By Ian Palmer
The Eastern Conference’s fourth-seeded Toronto Raptors will be taking on the fifth-seeded Washington Wizards in a best-of-seven first round NBA playoff series. The Raptors have improved immensely over the past few years and finished this season with a 49-33 record. They’re still the only franchise in the NBA that has yet to reach the 50-win mark in their history. Toronto, led by Kyle Lowry, had the best record in the East at Christmas and then things went slightly south for them and they finished the campaign in fourth place. The Raptors put together 48 wins in 2013/14, but bowed out of the layoffs quite early as the Brooklyn Nets ousted them in game seven in the opening round.
Toronto Raptors vs Washington Wizards Playoff Betting Preview – bet365 lists the Raptors as the favorites to win the series at 20/37 with Washington at 33/20
The core of that Toronto team is still around with this year’s key players being Lowry, Amir Johnson, Terence Ross, DeMar DeRozan, Tyler Hansbrough and third-year center Jonas Valanciunas, who averaged 36 minutes a game along with 16.5 points, 1.6 blocks and 11.9 boards. He also shot 57.2 per cent from the field. The bench has some depth with James Johnson, Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson and it managed to outscore their opponents by 10.4 points each 100 possessions to lead the league. Defensively, the Raptors allowed 104.8 per 100 possessions as well as recording a 73.3 defensive-rebound percentage and went just 25-25 over their final 50 games.
Washington finished the campaign with a 46-36 mark with their key players being John Wall, Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat, Nene and 37-year-old Paul Pierce, who was brought in to replace Trevor Ariza. The Wizards season was somewhat similar to the Raptors as they had a 22-9 record on January 1, but then started to struggle the rest of the way, which led to some infighting among the players. The bench consists of Kris Humphries, Rasual Butler and Otto Porter, but they didn’t play to their potential and the Wizards went 24-26 in their last 50 outings.
Pierce recently told ESPN.com, “We haven’t done particularly well against Toronto, but I don’t feel they have the ‘It’ that makes you worried.” That statement could backfire on him as it might motivate the Raptors and they’ve already swept Washington 3-0 in their regular-season series. However, the final two games went into overtime. The Raptors earned a 103-84 decision in November and then won 120-116 in overtime in January before taking the finale 95-93 in overtime two weeks later.
One of the key matchups will be point guards Lowry vs Wall, who played alongside each other at the All-Star Game in February, as well as the team’s benches. The Wizards have a slight edge in their starting five unit, but the Raptors bench is superior. This could make a difference if the series goes the distance.