Wizards play­ing like the eighth seed they are

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - DERON SNY­DER

Ac­cord­ing to a pop­u­lar the­ory en­ter­ing the NBA play­offs, Wizards-Rap­tors isn’t your typ­i­cal No. 1 vs. No. 8 se­ries. Toronto strug­gled against Wash­ing­ton in the reg­u­lar sea­son, split­ting four games in which the Wizards’ best player, John Wall, played none. The Rap­tors also car­ried bad mem­o­ries of the teams’ last play­off en­counter, a sweep three sea­sons ago.

That se­ries, which be­gan in Toronto, was part of the Rap­tors’ 10-game los­ing streak in play­off open­ers. Six of those se­ries started at home. Em­bark­ing on the 2018 post­sea­son with the Wizards in town, the Rap­tors faced vi­sions of the past, the weight of be­ing No. 1, and the ne­ces­sity to treat the opener – in All-Star guard Kyle Lowry’s words – “like a Game 7.”

Con­versely, Wash­ing­ton treated Satur­day’s con­test like the eighth game ... of the reg­u­lar sea­son. Like some non­de­script matchup against the Or­lando Magic or Sacra­mento Kings in Novem­ber, when teams are still feel­ing them­selves out.

The Rap­tors’ 114-106 vic­tory was about as close as the score sug­gested. Wash­ing­ton’s three-point lead early in the fi­nal quar­ter was erased by an 18-6 run af­ter for­ward Mike Scott’s fla­grant foul on Lowry. The spurt in­cluded four 3-point­ers, a pair each from role play­ers C.J. Miles and Delon Wright.

The near­est de­fender on some of those shots and oth­ers (the Rap­tors hit 16 of 30 from long dis­tance) ap­peared to be stuck in Cus­toms at the bor­der.

And what did we get as ex­pla­na­tions from the Wizards? The same-old stuff.

“A lot of those plays were crazy mis­takes we could’ve eas­ily fixed by just run­ning back in tran­si­tion, match­ing up cor­rectly, talk­ing — all the ba­sics of de­fense,” guard Bradley Beal told re­porters Sun­day af­ter prac­tice. “We just get back to those and we’ll be OK.”

Good idea. Ex­cept ba­sics shouldn’t be part of the dis­cus­sion 83 games into the sea­son.

“We had a lot of men­tal mis­takes that you can’t make, es­pe­cially late in the game,” for­ward Otto Porter said. “We have to pay more at­ten­tion to de­tail and know where their shoot­ers are at all times.”

Great. Ex­cept de­tails should be the cen­ter of play­ers’ at­ten­tion in the play­offs.

“I thought we did a lot of good things, but we gave some of their shoot­ers open threes that we have to cor­rect,” coach Scott Brooks said. “Some of our turnovers led to easy tran­si­tion buck­ets and then we lost some of their shoot­ers in tran­si­tion.”

Wall pointed out that the Wizards didn’t play their best game, yet they still had a chance to win.

Won­der­ful. That’s been the story all year. They played be­low their level, yet still reached the post­sea­son.

One more vic­tory would’ve been nice, pit­ting Wash­ing­ton against the in­jury-wracked Bos­ton Celtics in­stead of the Eastern Con­fer­ence’s best and deep­est team. Ten Rap­tors av­er­age at least 18 min­utes. Toronto fin­ished 16 games ahead of the Wizards, inar­guably prov­ing it­self as the bet­ter and more con­sis­tent team.

For­tu­nately, Wash­ing­ton of­ten de­liv­ered its best per­for­mances against bet­ter and more con­sis­tent op­po­nents, and un­doubt­edly is count­ing on the same in the play­offs. The Wizards must play at their op­ti­mal level for a chance to beat su­pe­rior op­po­nents.

In that re­gard, this 1-vs.-8 matchup is no dif­fer­ent than any other.

Since the NBA play­off field ex­panded to 1984, a No. 8 seed has pre­vailed only five times. That’s the bad news for Wash­ing­ton. The good news is the phe­nom­ena’s rel­a­tive fre­quency of late; it has hap­pened twice in the last seven sea­sons (Philadel­phia over Chicago in 2012 and Mem­phis over San An­to­nio in 2011).

But ad­vanc­ing against the Rap­tors won’t be easy, no mat­ter their his­tory of play­off fail­ures. “They’re a bet­ter team all-around (now),” Porter said. “They have depth. They’re good. “They’re No. 1 for a rea­son.” In­deed. Wash­ing­ton earned its seed­ing as well.

Chic picks to reach the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nals en­ter­ing the sea­son, the Wizards have be­come novel choices to reach the sec­ond round. Satur­day’s set­back was a lost op­por­tu­nity, but all isn’t lost en­ter­ing Tues­day’s con­test. “We need to be a lit­tle bit bet­ter,” Brooks said. “We’re play­ing against the best team in the East.”

Their goal re­mains the same — win at least one game in Canada.

“What we wanted to do was come and steal Game 1,” Wall said. “They had the home­court ad­van­tage and they def­i­nitely used that to the best of their abil­ity in that game. Now all we have to fo­cus on is try­ing to win Game 2. We have an op­por­tu­nity to win Game 2 and go home.”

They need to re­dis­cover the good ver­sion of them­selves soon.

Oth­er­wise, this matchup of top and bot­tom seeds is likely to play out like most do.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“What we wanted to do was come out and steal Game 1,” Wash­ing­ton Wizards guard John Wall said of Satur­day’s loss to the top-seeded Rap­tors in Toronto.

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