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The big question the last few days around the ‘water cooler’ (yes we actually have one) is whether or not the Wizards can beat the Raptors in the first round of the NBA playoffs. My answer has been “sure they can”….but they could just as easily be “one and done.”

I’m not trying to ride the fence here. It is just hard to get a real feel for this Wizards team. Since the calendar change on January 1st , they are 3-games below .500 with a 24-27 mark. Meanwhile, Toronto has not been much better,  going just .500 at 25-25. This is the same Raptors team that started 24-7 on the season.

The Raptors play really good offense and the Wizards can play really good defense. The Raptors are not a great defensive team and the Wizards can go through long draughts scoring.  Neither team is the most proficient in half-court offense, either, and each is better pushing the tempo.

Of course, the Raptors did sweep the Wizards in the regular season and they were a matchup headache for them last year, as well. They spread the floor with shooters and seem to negate the Wizards’ front-court advantage.

However, taking a closer look at the games, the Wizards got better with each matchup. After a 19 point loss in November at Toronto the Wizards suffered a 4-point OT loss in late January at Verizon Center and then a 2-point loss back in Toronto just before the All-Star break. It should also be noted that Bradley Beal didn’t play in two of those three games.

Coach Randy Wittman told CSNWashington.com he is confident his team can be successful in the matchup with the Raptors this time around.

“We did a lot of good things in two of those games that we think can be successful again,” Wittman said. “You got to change some things up. 

“They hurt us when they went smaller and spread the floor. We got to do a better job with that.”

So what might the Wizards do to make sure they don’t get hurt by that smaller lineup? They have a couple options, Paul Pierce playing the stretch 4 or more Drew Gooden in the lineup which worked well the last few weeks as Nene got some rest. He may need to negate Patrick Patterson’s impact off the bench.

The Wizards in theory should be able to out muscle the Raptors on the front line with Nene and Marcin Gortat as things tend to become more half court oriented in the playoffs.

Gortat is playing some of his best basketball lately. Nene tends to rise to the occasion as he did in the Chicago series last year. Pierce was brought here with playoffs in mind. Otto Porter could be a key defensive player off the bench, perhaps matching up with Terrence Ross. Ramon Sessions will need to slow Lou Williams.

Will Kris Humphries play a key role, will Rasual Butler be effective on the perimeter knocking down 3’s, is there going to be playing time for Kevin Seraphin and Martell Webster? All these are interesting questions, but really all of them bury the lead.

This is John Wall’s team and the Wizards will go as far as he can carry them. He’s the franchise player and if he’s on his game, the Wizards could do great things, and if he’s not they are in deep trouble. He opens it up for everyone.

Certainly Wall can’t do it alone. He will need help, and the biggest assist must come from Beal, who has shown signs of being the “Beal of last year’s playoffs.” Beal can score in many ways, and if he gets hot, the game will also get hot for Wall and everyone else on the floor. The two will also need to be locked in defensively and try to negate the Raptors dribble penetration from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

For the Wizards to be a factor in the East and not just a participant, the dynamic duo will need to get back to the level that was once considered the ‘best backcourt in the NBA.’

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