Right now, the Toronto Raptors (33-15) look as though they’d be in tough against most of the other top teams in the East come playoff time. They sport a winning record against the Atlanta Hawks, but got trounced in their one match-up since the Hawks turned into an unstoppable force. Meanwhile, they are 0-3 in three games against the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers thus far this year.
The one fellow home court-contending East club that the Raps seem to match up well against is the Washington Wizards, who they defeated for the second time this season in a 120-116 overtime triumph on Saturday night in the nation’s capital. After besting the Wizards in Toronto by 19 points early in the season, the Raptors appeared poised for a similar result before a fourth quarter fade made overtime necessary.
What had been a 16-point lead through three quarters completely evaporated thanks to a 31-15 run by Washington in the fourth against the weary Raptors. Toronto never trailed through regulation and weren’t even tied with the Wizards from a 28-28 first quarter stalemate up until Paul Pierce hit a clutch three-pointer with 25.9 seconds remaining to send the game to OT. In overtime, the Raps won their second extra period contest in as many games thanks to seven points by Kyle Lowry and a 76-second stretch in which the Raps penetrated and got six straight points inside the paint.
The win puts Toronto two games up on Washington for second in the East, albeit seven games back of the awe-inspiring Hawks. Their 33-15 record also means that they would only have to carry a .500 record (17-17) the rest of the way in order to reach the 50-win plateau for the first time in franchise history.
The turnover game
On Saturday night, the Raps took eight more shot attempts than the Wizards despite losing the rebounding battle (40-34). Part of that can be chalked up to a free throw differential that saw Washington take 41 freebies from the line to just 30 by Toronto. Most of the shot disparity, however, came as a result of the home side’s 22 turnovers, including 16 from the starting five and nine from the front court of Nene and Marcin Gortat. The Raps, who committed just 14 of their own cough-ups, tallied eight steals on the night and scored 31 points off of Washington turnovers.
The free throw bros
If Johnson gets lumped in with Valanciunas on account of their offensive efficiency on the night, it only stands to reason that DeRozan and Williams could be paired up for their free throw prowess, both in getting to the line and making good on their available attempts. The wings combined for 51 points on 15-29 shooting, thanks in large part to a collective 18-20 free throw effort. DeRozan’s 26 points came by making nine of 17 attempts from the floor and eight of nine from the line, while also bolstering his performance with nine assists. Williams, meanwhile, scored 25 points on 6-12 shooting while missing just one of his 11 tries from the charity stripe. Williams is averaging more than five free throw attempts per game, a higher mark than any other reserve in the league.
Lowry and the three-ball problem
Looking at the stat sheet from Friday’s game, Kyle Lowry can’t be identified as being responsible for the worst three-point shooting performance of the night among the visitors. That distinction belongs to Patrick Patterson, who finished 0-5 from behind the line to Lowry’s 1-6 performance. But while Patterson attempted his triples after the ball had been worked around the perimeter, Lowry did damage as a ball stopper and rhythm killer, with many of his misses helping Brooklyn build momentum for a fast break attempt the other way. On the whole, the team was 7-26 (26.9%), continuing to stubbornly jack long bricks as the Nets made their fourth quarter run.
Some observations as I watched Friday’s TSN broadcast:
Matt Devlin might be growing into even more of a homer as the Raps’ play-by-play guy. He and Jack Armstrong have long been a little too willing to stick with the narrative of an anti-Toronto officiating bias and his blatant campaigning for Kyle Lowry’s All-Star selection didn’t exactly earn him any additional credibility. However, it was nonetheless pretty shocking to hear him cheerlead as DeRozan rallied the Raps with some tough buckets in the waning minutes of the fourth.
It’s great to have Morris Peterson as part of the TSN studio panel, but it seems like he’s trying a little too hard to be former teammate Jalen Rose in his bid to find his voice on-air. As part of ESPN’s halftime shows and the Grantland Basketball Hour, Rose has honed a notably original inflection and delivery that gives his analysis an air of importance and significance. It’s not a bad person to model yourself after if you’re MoPete, but the fan favourite still needs some work in finding and developing his own unique voice.
Trades will likely dictate the way that this season ends for Brookyln. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov and the team’s front office are reportedly open to moving some tradeable pieces, suggesting that the still-existent possibility of a push for one of the final playoff spots in the East may not be at the top of the organization’s priority list. It’s too bad, because a late season push by the Miami Heat, Charlotte Hornets and Nets could wind up being at least somewhat compelling. Heck, my money would be on Brooklyn to actually sneak in by virtue of some playoff-savvy veteran presence (Garnett, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams), a coach that the team is still playing for (Lionel Hollins) and some remaining games within their own creampuff division.
After feasting on five straight sub-.500 opponents, the slate now toughens up with 10 of their next 11 opponents sporting winning records. The stretch starts tonight in Washington, as the Raps visit Washington to take on the Wizards (7:00pm, SN360).
Prediction: Wizards 108, Raps 100 (record this season: 33-8)