Better Defensive Effort Could Get Wizards Back in Series vs. Raptors

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Troy Haliburton

Thursday, April 19, 2018 7:11 PM UTC

Thursday, Apr. 19, 2018 7:11 PM UTC

Washington looks to avoid the same sweep fate they bestowed upon Toronto three years ago. Can they avoid going down 3-0 at home Friday against the Eastern Conference's top seed?

NBA Friday: Raptors (45-38-1 ATS) vs. Wizards (37-46-1)Free NBA Pick: Wizards -2Best Line Offered: Pinnacle

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The Toronto Raptors are looking to finally exorcise their playoff demons by paying back the Washington Wizards for their 2015 sweep. Washington will try to hold on for dear life in the series by winning Game 3 on Friday night, but they need to make some defensive adjustments.

When Toronto was swept by the Wizards in 2015, Raptors GM Masai Ujiri made a conscious decision to change the style of play for the team. A part of that drastic change was getting head coach Dwane Casey to adhere to a more modern style of play by shooting more threes and not relying on heavy isolation ball from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Toronto sure has figured out how to take advantage of the long ball against the Wizards in this series.

The Raptors set a franchise record with 16 three-pointers in Game 1, then turned around and hit 11 shots from deep in the first half of Game 2, ultimately finishing with 13 for the game. The reason the Raptors have been able to dominate from beyond the arc is because the Wizards' pick-and-roll defense has been atrocious. Toronto runs its offense through the high-screen game to create mismatches where Wizards center Marcin Gortat would end up on a Raptors perimeter player who would take advantage of the lumbering big man. The Raptors' ability to create those mismatches then causes breakdowns on the weak side of the defense because everyone is trying to overcompensate for the breakdowns on the strong side. Wizards defenders have not been as attentive as they would like and that has caused them to lose sight of three-point shooters who are able to knock down mostly wide-open jump shots.

How the Wizards can remedy this problem is to follow their second-half strategy from Game 2, which was to go with very small lineups that allow for more switches defensively and the ability to keep the Raptors' wing players honest on the three-point line. Wizards head coach Scott Brooks indicated he could make a starting lineup change and insert Mike Scott with the starters, which would move Markieff Morris to center. Morris is a much more versatile defender than Gortat and will have the ability to hedge hard on high screen and rolls and still get back to his man in the paint because of his quick foot speed.

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Brooks on Wizards starting lineup. Remains to be seen if changes occur. Emphasized need for better starts.

— Ben Standig (@BenStandig) April 19, 2018
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As far as offensively, the Wizards need to get All-Star Bradley Beal to return to his midseason form. Over the course of the first two games, Beal has registered a team low (plus/minus) of minus -44 and has struggled to knock down his shot. It would behoove Brooks to try and alleviate some of Beal’s responsibility by running more plays for the Wizards' most efficient scorer, Otto Porter. The small forward is averaging only 10.5 points per game on 17 total shots over the two games and will need to be much more prominent in Game 3.

Washington is a small home favorite on Friday's NBA odds board, and expect them to play with a sense of desperation knowing the difficulty of winning a series potentially being down 3-0. The Wizards will bring their best effort and will have the home crowd supporting them, and it's worth taking them with your NBA picks. Washington has won their last seven home playoff games and will look to push it to eight behind some timely defensive strategies and rejuvenated play.

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