If the NBA's playoffs started Tuesday, one of the first-round Eastern Conference matchups would be third-seeded Toronto against sixth-seeded Washington. The Raptors seem assured of their first postseason berth since 2007-08 because their Atlantic Division is so bad. The Wizards also haven't played extra basketball since '07-08 and are only three games ahead of East No. 9 Detroit.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Washington (29-23 ATS, 29-23 O/U at sportsbooks) reached a season-high one game over .500 with an impressive win over Portland on Feb. 3, but then the Wizards promptly lost four of their next five games heading into the break. To be fair, three of those defeats were to good teams in San Antonio, Memphis and Houston and the Wizards could have won all of them. It was a productive All-Star Weekend for Washington as John Wall was named the Dunker of the Night in the confusing new Dunk Contest and Bradley Beal reached the Three-Point Contest championship round, losing to San Antonio's Marco Belinelli.
It's certainly fair to say that Wall/Beal is one of the best young backcourts in the league. Wall did struggle in his final three games for the break, shooting just 13-for-42 for 36 combined points. Beal had a career-high 37 points last Tuesday in the loss at Memphis. Washington is unlikely to make any major trades before Thursday's deadline after giving up a first-round pick for Marcin Gortat early this season. Washington would like to add a backup for Wall and has looked into Milwaukee's Luke Ridnour and Denver's Andre Miller.
Addition By Subtraction
The Raptors (31-20-1 ATS, 27-25 O/U at sportsbooks) likely already made their big trade of the year as well in dealing Rudy Gay to Sacramento in early December in what was essentially a salary dump. Gay was a bit of a ballhog and the trade has worked wonders. The Raptors are 21-12 since the trade, the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind the two favorites, Indiana and Miami. It's really as simple as the team is sharing the ball. Toronto was 30th in assists per game with Gay and is No. 8 (23.0 apg) since the deal. The Raptors have had at least 20 assists in 12 straight games.
Point guard Kyle Lowry has played like an All-Star, averaging 16.7 points and 7.6 assists per game. It's still possible that Lowry is traded by Thursday -- the Knicks badly want him -- but it's likely that GM Masai Ujiri keeps Lowry or else risk pretty heavy fan backlash now that the team appears playoff bound. Lowry will be a free agent this summer.
Toronto entered the break off home wins against New Orleans and Atlanta after three losses in a five-game Western Conference road trip. DeMar DeRozan, a first-time All-Star, has been a beast this month, averaging 27.7 points and 5.8 assists. Raptors big man Amir Johnson missed the final two games before the break with a sore ankle but should return for this one. He's averaging 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds and also has been rumored as a trade possibility.
Third of four meetings, with Toronto leading 2-0. On Nov. 22 in Toronto, the Raptors won 96-88 as 4.5-point favorites for sports bettors. Gay was still around then and had 17 to lead the team with DeRozan. Wall had 37 in Washington's seventh loss in its past eight trips to Toronto. The Wizards reserves had only nine points. On Jan. 3 in D.C., the Wizards were 3.5-point favorites on NBA odds and lost 101-88. DeRozan had 20 points and Lowry 19 points and 11 assists. Toronto blew it open by outscoring Washington 36-16 in the third quarter. Wall was held to 11 on 4-for-15 shooting.
NBA free pick: For our NBA picks in this game we'll add Washington -2.5 and the under. The Wizards have covered seven of their past eight against teams with a winning record. The under is 6-1 in the past seven meetings.