Game Preview: Raptors vs. Wizards
The Raptors are back in Toronto to take on the Washington Wizards at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday. Toronto is coming off a 92-91 thriller in New York where DeMar DeRozan scored the game-winning shot at the Garden with 1.9 seconds remaining. The Wizards will be on a back-to-back, having defeated the Golden State Warriors 112-108 in Washington on Tuesday.
Tip-off: 7:30 P.M. ET
Broadcast info: SN1 / SN590
Adjusting on the fly
Two weeks ago, the Raptors traded for Serge Ibaka. One week ago, they'd acquired P.J. Tucker at the trade deadline. On both of those days, the talk was about getting the two familiar with the offence and with All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan as the team made a final push to close out the final 25 games of the season.
That plan to make a late-season push hasn't changed, but the personnel has endured a shake up. The team announced on Monday afternoon that Lowry would undergo surgery to remove loose bodies from his right wrist, aiming to return for the postseason.
Losing Lowry for any amount of time is tough, but Toronto's reserve point guards have done a solid job in his absence. Cory Joseph, Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet have stepped up and played well in extended minutes as Lowry has been sidelined.
"I think Cory and Delon and Fred have been capable," Masai Ujiri said. "We believe in them, and we'll go from there."
The team has won its first three games without Lowry, but the task gets tougher with a home-and-home series against the Wizards and All-Star point guard John Wall. Slowing Wall, who had 19 assists on Tuesday, is all but impossible, but Joseph, Wright and VanVleet have plenty of support from their teammates and coaching support. Wright and VanVleet especially will serve to benefit if they take advantage of the opportunity in front of them.
"[Fred and Delon are] young and have no excuse not to be fresh and full of energy and they came in and gave us that [in New York]," Dwane Casey said. "That's going to be their role. They may sit there for two quarters, three quarters and then come in, but that's their role and they did it well."
Tucker already making an impact
Despite playing in just three games for the Raptors, P.J. Tucker is already making his mark. Closing out each of the previous three contests, Tucker's defensive intensity has resulted in steals and offensive rebounds and he's secured Toronto important extra possessions down the stretch.
"I'm just trying to spearhead the defence," Tucker said. "For me I'm just trying to get lost in the game, trying to find my spots, where to be aggressive, where to help, where to talk more. I'm just trying to be there for the guys and be reliable, that reliable voice behind, listening to everybody, listening to see what they've got to say, how they're going to play stuff. For me it's all about communication and just being there for all the guys."
Swingman DeMarre Carroll already appreciates the defensive efforts from Tucker and is excited to see how good the team can become defensively with the two newest Raptors on the floor.
"I feel like it's only going to get better," Carroll said. "Having them get more comfortable on the defensive end, that's how we're winning basketball games. We're not winning with our offence, we're not trying to outscore teams, we're trying to get stops."
While P.J. Tucker is providing a boost on the defensive end, Serge Ibaka has come up with timely shots in each of the previous three Toronto victories as the team has come back from double digits in each, including 17 down in two of the three.
Although the Raptors have pulled off those wins, Dwane Casey would like his team get off to better starts and prevent the need for having to pull off furious comebacks.
"We've got to do a a better job of our starts," Casey said. "We've got to have a sense of urgency coming out of the locker room."