“I’m tired of [the] pre-season,” Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan said after the Raptors 92-82 victory over the Washington Wizards at the Bell Centre last Friday. “I think we train so hard in the summer to be ready for opening night.”
Thus is the life of an NBA player. There is little time to rest with hectic, jet-setting schedules. Washington Wizards guard John Wall was more excited about coming to Montreal for the annual NBA’s Canada Series.
“I think [Montreal] is a beautiful city,” Wall said. “I definitely want to come back and visit when I have more opportunity to freelance and do whatever.”
Tired or not, the Raptors and Wizards put on a show for the 20,000 fans in attendance, including the Montreal Impact’s Didier Drogba, tennis ace Eugenie Bouchard, and UFC champion Georges St-Pierre, who all sat courtside.
On the court, Washington started off with a stronger shooting performance, making 50 per cent of their first quarter shots compared to Toronto’s 36 per cent. Toronto screened effectively and DeRozan looked dangerous slashing to the basket, but the team was inefficient, missing seven of eight three-point attempts.
“You gotta give credit to [the Wizards], they pushed the tempo [at the start],” DeRozan said.
Wizards Head Coach Randy Wittman, who has been widely criticized for a lack of offensive creativity, urged his players to push the ball in the first quarter. Washington shared the ball effectively and their wings came off screens regularly—a far cry from the pick and roll sets that characterized their 19th-ranked offence last year. Additionally, the Wizards’ big men were active from three point range, opening up driving lanes for guards.. Kris Humphries, who has converted only two regular season three-pointers in his 13 years in the NBA, and Drew Gooden, who has averaged 0.4 attempts per game for his career, have averaged 8.7 three-point attempts per game in the pre-season.
“I think that’s the way we want to play,” Humphries said. “It’s kind of like adapt or die, so we got to start shooting threes and play that open style basketball we’ve been working on. [I’ve been] working with the basketball development guys […] and they’ve been like ‘hey we think you can do it.’”
Overall it looked like a haphazard pre-season game when Toronto went into the break up 46-45. The Raptors shot a poor 18 of 49 from the field while the Wizards committed eight turnovers. Toronto’s Patrick Patterson missed all of his first half three pointers, continuing his poor pre-season.
“One thing I have always been told is that shooters never forget how to shoot, like riding a bike,” Raptors Head Coach Dwayne Casey said of Patterson’s struggles. “It’s just a stretch he is going through.”
Toronto responded with an electric 29-point third quarter, capped by a stunning reverse layup from DeRozan. The lead proved too much for the Wizards despite a strong defensive fourth quarter performance and rookie Kelly Oubre Jr’s impressive play. The 19-year-old wing recorded three steals and a block.
“I think [Oubre] has improved,” Wall said, “There will be ups and downs. Adjusting to the NBA is totally different [than] college: You’re seeing the lane and trying to guard screens […] all he has to do is keep listening every day.”
Even after last year’s playoffs, when Washington swept Toronto, it’ presumptive to say the Wizards and the Raptors are rivals. It’s reasonable to expect, however, many future matchups between the two sides as they compete for high playoff seeds in a wide open Eastern Conference.
“I mean, I guess because we played them last year in the first round, if you want to call it [a rivalry], the guys play hard,” Humphries said. “Anytime you have a point guard like [Kyle] Lowry who sets screens, plays tough basketball it adds to [the competition]. I don’t know, I don’t really believe in rivalries, it’s whoever you have to play you gotta play”.