Wizards-Raptors Preview


Coach Dwane Casey has the Toronto Raptors in solid position to make the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, but he realizes it's only going to get tougher down the stretch.

The Washington Wizards are looking to end a similar postseason drought, though they'll have to play the next six weeks without one of their top frontcourt contributors.

Toronto hasn't had much trouble with Washington even when Nene has been in the lineup, and it will look to sweep the four-game season series Thursday night in Canada.

The Raptors (32-25) lead the Atlantic Division and have won six of seven after beating Cleveland 99-93 on Tuesday. They haven't qualified for the playoffs since 2007-08, but they currently hold the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

DeMar DeRozan scored 16 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter and made a key steal in the final minute. Terrence Ross finished with 19 points and Greivis Vasquez added 15 off the bench.

''DeMar was huge down the stretch,'' Casey said. ''He made shots, he made plays, he made some free throws.''

Toronto led by as many as 14 in the first half before Cleveland stormed back to take a one-point lead in the third. Casey said those types of breakdowns won't be as easy to overcome as the season progresses.

''We're nowhere near where we can walk in a game and expect to win,'' Casey said. ''All of our games are grind it out. We're going to see everyone's best haymaker."

The Raptors have won the first three meetings with the Wizards by an average of 10.3 points, including a 103-93 victory Feb. 18. Kyle Lowry finished with 24 points and 10 assists in that contest, while DeRozan added 14.

Nene finished with 17 points for Washington, but he suffered a sprained MCL in Sunday's win over Cleveland and won't be suiting up anytime soon.

He was out Tuesday against Orlando, but Washington had no trouble finding enough offense. John Wall (27 points), Trevor Ariza (22), Marcin Gortat (21) and Bradley Beal (21) became the first four Wizards to eclipse 20 points in the same game since April 6, 2010, as Washington won 115-106 to push its winning streak to a season-high four.

''If you're an All-Star, you've got to step up and take on a bigger role," Wall said. "I really have to step up to another level with Nene being out.''

Washington (29-28) is in fifth place in the East as it looks to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08, but it's just 9-34 without Nene since he was acquired during the 2011-12 season.

The Wizards signed Drew Gooden to a 10-day contract to provide frontcourt depth, and the veteran of nine NBA teams is expected to be in uniform for this contest.

They'll also look to Gortat to play a bigger role in Nene's absence.

''I automatically tried to put myself in the situation to score,'' said Gortat, who has averaged 16.4 points and 11.2 rebounds since the All-Star break. ''I yell to John. Sometimes he's going to yell back at me, then I would just say, 'Hey, Nene's not here.' This is what I've got to do to lead this team, help this team inside, and I'm going to run to the block and demand the ball, and I believe I'm capable of doing it.''

Gortat had 18 points and 11 rebounds in the last meeting with Toronto, while Wall finished with 22 despite going 0 for 7 from the field in the second half.

The Raptors have won seven of the last eight home matchups with the Wizards.