- Fred VanVleet questionable for Toronto
- Mo Wagner, Garrison Mathews remain sidelined for Wizards
- Raptors beat Wizards 122-118 on December 20
|Wizards||+10 (-110)||+450||Over 230 (-110)|
|Raptors||-10 (-110)||-600||Under 230 (-110)|
The reigning NBA champions aren’t garnering a lot of buzz regarding a possible repeat, but perhaps they should be. Despite the loss of both Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green this offseason plus a rash of injuries to key players, the Raptors just keep on winning. Toronto is now 26-14 on the year, which puts them fourth in the Eastern Conference. Erasing a 9.5-game deficit and catching the top-seeded Bucks is clearly unlikely, but the Raps are just 2 games adrift of the second-seeded Heat.
Getting the second seed in the conference should be the goal of every non-Bucks team in playoff contention. Whichever team does will be able to avoid a matchup with Milwaukee until the conference finals, which is obviously appealing. As the Raptors and Bucks both know, anything can happen once you get that far. Toronto disposed of a heavily-favored Milwaukee team in 6 games in the conference finals just last year.
The Wizards, meanwhile, are 13-27 and not particularly close to playoff contention. While Washington has played admirably despite a string of injuries to their own players, it would likely take a miracle at this point for the Wiz to catch the eighth-seeded Nets to sneak into the postseason. Washington did get Bradley Beal and Thomas Bryant both back from injury, but the team remains without John Wall, Mo Wagner, Garrison Mathews and a few other contributors.
The two teams met in Washington back on December 20, with the Raptors taking a 122-118 victory. Toronto was without Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol and Norman Powell for that game, but all have since returned to the lineup. Toronto is listed as a 10-point favorite at home for Friday night’s rematch according to BetOnline in a game with a sizable over/under of 230 points.
Toronto Getting Healthy
Just this past week, Siakam, Gasol and Powell all returned from their injuries. Fred VanVleet, who has missed the last handful of games with a hamstring issue, is currently listed as questionable. If VanVleet suits up, the Raptors are at full strength for the first time in well over a month.
Siakam and VanVleet, the two breakout stars of last season’s title run, have been carrying heavier loads so far this season with Kawhi Leonard having bolted for Los Angeles. Siakam, who won the league’s Most Improved Player award last season, has upped his averages to 24.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game along with a steal and just under a block. Those are easily the best numbers he has put up in each category through his first 4 years as a pro.
VanVleet has a case to win Most Improved Player this year. The former Wichita State great is contributing 18 points and 7 assists per game, which is a boost of 7 points and more than 2 assists a night over last year’s season averages. He has also drilled better than 37 percent of his looks from long range, for good measure.
Head coach Nick Nurse has run a tight rotation this season, which has led to Siakam, VanVleet and Kyle Lowry all ranking near the top of the league in minutes per game. That’s the kind of wear-and-tear that could wind up hurting them by the time the playoffs roll around, so don’t be surprised if the Raptors try to swing a trade or two in order to add some depth ahead of next month’s trade deadline.
Wizards’ Weird Season
Washington was already going to be up against it this season with John Wall out for the year with an Achilles injury. Bradley Beal has had himself an All-Star caliber season, but his play alone hasn’t been enough to get the Wizards into playoff contention.
What makes the Wizards different from most other non-contenders is the fact that they own one of the more efficient offenses in the league. Washington is averaging 108.3 points per 100 possessions, which ranks a respectable 10th in the league. They have a better offense than teams like Denver, Indiana, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and, yes, Toronto.
However, their undoing has come on the defensive side of the court. The Wiz have allowed a disastrous 113.3 points per 100 possessions, which ties them with the Cavaliers for the worst mark in the NBA. The Wizards have allowed their opponents to score at least 100 points in 38 of the 40 games they have played this season. The Wizards themselves have scored at least 100 points in 37 of their 40 games, as well.
This game looks like quite the mismatch on paper, which obviously explains the hefty spread. While the Raptors’ offense hasn’t been quite as good as that of most other elite teams, a matchup with Washington is something that can certainly cure that ailment. The Raptors are in a phenomenal spot here, regardless of whether VanVleet winds up suiting up.
10 points is a big spread, and I am a bit wary of the fact that Washington’s offense has helped them keep games competitive for most of the campaign. Toronto’s defense, however, ranks among the league’s best. The Raptors are second in the league in defensive rating, so they should be able to hold their own against at Wizards team still missing a couple of key rotation players.
I like the Raptors tonight. They’re at home, they’re almost back to full strength, and the Wizards should be overmatched here. The spread is a bit daunting, but I would still bet on the Toronto side of things.