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Raptors bring edge to this matchup that Wizards lack


Raptors bring edge to this matchup that Wizards lack

If there's anger brewing beneath the surface for the Wizards, who are four games under .500 for the first time this season, it's not showing. For the first time, however, John Wall didn't have anything to say following Friday's 97-88 loss to the Toronto Raptors at Verizon Center.

That probably was coincidental because the star point guard, who had seven turnovers for the second game in a row, had to get treatment for injuries and ailments that he has played with since early November. The Wizards had to hop a plane and head to Orlando where they'll face the Magic on Saturday. And what more could he say that hadn't already been said anyway? DeMar DeRozan spoke volumes for Toronto.

"I wouldn't necessarily say it's a rivalry," said DeRozan, who was rattled in their playoff first-round matchup swept by the Wizards in four games. "I was here during the playoffs and that was a bad feeling to get swept. Coming back here, just playing against them gives you that same reminder of what happened."

While the first two meetings were close, won 84-82 and 94-91, this was the most unattractive of the three as both teams combined for 42 turnovers. DeRozan and his backcourt mate, point guard Kyle Lowry, combined to score 20 each on 6 of 9 shooting in a decisive fourth quarter.

That drops the Wizards (15-19) to 8-11 at home and desperate to find answers as the season creeps toward the mid-point. DeRozan's previous season-high was 34 points set against the Wizards. He topped that with 35.

RELATED: Wizards sputter in another loss to Raptors 97-88: Five takeaways

The Wizards went from scoring 115 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers, to taking a 10-point lead in the first quarter against the Raptors to struggling with a 14-point third quarter that allowed them to come back. The result is a three-game losing streak after being at the cusp of getting over .500 for the first time since mid-November. 

"We take shortcuts. We try to take easy ways out. We don't make hustle plays," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "The last three games, we're not committed for 48 minutes. ... We play good defense and a shot goes up and we just stand and (they) pick up a loose ball and put it in. Those things happen too often."

That moment that Wittman is likely referring to is when James Johnson, not noted as a scorer, had his shot blocked by Marcin Gortat, collected his own loose ball and got the putback without a fight for a 60-57 lead. That was part of a 13-4 run to enter the fourth with a double-digit lead. Johnson barely touched the floor in the playoff series but had eight points and nine rebounds in 21 minutes.

The pace that Wall had the Wizards with in the first quarter, an 8-0 edge in fast-break points, evaporated. 

"We got out and ran in the first quarter which we wanted to do against this team. The last two (games vs. Toronto), we played at their pace and that's not good for us," said Wizards shooting guard Garrett Temple. "For whatever reason the pace dropped off. They started running plays to get switches on our guards. They were taking advantages of some mismatches. They scored 35 buckets on 11 assists. At the end of the day, it's about guarding one-on-one."

Jared Dudley wasn't with the Wizards last season when they shocked the Raptors in the playoffs even though they had home-court advantage. But he senses a loss of confidence in how his team plays. That energy that the Raptors showed is absent unless Wall is playing his best and leading the charge. Lowry wasn't deterred when he opened 0-for-4 and had four turnovers in the first quarter. He ended with 21 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and four steals. He never stopped grinding even as Gortat blocked him twice at the rim. 

"I think when you're bored with the process, sometimes it's easy to take shortcuts. You know you haven't shot the ball in a while, you want to come get your shot up," Dudley said. "I'm someone where it doesn't matter if I get 10 shots or two shots. It's making the right play at the right time and hoping that the system comes back to you."

The Wizards have made late-season runs for the last two years and ended up with No. 5 seeds in the postseason. They're 8-1 in this first-round games, upsetting the Chicago Bulls and then Raptors. 

But the East is deeper and the field more crowded. Making the playoffs will be more difficult and their prospects of getting one of the top four seeds to get home-court advantage in the first round are dwindling.  Eight other teams have between 15-19 losses.

