USA TODAY Sports
The Wizards and Raptors have two of the worst records in the NBA. Please ignore that and watch this game, you'll realize these teams have actually become rather good.
Most of the time, when two teams in the bottom half of the standings tip off, there are two legitimate reasons to watch the game: you're a fan of one of the teams playing, or you're looking to catch a glimpse of a star-in-the-making (looking at you, Kyrie).
Yet, when the Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors tip off from north of the border on Monday night, people should be watching for one rather obvious reason: these two teams are actually pretty darn good.
Sure, they might have fewer wins combined than either the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder, teams playing in a tougher conference. But since both teams added major pieces -- Rudy Gay in Toronto and John Wall in D.C. -- you'd be dumbfounded by the basketball coming from these teams in recent weeks.
The numbers themselves bear out precisely why this is a game not between lovable (likable?) losers, but rather between two teams that presumably plan on making some serious noise next season.
Without Wall, the Wizards went 5-28 earlier this season, often looking like the NBA's attempt to replicate college basketball at the sport's highest level. Since his return, they've gone 12-9, beat some of the best teams in the league, and got folks like ESPN's Kevin Pelton to tweet, "It is mind-blowing how fun the Wizards suddenly are to watch," recently.
One of those nine Wizards-with-Wall losses came to the Raptors last week, as Gay continues to be a difference-maker for the team despite his inefficient shooting. Pre-Gay, the Raptors were 16-30 following a 5-10 January. Since his debut on Feb. 1, Toronto is 7-3 with Gay averaging over 21 points per game.
To put things simply, when these teams tip off at 7 p.m. ET in Air Canada Centre, it could very well be the game of the night.
Getting more from Wall
Though Wall's return has undoubtedly transformed this Wizards team, he's had some off nights as he finds his rhythm post-injury. However, none was worse than his performance in a 96-88 loss to Toronto last Thursday.
Playing 31 minutes against the Raptors, Wall recorded nine points, six assists, three rebounds and two steals, but the numbers that really stand out are his seven turnovers and 11 misses in 12 shot attempts. Though he still got to the line effectively in that game, he simply couldn't get easy baskets near the rim against Toronto's defense.
Though he's rebounded with consecutive double-doubles in the team's past two games, both wins, expect the Raptors to be tough with Wall near the rim again. Though that's easier said than done, forcing Wall to take jumpers absolutely kills his efficiency -- he's shooting an abysmal 31 percent on shots away from the rim this season.
Raptors cutting it close
While the Raptors do keep on winning with Gay in tow, things haven't exactly been convincing. Of the team's seven wins during the streak, three have been by two points or less.
Considering the way Toronto depends heavily on inefficient scorers like Gay and DeMar DeRozan, it's easy to wonder how long the team can keep playing with such success. Part of the success can be attributed to the improved play of Amir Johnson since Ed Davis is now in Memphis, but you know, he's Amir Johnson.
Spacing has been one issue for Toronto as Gay and DeRozan's playing styles tend to overlap, SB Nation's Raptors blog, Raptors HQ, notes, but that hasn't stopped the team from getting big baskets in important situations thus far.
It's just hard to imagine a team having such success when its four best players are Gay, DeRozan, Johnson and Kyle Lowry, but here we are. Let's see if things can last.
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