TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors have spent a season creating franchise history, including a team-record 59 wins, in finishing first in the Eastern Conference for the first time.
They will be trying to overcome some of their history Saturday as they open their first-round playoff series with the Washington Wizards at the Air Canada Centre.
The Raptors are 1-12 all-time in the first game of a playoff series. Their only Game 1 victory came May 6, 2001, in in the Eastern Conference semi-finals at Philadelphia.
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This will be the eighth time the Raptors have homecourt advantage to start a playoff series.
Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan is aware of that, but also said his team has been particularly good at home this season. At 34-7 at the ACC this season, the Raptors tied the Houston Rockets with the best home record in the league.
“We’ve been great at home all year,” DeRozan said. “It’s definitely something we took more pride in than ever and I think it showed. With that, we’ve got that confidence this time around more than ever. Like I said, it’s one of those moments to where we feel like when we are on our home floor, anything’s possible, and our swag is at an all-time high.”
The Wizards (43-39) and the Raptors (59-23) split four games this season, but Washington guard John Wall missed all four meetings between the teams because of knee surgery.
In three regular-season games against the Raptors in 2016-17, Wall averaged 25 points, 10.3 assists and 5.7 rebounds.
“We haven’t played with John against them,” said Wizards guard Tomas Satoransky. “We’re not scared. We respect them. There’s some positive aspects from this season.”
“We’ve got John back,” Wizards guard Bradley Beal said. “There’s no excuse for us not to go out there and get the job done.”
“They’re a good team,” Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas said. “We’re not underestimating them, and we know it’s going to be hard playing against them. We know they are tough, physical playing team. We’re ready, we know how we’re going to play and we’re going to play well, play hard.”
The Wizards lost five of six games to end the regular season, including their finale against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday. Although they struggled all season with under .500 teams, like the Magic, they defeated nine playoff-bound teams after the All-Star break.
“I’m more than excited,” Beal said. “This is where players are made and everybody’s trying to fight for the same goal. It’s always fun and it gets very interesting this time of the year.”
Wizards center Jason Smith suggested it might be better to face Toronto in the first round than the Philadelphia 76ers, who ended the regular season on a 16-game winning streak.
“We are looking forward to the matchup with Toronto,” Smith said. “I, personally, am a little relieved to not have to go against the hottest team in the league, Philly. That’s not a team we want to see. We don’t match up well with them. We might have split the season series, but they are the hottest team right now and they don’t have Joel Embiid and that’s a little scary.”
The Wizards swept the Raptors in four straight games in the playoffs in 2015.
“The guys that were here three years ago know what it was like to get swept,” DeRozan said. “It wasn’t a great feeling at all. You learn from your mistakes, you understand how to be better. To have another opportunity to compete with these guys again, it’s definitely going to be fun. It’s always one of those scrappy, competitive games, and it’s (the kind of) games you want to be part of. To have the opportunity against a great team in the Wizards, it should be fun.”
The Wizards finished eighth in the East, 16 games behind the Raptors.
“Just because they’re an eighth seed, we are not going to look at them like they’re an eighth seed, because we understand what this team is capable of,” DeRozan said. “That’s a great challenge, and for us, it’s a challenge that we are definitely looking forward to.”
Toronto has had one of the better benches in the NBA this season, but one of the keys to the reserves, guard Fred VanVleet, injured his shoulder in the loss to the Miami Heat Wednesday and likely will be a game-time decision.
Raptors guard Lorenzo Brown, who was on a two-way contract, has been signed to a standard NBA contract and is eligible to play in the playoffs.