"I don't think we're in panic mode," Temple said. "We got to defend. We got to knock down shots and play basketball that we're capable of playing to get back in the playoff picture. Two years ago we made the playoffs, at the end of January we finally got over that hump of getting over the .500 mark. There's still light at the end of the tunnel."

MORE WIZARDS: NBA 'squashed' John Wall's wager with Wizards assistant

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Wizards have big questions to answer coming out of All-Star break

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Wizards have big questions to answer coming out of All-Star break

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chase Hughes and Chris Miller look ahead to the biggest questions the Wizards need to answer after the All-Star break. They also explain why Bradley Beal proved a lot in his first All-Star Game appearance.

They also unveiled a new segment involving guessing Wizards players based on their social media captions.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!

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Biggest storylines for Wizards coming out of the All-Star break center around John Wall

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Biggest storylines for Wizards coming out of the All-Star break center around John Wall

The Wizards experienced a wild ride before the All-Star break, but came out of it on solid ground, fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 33-24 record. With 27 games still remaining until the postseason, here is a look at the biggest storylines moving forward...

Who will they sign?

The Wizards are close to signing a new player as they were left with open roster spots following the trade deadline when they dealt guard Sheldon Mac to Atlanta for a second round pick. The Wizards have keyed in on the backup point guard position and are likely to go in that direction with the move. But they could still be in the market for other players, possibly someone at the backup wing position, even if they sign a point guard.

The Wizards only have a few days left to make a move because they need to get their roster to 14 players within 14 days of the Mac trade on Feb. 8. Their next game is on Thursday against the Cavaliers, so they could have someone in the building in time to play in that game.


When will Wall return?

Wall had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Jan. 31 and was prescribed a recovery timeline of six-to-eight weeks, meaning he still has about another three weeks to go before a return is possible. It could be another five weeks before he's back on the court. That puts him in the range of missing another 10-to-17 games.

The Wizards have played nine games since he went down and have won seven of them, but they aren't even halfway there yet. They have a long way to go. Because it's Wall and his return will have a domino effect, this is the most important storyline to watch for the Wizards moving forward.

How will Wall fit back in?

Wall's return will of course be a big deal for the Wizards. They will be adding an All-Star back into their lineup with just weeks before the start of the playoffs. But at the moment, they have a good thing going and are playing much better than they were in the last week or two before he was shut down. That, of course, had a lot to do with Wall playing injured.

It will be interesting if the Wizards are still winning at anything close to their current rate when Wall comes back. That would be the ideal scenario because they could ease him back into the lineup and take their time getting him up to speed. But it will also create a complex situation for head coach Scott Brooks, who will need to make adjustments to his rotation. The alternative would be if the Wizards aren't playing well when Wall returns and the concern there would be the urge to rush him back in any capacity.


Tough schedule

The Wizards have fared quite well for themselves so far with a 33-24 record despite injuries to Wall, Markieff Morris and Otto Porter to varying degrees. But they have done so while enjoying the easiest schedule in the NBA, 30th out of 30 teams. It is about to get a lot tougher coming out of the All-Star break.

All in the next five weeks the Wizards will see the Cavs, Bucks, Warriors, Raptors, Pacers (twice), Timberwolves, Celtics, Spurs (twice) and the Nuggets. Of their next 17 games, 15 will be against teams currently in the playoff picture. They could be without Wall for all of them. That won't be easy.

Can Oubre get back on track?

While Wall has been out, just about everyone on the Wizards has stepped their games up to compensate. Though he still impacts games in other ways, Kelly Oubre, Jr. has been one exception on offense. In his last 11 games, Oubre has averaged 9.4 points and shot just 31.2 percent from the field and 23.2 percent from three. In his previous 46 games, he averaged 12.4 points while shooting 44.9 percent from the field and 40.5 percent from three.

That is a major difference and the Wizards certainly want to get the early-season version of Oubre back. At his best he is one of their most consistent scorers and an excellent three-point shooter. When he's contributing on both ends of the floor, the Wizards are tough to beat.