If the Washington Wizards are fortunate enough to reach the postseason for the first time in six years, the Toronto Raptors are probably one of the last teams they would like to see in the first round. But if the season ended now, that is exactly whom the Wizards would play — the same Toronto team that has won all three meetings between the clubs and came to Verizon Center for the second time and completely outclassed the Wizards.
It is also the same team that forced Wizards Coach Randy Wittman to leave unceremoniously with security escorts after receiving two quick technical fouls.
Wittman earned his first ejection of the season after disputing an offensive foul called against all-star point guard John Wall late in the fourth quarter of a 103-93 loss to the Raptors. Wittman angrily exited with 4 minutes 39 seconds remaining and wasn’t around to see his team stage a rally from a 20-point deficit to get within six points. He had already seen enough.
“I give Toronto credit,” Wittman said. “They came out and played better than we did.”
When he gathered his players for their first practice after the all-star break, Wittman stressed the urgency required for the stretch run. There is no time to waste games with just 30 remaining, he told them. Wittman said his team wouldn’t lack focus but once the Wizards hit the floor, but it didn’t take long to see that most of his players simply were flat.
The Wizards (25-28) have lost three in a row and five of the past six. Even with Rudy Gay gone to Sacramento, the Raptors have been a matchup problem for the Wizards. They have young, athletic big men and perimeter players, and a solid floor leader in Kyle Lowry, who proved that he had a legitimate argument about being snubbed in the All-Star Game.
Lowry had game highs with 24 points and 10 assists, winning his head-to-head duel against Wall. Wall led the Wizards with 22 points, but was held to just three in the second half, when the Raptors built such a comfortable lead they still won by double digits despite going the final 7 minutes 36 seconds without a field goal.
The Wizards’ three losses to Toronto have been by a combined total of 31 points.
“I guess they have more will than we have to win,” Marcin Gortat said after scoring 18 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. “They just want it more than we do.”
Indiana is the only other Eastern Conference team that Washington has yet to defeat. Now just a percentage point ahead of Brooklyn for sixth in the East and a game-and-a-half ahead of Charlotte for the eighth spot, the Wizards will move on to face the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday at Philips Arena, where they have lost their past 11 meetings.
Wall would’ve been the most likely candidate to have dead legs after a full weekend in New Orleans, where he won the slam dunk title and played in his first all-star game. But he was the only Wizards starter who actually came to play in the first half, when he started the game 8 of 9 from the floor and scored 19 points.
The Wizards played a video acknowledging the performances of Wall and Bradley Beal over the weekend, but it was met with a tepid response from a sparse crowd. The fans, however, expressed their frustration by booing the team during a miserable third quarter in which the Raptors extended their lead to 17.
Lowry was on the receiving end of much of the abuse from Wall in the first half but he came out in the third quarter determined not to get upstaged. Driving to the basket for layups and diving to the corners for three-pointers, Lowry made his first six field goal attempts of the period and put the Raptors ahead, 80-65, when hit a difficult fadeaway over Wall.
“He was making tough fadeaways, everything, did a running hook shot, left handed over Marc, and when somebody get it going like that, making tough shots, it’s really nothing you can do about it,” Wall said of Lowry.
In addition to his scoring, Lowry also flustered Wall by forcing him into missing eight of his last nine attempts, including all seven in the second half. He also contributed to getting Wittman kicked out by sliding in front of Wall to draw a charge and sending Wittman into a rage.
“That was terrible,” Wittman shouted to referee Josh Tiven.
Wittman continued complaining about the call, adding much more colorful language before Tiven eventually assessed him the two technicals. The ejection provided a jolt as the Wizards scored the next 11 points. After the Wizards got within 99-92, Wall and Nene forced Lowry into a turnover near half court, but Lowry astutely fouled Nene before he could deliver an outlet pass to Wall for what surely would’ve been a breakaway dunk. Nene, who has struggled mightily from the foul line, made 1 of 2 free throws but the momentum stalled and Lowry closed out the game with four free throws.
Nene had 17 points, but the Wizards were unable to make up for poor shooting nights from Beal and Trevor Ariza, who combined to score just 15 points on 4-of-18 shooting.
In the Wizards’ last meeting with the Raptors on Jan. 3 – a 101-88 loss in which they trailed by 26 points in the second half – Ariza had another miserable effort and was ejected for collecting two technical fouls.
The Wizards will travel to Toronto next week with one final opportunity to avoid a season sweep.
“We definitely have to redeem ourselves and get a win,” Beal said.