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NBA 2017-18 Eastern Conference Outlook: People shouldn't overlook the Raptors

NBA 2017-18 Eastern Conference Outlook: People shouldn't overlook the Raptors

CSN is looking around the league as we prepare for the 2017-18 NBA season. Today, we break down the Toronto Raptors' outlook...

2016-17 record: 51-31, 3rd in East
Coach: Dwayne Casey
Key additions: SF C.J. Miles, SG K.J. McDaniels
Key losses: SF P.J. Tucker, PF Patrick Patterson, SF DeMarre Carroll
Projected lineup: PG Kyle Lowry, SG DeMar DeRozan, SF C.J. Miles, PF Serge Ibaka, C Jonas Valanciunas

Biggest questions:

1. How will Lowry bounce back?

The 2016-71 season was statistically the best of Lowry's career, as his 22.4 points per game, 46.4 percent shooting from the field and 41.2 percent from three were all personal highs. However, injuries to his right wrist and left ankle greatly affected how his season ended. He missed 21 regular season games due to the wrist and two playoff games because of the ankle. 

Lowry was a free agent this summer, but decided to re-sign with the Raptors on a three-year, $90 million deal. He's 31 and now playing under his first big contract. It will be interesting to see how he deals with the pressure that comes with that.

[RELATED: BROOKS KNOWS RE-SIGNING STARS ISN'T EASY]

2. What impact will Ibaka make?

Ibaka joined the Raptors in a trade deadline deal last February. After acquiring Ibaka, Toronto went 19-8 the rest of the regular season, a 58-win pace over a full 82 games. That was the second-best record in the NBA during that span behind only the Warriors and much of it was played without Lowry running point. Now after Ibaka re-signed on a three-year, $64 million deal, the Raptors get to see him in the mix for a full season.

3. Are the Raptors being overlooked?

The Raptors brought back Lowry and Ibaka, and already have DeMar DeRozan who made All-NBA in 2016-17, so the chances seem good the Raptors will be right back near the top of the Eastern Conference this upcoming season. Despite missing Lowry for a quarter of the year, they won 51 games last season and finished third in the East. If he is healthy, there's no reason to think they can't get back to being the team that won 56 games the year before. With all the attention on the Cavs and Celtics as the two top teams in the East from last year, and with all the praise the Wizards and Bucks are getting for being young teams on the rise, don't forget about the Raptors who probably as much of a chance to take advantage of an increasingly thin conference as anyone.

[RELATED: CAN WALL FOLLOW THROUGH ON KOBE'S CHALLENGE?]

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John Wall, Bradley Beal catch fire as Wizards take out Sixers in season opener

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John Wall, Bradley Beal catch fire as Wizards take out Sixers in season opener

The Washington Wizards beat the Philadelphia 76ers 120-115 in their regular season opener on Wednesday night at Capital One Arena.

How it happened: As fun and talented as the upstart Sixers are, with two No. 1 picks making their NBA debuts in Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons and an enigmatic star in Joel Embiid, they didn't have enough on Wednesday night, as the Wizards let their seasoned veterans go to work in the second half to pull out a season-opening victory. 

Bradley Beal and John Wall found their rhythm in the third quarter, helping the Wizards outscore the Sixers 34-23 in the frame. Beal had 11 points and shot 6-for-6 from the free throw line, while Wall put up 14 points. Beal finished with 25 points, six rebounds and four assists and Wall with 28 points, eight assists and five rebounds, including this dunk that was pure, unaldurated disrespect:

The Sixers made a push in the fourth quarter, opening the frame with a 13-2 run. But as the quarter continued, the Wizards put on a display of dunks that kept the crowd on their side. Kelly Oubre, Jr. threw down a putback slam on a Beal missed three that helped key a 12-4 run. Marcin Gortat (16 points, 17 rebounds, three blocks) had 10 points in the fourth quarter, several assisted by Wall including a big dunk that inspired a Polish Hammer celebration.

The Wizards were in command in the first quarter, leading by nine at the end of the frame. Otto Porter scored their first eight points on 4-of-5 from the field. But the Sixers charged back, shooting 56 percent in the second quarter to take a three-point lead at halftime.

