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Is it too early for a must-win game?


Is it too early for a must-win game?

When Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld went out and added veterans Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, A.J. Price and Martell Webster to a roster that included a core of young talent, coach Randy Wittman said his team could no longer use the excuse of being young and inexperienced.

That was before John Wall and Nene were stripped from the lineup with injuries, forcing guys like Okafor, Ariza and Price from secondary roles to primary ones.

“That’s why the front office made the changes they made,” Webster said. “They feel very comfortable and confident in the group of guys they have in the locker room right now, as do I.

“We already proved we can come back and play with one of the top teams in the league,” Webster said, referring to Saturday night’s come-from-behind 89-86 loss to the Celtics.

Perhaps that’s why Wittman is not ready to do too much roster shuffling tonight in Boston [7:30, CSN] after starting the season with a pair of losses.

“We’ve played two games,” he said. “I’m not pushing the panic button here on anything You’ve got to give certain things time.”

Like getting to know each other on the basketball court.

“We have a lot of new faces and we’re doing a lot of new things, even with the guys who were here last year,” Wittman explained. “I’ve got a belief in them and they’ve got to believe in themselves. We can’t be tentative.”

In two straight games the Wizards have been victims of their own poor starts, but Webster said falling behind 17-2 to the Celtics in their home opener was the product of missing open shots, not poor execution.

“If we knock down 50 percent of those it’s a different score,” he said. “It might be 16-10 [instead of 17-2]. That being said we have to set the tempo and establish the game play in the first five minutes.”

The Celtics’ win on Saturday was their first after season-opening losses to the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks. The Wizards are trying to avoid the same early-season skid that ruined last season and got Flip Saunders fired.

Last year, the Wizards opened the season with eight straight losses, including back-to-back setbacks against the Celtics.

“It’s a must-win for us, as any game,” Webster said. “When you can get a win against one of the top teams in the league you can ride that confidence. We’re not saying we’re going up there and blowing these guys out. But we have to go in with the mindset that we must win this game and we must be aggressive.

“Our best offense is our defense. We’re a young, transition, running  team, but we’ve also got to hit our open jump shots.”

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Toronto Raptors star Kawhi Leonard out against Wizards

Toronto Raptors star Kawhi Leonard out against Wizards

The Wizards will catch a break on Saturday night when they host the Toronto Raptors in the second game of their regular season, as Raptors superstar Kawhi Leonard is being held out due to rest.

Leonard, who has been dominant so far for the 2-0 Raptors, is being limited in back-to-backs after he missed 73 games last season due to a quadriceps injury. The Raptors played the night before against the Celtics.

With Leonard out, the Raptors will likely rely on C.J. Miles and O.G. Anunoby at the small forward position. Shooting guard Delon Wright is also out with a shoulder injury.

Though Leonard and Wright are out of the mix, Toronto still has plenty of talent including All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry. Lowry is averaging 21 points, seven assists and 3.5 rebounds through two games. 

Serge Ibaka has been their third-leading scorer with 15 points per game to go along with 6.5 rebounds. They also acquired Danny Green in the Leonard deal and he's off to a strong start with 12.5 points and five rebounds per game.

Leonard's absence may be noticed more on the defensive end, as he is one of the best in the NBA on the perimeter. That could make things a bit easier for Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr.

The Wizards and Raptors next play on Nov. 23. That game is in Toronto.



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Three things to watch for in Wizards' first matchup with Raptors

Three things to watch for in Wizards' first matchup with Raptors

John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. and the Washington Wizards battle Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and the Toronto Raptors on Saturday night. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington.

Here are three things to watch...

Will Howard play?

Once again, we await word from head coach Scott Brooks on the status of Dwight Howard. Howard, who missed all of the Wizards' preseason with a piriformis injury, was a gametime decision for the opener on Thursday. He ended up not playing, but appeared very close to finally making his debut.

Saturday night could be a different story, though we won't know until shortly before gametime. The Wizards' training staff will evaluate him pregame and make the call. If he can't go, Ian Mahinmi will get the nod as starter like he did against Miami.

Need more Otto

Though it wasn't the reason why the Wizards lost to the Heat, it certainly stood out in the box score how Otto Porter Jr. went without a three-point attempt in the opener. Porter finished third in three-point percentage last season with a 44.1 clip. He simply has to be more involved in the offense.

It will be interesting to see what adjustment the Wizards make to create more opportunities for Porter, and how Porter responds. All parties involved insist it is a mix of several factors, including a need for Porter to simply be more aggressive. That won't be easy against a tough Raptors defense, but expect Porter to get up plenty of threes in this one.

Leonard is out

This game was set to be the first matchup between the Wizards and the revamped Raptors, who added perennial All-NBA selection Kawhi Leonard in the biggest trade of the offseason. But it turns out, Leonard will not play.

Toronto is resting Leonard, who played in only nine games all of last season due to a quadriceps injury. It's understandable, given the Raptors played the night before against the tough Boston Celtics.

With Leonard out, All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry will be a big focus. They also got guard Danny Green in the Leonard deal and he's off to an excellent start. He's averaging 12.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals while shooting 50 percent from three so far. Getting him in the trade was a very underrated move by Toronto.