The Toronto Raptors have a golden opportunity to send a message after All-Star Weekend with games against the Wizards and Bulls back-to-back starting on Tuesday in Washington. After beating the Hawks immediately before the break, Toronto has the opportunity to create some psychological and actual distance between themselves and their three closest competitors early in the official second half of the NBA season.
The third place 28-24 Raptors lead the Bulls by 1 game in the standings, the Hawks by 2.5 games and the Wizards by 3.
The Wizards lost 4 of 5 games heading into the break to fall 2 games below .500 as they let 3 teams score over 110 points against them. They are a good three-point shooting team with suspect defense. Washington tends to win or lose in streaks and play the Raptors and Hawks back-to-back right away.
To move up in the standings, they need to start a new winning streak against the teams immediately ahead of them and it isn’t going to be easy. Toronto is 2-0 vs. the Wizards this season, winning by an average margin of 10.5 points and Washington failed to score 90 points in either game.
The Bulls also beat Atlanta before the break to move ahead of the Hawks in the standings and then beat the Nets to close to within 1 game of the Raptors on Thursday. Chicago has Tuesday off, so the Bulls will arrive in Toronto rested and ready to fight for third place.
Chicago has held opponents to 92.3 points per game this season and nothing has really changed in that respect since Luol Deng was traded. However, the league’s second best defense is paired with the NBA’s worst offense.
The Bulls lost their last 2 games against the Raptors in December when they failed to score 80 points at home in either game, but they did win in Toronto prior to the Rudy Gay trade, so this is an important contest for both clubs.
The Hawks have lost 5 games in a row and play in Indiana on Tuesday before entertaining the Wizards on Wednesday. They can’t afford to extend their losing streak.
In seventh place, but just 3.5 games behind Toronto for the lead in the Atlantic Division, the once surging Nets have lost 5 of their last 9 games and head out on a 5-game Western Conference road trip on Wednesday. With no head-to-head battles in their own conference for a while, the Nets can only try to win on the road and scoreboard watch.
This plethora of games between the Raptors, Bulls, Hawks and Wizards in the first 2 days back after the All-Star break could set the tone for the Eastern Conference if one of these teams stumbles or steps up. It is a golden opportunity for Toronto to be the first to 30 wins out this group, own a couple of important tie-breakers and start to extend their third place lead, plus all of this is happening against the backdrop of the NBA trade deadline on Thursday. Get ready for a wild start to the second half.
Raptors GM Ujiri Still Open To Trades
“I think we always want to get better, we want to continue to grow,” Ujiri said. “We have plenty of work to do. I’ll be right here waiting and we’ll see what happens. I never know what to expect. Sometimes it’s quiet until the last minute. Sometimes it’s busy.”