- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2015

TORONTO — As far as flashbacks go, the Washington Wizards will take the current talk. After winning Game 1 in overtime against the Toronto Raptors on Saturday, they have ripped homecourt advantage away from Toronto, the same way they did to open last season’s quarterfinal playoff series against the Chicago Bulls.

The win put coach Randy Wittman, so often the target for what goes wrong with the Wizards, into a singular space in NBA history. Wittman is the first coach to lead his team to six playoff road victories in the first seven tries. The news brought a nod of realization and satisfaction from Bradley Beal. Wittman, as is his wont, grumbled away any credit for the accomplishment, attributing the success to his players. As the Wizards grappled with mutual admiration, the Raptors realized they can’t continue to allow history to repeat. Washington also took Game 2 in Chicago last season for a 2-0 lead that is almost always a death knell in a best-of-seven series.

“If you lose that first game, you are always anxious for the next game to come,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said Monday. “The pressure is on us.”

The opener was a mess for both teams. Neither shot more than 40 percent from the field, and both were much worse from behind the 3-point line, failing to crack 30 percent there. If the two sides were blindfolded, the shooting outcome may have been similar.

That left each to tout defense and claim there will not be a sequel of the offensive offense. Both also claimed good news in the Game 1 outcome.

For the Wizards, they shoot poorly but still won on the road. Beal and John Wall combined for 15 rebounds despite an afternoon of bricklaying. Washington had just 10 turnovers and Wall only had one, a mishap he recalled as careless and said should not have occurred. The nine rebounds were just the fifth time this season Beal had grabbed nine or more. He tried to keep his shooting woes out of his mind, and even received help from a veteran to do so.

“The most important thing with this is winning,” Beal said. “I’m never going to get caught up in myself during the playoffs. Nene actually caught me [Saturday]. He said, ‘Yo, we’re winning, what are you worried about?’ after I missed two or three or in a row.”

Raptors fans have been told to assemble outside of Air Canada Centre three hours before Tuesday’s 8 p.m. tipoff. One of the hardest places in the league to play, the crowd hopes it can influence statistics already on their side. After winning Game 1 of a best-of-seven series, the road team is 29-95 (.234) all-time in Game 2. There is no greater motivator than desperation, which NBA playoff history proves.

“The next game is always the hardest one, but that’s the beauty of this whole process,” Beal said.

Toronto has a yin-yang problem to solve. The Wizards‘ ability to rebound necessitates that the Raptors don’t leak out to start their offense as soon as possible. The flipside is that for two days, Toronto has been lamenting not pushing the ball enough and settling for the Wizards‘ pace. No group rebounding, no ball. No ball, no push. Toronto will be hard-pressed to accomplish both.

“I think [Saturday] we really bogged down and played too slow,” Raptors all-star point guard Kyle Lowry said. “That started with me from the beginning of the game. I should have been pushing more.”

The Wizards could not pinpoint why they have been so successful on the road in the playoffs the last two seasons. Suggestions included greater focus and a veteran team. There was only consensus that Game 2 will be much more difficult to win that Game 1. Even Wittman agreed with that.

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