Robert Covington (surprise) led the Sixers in scoring with 29 points. Simmons (NBA debut) and Ebmiid each had 18, while Fultz was limited to 10 points in 17 minutes in his first game.

The Sixers cut it to two with a minute left before Jerryd Bayless threw an earrant pass into the hands of Beal. Beal then stole the ball on a save by Otto Porter with 20.5 seconds left. He was fouled and hit one free throw. Philly couldn't answer, as J.J. Redick missed a three from straightaway center.

That led the Wizards to close it out at the free throw line with Beal knocking down two with just 2.0 seconds remaining.

What it means: The Wizards are off to a 1-0 start, which is important considering their travel-heavy schedule early on. They want to avoid what happened last year, when they started 2-8, and Wednesday night was a good first step.

Early returns good from bench: It was one game, but the Wizards' bench looked solid, especially considering they are a group depleted by injuries. Jodie Meeks was the offensive spark they signed him to be. He made it look easy with 14 points in 19 minutes. Tim Frazier mainly played the role of distributor with five assists and zero points. Oubre did a little bit of everything with 14 points, seven rebounds and three three-pointers in 32 minutes. Mike Scott scored inside and out and finished with seven points in 14 minutes. 

Gun shy early: Scott Brooks could not have been happy with the Wizards attempting just eight threes as a team in the first half. Beal and Porter combined for one attempt, while Oubre and Wall led the team with two attempts apiece. Brooks wants guys like Beal and Porter to attempt at least five threes a game. It was likely a point of emphasis at halftime, because Beal knocked down a triple just 1:36 into the third quarter. Oubre stole the ball and found Beal, who swished one over Embiid.

Injury news: Jason Smith got the start at power forward, but only played 7:04 before exiting with a sprained right shoulder. He jogged to the locker room with trainers and never returned. This is extra noteworthy considering he was the replacement for Markieff Morris, who is out for several more weeks following sports hernia surgery.

Up next: The Wizards stay home for their second game, hosting the Detroit Pistons at 7 p.m. That game will be on NBC Sports Washington. After that they head west for a four-game road trip.

[RELATED: NBA POWER RANKINGS]

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With Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons set to debut, John Wall and Bradley Beal recall their early days

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With Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons set to debut, John Wall and Bradley Beal recall their early days

The Philadelphia 76ers will have two No. 1 overall picks make their NBA debuts on Wednesday night in Markelle Fultz (2017) and Ben Simmons (2016). They are in for a challenge with the Wizards, one of the best teams in basketball, and with guards John Wall and Bradley Beal.

Wall and Beal know that challenge well. They were both top draft picks in their own right, Wall the first pick in 2010 and Beal the third pick in 2012. They can recall in specifics their first games in the NBA and how humbling they were.

"My first game, I was going against Dwight Howard. It was fun," Wall said. "There was a lot of pressure. There were a lot of people talking."

[RELATED: 2017 NBA POWER RANKINGS]

It's often said that the point guard position is as deep as it's ever been nowadays. The last three MVP awards have gone to point guards, for instance.

There were some good ones back in 2010, too.

"I remember in a five-game span I played like [Rajon] Rondo, Derrick Rose here and then I went out west and played Steve Nash, Chris Paul and Russell [Westbrook]," Wall said. "I don't think it's gotten any harder than it was back then in 2010 with those five guys. You kind of understand what those guys are about when you get to see it firsthand and play against them."

Beal vividly remembers going up against the LeBron James-led Miami Heat as a 19-year-old. It wasn't easy.

"It was the Heat when they had [Dwyane Wade] and LeBron on the same team. That's when D-Wade was electrifying. He still had his quickness. He was strong as I don't know what and I was a baby at that time," he said.

"For me, it was like I was in awe because those are the guys I grew up watching and I was a fan of. Now I'm playing against them and I can't be a fan of them. It was amazing to play against them, but also an eye-opener like, I need to get better."

Now it's Fultz and Simmons' turn to see what matching up with NBA superstars is like and don't expect Wall or Beal to take it easy on them.

"I'm a competitive person, so I'm not going to back down from any challenge," Wall said.

[RELATED: WIZARDS AND SIXERS SET TO OPEN SEASON]