Can the Raptors exorcise their playoff demons?
While the Wizards-Raptors series may not be the most intriguing matchup for basketball reasons, it is surely intriguing for other reasons. As far as 1-8 matchups go, this feels different. The line on the series per Westgate is -400 on the Raptors, whereas the 1-8 matchup in the West has Houston at -1400 (in other words, you’d have to pay $1000 more betting on Houston to make $100).
Vegas is no stranger to the Raptors’ postseason ineptitude. Under Dwayne Casey, they’re 12-27-2 against the spread in the playoffs over four years. They’ve been bounced in just about every possible way. And despite the fanatics surrounding the Air Canada Centre each and every year — whether it’s Jurassic Park, Masai Ujiri cussing out the opponent before a game, etc. — the Raptors can’t win a Game 1. They just can’t.
“Our Game 1 is our Game 7, to be honest,” Kyle Lowry said at a press conference Friday. “We’ve gotta play like it’s Game 7, like it’s our last game.” An appropriate sentiment for a team whose core is an astounding 5-for-5 in losing Game 1s at home.
“I don’t know. I only think about it when y’all bring it up, honestly,” DeMar DeRozan said. We been great at home all year… Our swag is at an all-time high.”
The Raptors are going into Saturday’s game vs. the Wizards with a Game 7 mentality. pic.twitter.com/1BzZA93VvP— theScore (@theScore) April 13, 2018
Maybe so… After all, it was the most successful regular season in the franchise’s history. Fifty-nine wins. Tied for the league’s best home record. And the highest point-differential (+7.9) for an Eastern Conference team since the championship 2012-13 Miami Heat. Yet, for as long as the eternal playoff struggle lingers, Raptors fans will be far too insecure to have swag.
“This team and their on-court play only perpetuates that feeling… year after year,” said Raptors fan-blogger Harsh Dave. “I think a lot of Raptors fans have playoff PTSD. Literally every single playoff run, we’ve had a demon come out of the woodwork.”
This year’s first demon: the Wizards. “I feel like if Toronto loses Game 1, all the ghosts of playoff-failure-past will jump on their collective backs,” said Rashad Mobley, a Wizards beat writer for Truth About It. In 2015, the Wizards torched the Raptors out of the playoffs in a neat, four-game sweep. John Wall did his best Magic Johnson impression, pushing the ball up the court at, distributing easy buckets for his teammates. Bradley Beal scored at will. Marcin Gortat averaged a double-double. Paul Pierce shot 58% from three.
NBC Sports Wizards (@NBCSWizards) April 12, 2018
The main core, minus Paul Pierce (*Raptors fan shudders*) remain the same. As does the Raptors’ core. It’s no wonder why Wizards fans and experts aren’t exactly intimidated. “I think Toronto is the best matchup for this team,” Mobley says.
It’s a revelation in some ways that the Wizards can exude any confidence after their regular season. Forty-three wins. Plagued by injuries. Wall played in exactly half of their games. They hit their stride amid his absence in February, and so did Bradley Beal, who averaged 23 points per game on 48% shooting in the first month without him. Then they came crashing back down to earth and finished the season losing 14 of their last 21 games. Wall’s return didn’t change much, and chemistry issues lingered.
“It’s almost as if Wall forgot what made him so effective,” Mobley said. “There were times where wall had this mindset where it was like ‘You know what? They said they didn’t need me. I’m going to show them.’ And it was like he had blinders on.”
Wall has played just four games since his injury and averaged 6.7 turnovers in those contests. The first two saw him shoot a combined 9-27 from the field. He almost redeemed himself with an impressive performance against Cleveland before a missed shot and turnover led to a 119-115 loss.
Wall was excellent — 29 points, 12 assists, 7 rebounds, and 4-5 from three — in a win against Boston on April 10. But ultimately the Wizards lost the next night against Orlando and fell to the eighth seed anyways.
“That’s pretty much what we’re dealing with here. If the Wizards get swept, nobody will be surprised. If they win the series, nobody will be surprised,” Mobley said. “It’s maddening.”
Norman Powell was actually most effective containing Powell per NBA.com, something Dwayne Casey took notice of. Powell saw his minutes nearly double in the three games he played against Washington. He has also been a revelation in the last two postseasons for Toronto.
Should Powell be able to break out of his weird inconsistent streak and knock down his jumpers, expect him to see an increase in minutes. If not, the Raptors could downsize with Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, or even Lowry, who all had relative success when matched on Beal despite a small sample size.
Should the Wizards coerce the ball handler into becoming a passer, the Raptors have more flexibility with the big as a decision-maker than in years past. Ibaka, Poeltl, and Siakham are all better options than Patrick Patterson. Casey has also sprinkled in some post-PnR plays that have helped. When it’s clicking, it looks like this:
As is the case in every Raptors’ series, a lot rests on the first game. “Oh my god,” said Dave, thinking about the possibility of yet another Game 1 loss. “I’m definitely going to drown my sorrows on Twitter by making fun of them. But on the inside I’ll definitely be battling some demons.”
Edited by Jazmyn Brown.
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