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, which is to Gortat’s advantage, but occasionally he will head out to the perimeter where he takes roughly one three-pointer a game, which is Gortat’s biggest weakness. It would not be surprising for Valanciunas to lurk away from the basket even more in the playoffs so Gortat will have to get outside without hesitating to contest.
(Photo: Tom Szczerbowski via Getty Images)
If NBA rosters were only five people, Washington would probably be able to win the series with ease, but that is not the case and even though the Wizards’ bench is improved from last season, it is still not great and compares very poorly with Toronto’s. Tomas Satoransky, Kelly Oubre Jr., and Mike Scott will likely see double-digit playing time, but Oubre may be on a short leash and Scott is in the NBA’s concussion protocol as of Thursday. Jodie Meeks, Ian Mahinmi, and maybe last-minute signee Ty Lawson could see spot minutes, but nobody off the bench can consistently create their own offense.
The Raptors, on the other hand, have probably the best second unit in the NBA. Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, CJ Miles, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, Lucas Noguira and Jakob Poeltl can all contribute if needed. Small sample size in three games and 24.2 minutes per, but VanVleet has killed Washington with a net rating of 31.6, 118.5-86.9, but with Satoransky coming off the bench against Toronto for the first time this season, he may be able to slow the 6-foot guard down with his seven-inch advantage. Oubre will need to be locked in on the defensive end to help content with Miles and Powell, while Mahinmi could see meaningful minutes because none of the Raptors’ reserve bigs shoot better than 27 percent from deep.
The longer Washington’s second-unit is on the floor, the worse off they are. John Wall and Bradley Beal may have to play 40 minutes a game. Otto Porter and Markieff Morris will each play upwards of 36 minutes especially with small ball. That leaves 88 minutes of play. Gortat and Mahinmi may only combine to eat up 30 minutes. Satoransky should play at least 24 minutes a game at any position 1, 2, or 3, while Oubre and Scott could be around 15 minutes a game. It is too much to ask for the Wizards’ second-unit to play even with the No. 1 seed’s, but if they can simply buy their stars enough time to avoid significant fatigue without giving up a big run, then that is probably a best-case scenario.
Advantage: Toronto (Big Time)
(Photo: Scott Taetsch via Getty Images)
Washington is not an ordinary 8-seed because they have the talent to play with anyone in the NBA and have shown flashes of such throughout the season. Toronto has never won Game 1 of the first round in their 10 playoff appearances in team history and that will continue as the Wizards will come in with a chip on their shoulder as many begin to count them out for their inexcusable play vs. sub-.500 teams. However, the Raptors depth will reign supreme as the Wizards get bounced in another Game 7.