In a battle between two foes jockeying for the third playoff seed in the Eastern Conference standing, the Toronto Raptors put on a disappointing show Wednesday night.
The Washington Wizards toppled the Raptors 105-96 in the first game of a home-and-home series. Washington improved to 36-23 and seized sole possession of third spot in the East over Toronto, 36-25.
The Raptors were missing Kyle Lowry for a fourth successive game. The all-star point guard underwent surgery on Tuesday in New York to remove loose bodies (fragments of cartilage or bone) from his right wrist. Unlike recent home games, Lowry was not on the bench with his team on Wednesday night.
The Wizards arrived confident, fresh off an upset victory over the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors on Tuesday – the Western Conference powerhouse that has lost just 10 games all year.
Washington came to town still toting most of the key pieces of the squad that swept the Raptors in the first round of the 2015 playoffs – the dynamic backcourt duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal, crafty centre Marcin Gortat and sharp-shooting Otto Porter Jr. They also brought a newcomer who troubled Toronto greatly. Much like they had in that playoff series two years ago, the Wizards totally dominated Wednesday.
The first quarter was close. But then Washington's second unit kick-started a big run against Toronto's reserves to start the second, and it lingered long after the Raps starters returned. With the Raptors missing a slew of shots and committing careless turnovers, the Wiz went on a punishing 26-1 run, shooting 9-for-9 from the field. Much of that scoring was done by newly acquired Wizard Bojan Bogdanovic, who exploded for a 16-point quarter.
Washington held a 62-46 lead at halftime.
Toronto trailed by as much as 24 points in the second half, thanks to more sloppy turnovers, and a near-franchise-low number of assists. The Raptors were nearing a club-record-low for assists (six) but finished with 11.
The Raptors made a run at the end of the game, mostly with their youngsters getting experience minutes to close out the game. They came within nine in the late-going, but it wasn't enough.
The Raptors seemed to miss Lowry, a floor general who typically draws Wall on defence, and averages 37.7 minutes a game, more playing time than anyone in the NBA, including LeBron James (37.5). Before the injury, the 30-year-old Raptor was leading his team in numerous per-game statistical categories, including assists (6.9), steals (1.4), three-point field-goal percentage (41.7 per cent) and three-point field goals made and attempted (3.3 of 7.9). He scored 1,225 – or 19.8 per cent – of Toronto's 6,183 total points before he went down.
In the first three games that Lowry had missed with the wrist injury, DeMar DeRozan had taken more of the scoring burden upon himself. Before the all-star break, DeRozan averaged 27.3 points and 5.3 rebounds over 35.5 minutes. In the first three games without Lowry, he averaged 37.7 points and 6.3 rebounds over 37 minutes, and got to the line more than he has all season, nailing an average of 12.3 of 13.7 free-throw attempts.
DeRozan led Toronto with 24 points, while Serge Ibaka contributed 22 points and 12 boards. Bogdanovic was Washington's best scorer with 27 points, while Beal added 23 and Wall 12.
"Bogdanovic came in and changed the game," said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. "We lost connection with him, chasing him outoff the threes, we didn't do a good job of that. It was a stinker all around and not just on defence. The defence started it but it carried over onto the offensive end."
With 21 games left on their schedule, the Raptors kick off a five-game road trip, starting Friday with a rematch in Washington. The Wiz plan to have newly signed Brandon Jennings in the mix for that game to strengthen their depth behind Wall.