Preview: Wizards tip season Wednesday night in Toronto

Scotiabank Arena | 7:30 p.m. | TV: NBCSW | Radio: 980 AM & Wizards App

The Wizards take on the Raptors at 7:30 p.m. at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday night, their first game of the 2021-22 season. Both Washington and Toronto head into the new season with their eyes set on the playoffs after significant roster changes over the offseason.

G Spencer Dinwiddie Fred VanVleet
G Bradley Beal Goran Dragic
F Kentavious Caldwell-Pope OG Anunoby
F Kyle Kuzma Scottie Barnes
C Daniel Gafford Khem Birch

Wizards: Thomas Bryant (left ACL injury – out), Rui Hachimura (not with team – out), Cassius Winston (left hamstring strain – out)

Raptors: Chris Boucher (left middle finger dislocation – questionable), Pascal Siakam (left shoulder – out), Yuta Watanabe (left calf strain – out)

Gafford ready to expand his role
Just 48 hours after it was announced that Daniel Gafford and the Wizards agreed to a multi-year contract extension, the young big man will make just his third start since coming to D.C. at last season’s trade deadline. Gafford came off the bench in each regular season game he appeared in, but got the start in Washington’s final two games of their first-round playoff series against the Sixers. Gafford has carved out a role for himself by sticking to his strengths, utilizing his elite size and athleticism on both ends of the court as a shot blocker and lob-catching roll man. This season, Gafford wants to add to that repertoire while maintaining the show-stopping style that defines his game.

“The position that I’m in now – the sky is the limit for me,” he said earlier this week. “I just want to progress as much as I can throughout the year…Night-in and night-out we’re going to come out and play hard with 100% effort and put on a show for the crowd.”

Wizards keeping focus on themselves
The makeup of the Toronto team that Washington will face on Wednesday mirrors their own in a number of ways. They are deep, versatile at multiple positions, feature a blend of young and veteran talent – and are coming off an offseason headlined by major changes at the point guard position. Toronto acquired Goran Dragic from Miami in a deal that sent nine-year Raptor and six-time All-Star Kyle Lowry to the Heat while Washington swapped Russell Westbrook for Spencer Dinwiddie as part of a five-team deal with the Lakers, Nets, Spurs and Pacers. But for as intriguing as the similarities of the matchup may be, the Wizards know their focus must remain on themselves.

“They play fast,” Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said earlier this week. “They have a lot of versatile guys who can handle, finish and spread you out, play downhill. It’s going to be a challenge for sure, dealing with some of the jitters of the first regular season game, playing on the road against a very dominant home crowd environment…We have to worry about us, concentrate on what we’re supposed to do. I think our mindset has to be stay in the moment and win each possession.”

Takeaways from last week
Wednesday’s matchup will be the second matchup in the last eight days between Washington and Toronto – and while last week’s preseason game won’t count in the win-loss column, it provided the Wizards with plenty of takeaways of value for their season opener. What stood out the most to Unseld Jr. was the way Toronto utilizes a do-it-all group of defenders.

“I thought (Toronto) was really good defensively,” he said. “That’s the way they play. That’s the way they’ve played for the last several years. They have the ability to switch. They have versatile defenders. They’re going to junk the game up, I’m sure. We’ve seen them do that. We have to be prepared for just about anything.”

Toronto’s defense managed to keep Beal in check that night, holding the All-NBA guard to just seven points, but struggled to contain Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who combined to shoot 11-16 (.687) from 3-point range.

Tickets for all Wizards home games can be purchased HERE.


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