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Raptors visit Wizards for key two-game series

Feb 28, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) dribbles against the Atlanta Hawks in the second half at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Raptors visit the Washington Wizards for two consecutive games starting Thursday night in a matchup of teams that occupy the final two Eastern Conference play-in spots.

The ninth-place Raptors take a one-game lead over the 10th-place Wizards into the game on Thursday. The second game, also in Washington, is on Saturday.

The games will be the first between the teams this season.

Toronto won three of four from the Wizards last season and has won the past four season series. The Wizards have dropped their past six games at home to the Raptors, their last win coming Feb. 1, 2018.

Both teams are coming off victories over teams that are close to them in the standings.

The Wizards earned a 119-116 road win over the eighth-place Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday, led by a season-best 37 points from Bradley Beal.

The Raptors won 104-98 at home over the 11th-place Chicago Bulls on Tuesday behind 20 points from Pascal Siakam.

The Raptors took the season series 2-1 from the Bulls that would give them a tiebreaker if needed. That also will be a factor in the Raptors-Wizards matchup.

“Big games, yep (but) again, us just trying to really zero in on us,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “I don’t think it matters that much where people are in the standings. I mean, it does because they’re right around us and we are inside 20 games to go or something like that but, again, just trying to get us to play to our capabilities.

“… If we do that and keep getting a little bit better, if we do that then we’re going to have a really good chance every night we step out there and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

The Wizards had lost two in a row before taking the hard-fought game in Atlanta.

“We got timely stops, and a number of guys … all made plays,” Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “That’s just the way I think it’s going to have to be. These games are going to get tighter; they’re going to be more physical as you get down the stretch as the stakes get compressed a bit. I think it’s a good experience. We had to find a way. I thought we did that (Tuesday).”

Before the game on Tuesday, the Raptors waived Juancho Hernangomez and signed veteran Will Barton, who had earlier been bought out by the Wizards.

Barton, 32, is in his 11th season and appeared in 40 games for Washington, starting none, and had largely dropped out of the rotation. Last season with the Denver Nuggets, he averaged 14.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists over 71 starts. He also has played in 29 playoff games.

“He’s an interesting player,” Nurse said. “He has played a lot in the league on a team that won a lot. He’s an offense creator. He can play screen-and-roll. He can also shoot the 3. Made a bunch of them in his career. Those two things should help us.”

Barton played four minutes with no points and one assist on Tuesday.

“(The Raptors are) definitely a team that is way better than their record,” Barton said. “Very talented, well-coached, well-run organization. So I just wanted to add any depth I could to this team.”

–Field Level Media