TORONTO - Sitting atop the Atlantic for the first time since 2007, the Raptors (5-7) hope to build on their lead in the division when they host the Washington Wizards (4-7) at the Air Canada Centre on Friday.
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The Raptors dethroned Philadelphia in the weak Atlantic Division with their most recent victory, a 108-98 road win Wednesday. After emphasizing ball movement in practice this week, Dwane Casey's team responded with a season-high 24 assists, leading to 14-for-29 shooting from three-point range. Still, Casey believes the offence has a ways to go.
"We have been [where we need to be] in one game but we have to get that consistently," Casey said of his team's offence. "I'm watching the NBA and a lot of teams are in the same boat, trying to find that identity offensively and we're doing the same thing."
"I like where we started against Philadelphia, we got to continue that especially against an athletic and defensive-minded team like Washington."
After losing four straight, the Wizards have won two in a row but are tied for last place in the loaded Southeast Division with a similar record to Toronto.
Washington got off to a quick start against the Cavaliers on Wednesday - a 98-91 win in Cleveland - leading by 18 at halftime and by as many as 27 in the game. Sophomore Bradley Beal paced the Wizards in scoring with 26 points, knocking down six three-pointers.
"They're a very lethal team with great athletes, a team that can defend and cover a lot of ground," Casey said Friday morning after shootaround. "They can make mistakes and get back in the play defensively."
Beal is averaging 26.3 points, shooting 12-for-19 from long distance over Washington's last three games. He is scoring a team-best 21.2 per game on the season.
Trends and Tidbits
Kyle Lowry ranks third in the NBA with a 3.95 assists-to-turnover ratio. The Raptors' point guard has totalled 34 assists compared to just five turnovers over the last four games.
The Raptors have scored 100 or more points in five of the last six games, averaging 103.3, after failing to reach the century mark in each of their first six contests, scoring just 92.3 per. Toronto is 3-2 when scoring over 100 and are 5-3 when holding their opponent below 100 points.
Toronto begins a four-game homestand, its longest of the season. The Raptors are 2-3 at the ACC.
The Wizards are last in the league in bench scoring, getting just 22.0 points per game from their reserves. The Raptors' subs are averaging 24.2 points, the fourth-lowest mark in the NBA.
Washington has lost six of the last seven games in Toronto.
What to Watch For
Slowing down the Wizards
Led by the speedy John Wall, the Wizards are one of the quickest and most lethal teams in transition, averaging 19.3 fast-break points per game, good for second in the league.
"Our focus has to be [to get] back," Casey said. "Not only the guy guarding [Wall], but we have to have four of his teammates back building a wall."
Defending the three
Winning the battle behind the arc is important for the Raptors after they were burned by the three-ball in Sunday's loss to Portland. Toronto connected on a season-best 14 three-pointers in Philadelphia Wednesday after allowing the Trail Blazers to shoot 15-of-32 from deep three days prior.
Beal is third in the NBA, having hit 33 treys to begin the season while the Wizards rank eighth in both three-point shots made and three-point percentage.
"Offensively, they're one of the best corner three-point shooting teams in the league," Casey acknowledged. "So that's something we have to have a focus on going into the game."
Washington has shot more corner threes (97) than any team in the league, making the second most (43) from that territory. The Raptors rank 15th, shooting 41 per cent from the corners, where DeMar DeRozan has connected on 10 of his 16 attempts.
Who to Watch For
DeRozan scored 33 points in Wednesday's win, his third game with 30 or more points this season. The Raptors' guard is one of 11 players in the NBA with three or more 30-point games to begin the campaign.
The fifth-year guard led the Raptors averaging 22.3 points in four games against the Wizards last year.
Although Wall is shooting just 36 per cent from the field this season, he's recoded 37 assists over the last three games and is averaging a career-best 9.7.
"It's humanly impossible to stop Wall in a one-on-one situation coast-to-coast," Casey said, praising the Wizards' point guard. "I timed it against Cleveland the other night, against Kyrie Irving, he went from one end to the other in three seconds or a little bit less. It's unbelievable how fast he can go with the ball from coast-to-coast."
Raptors forward Quincy Acy participated in shootaround Friday morning after missing Wednesday's game with a sprained right ankle. He'll be a game-time decision.
Back-up point guard Dwight Buycks has been excused from the team as he attends to a personal/family matter. Casey didn't indicate who, between D.J. Augustin and Julyan Stone, would back-up Lowry with Buycks unavailable Friday.