- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2017

Two nights after what coach Scott Brooks called a “professional” win in Toronto, the Washington Wizards gave gained ground back.

The Raptors used a get-anything-they-want first quarter to score 35 points Friday. They went up 19 points before Washington eventually took a lead in the third quarter, turned it into a one-possession game late, but allowed another 35 points in the fourth. A DeMar DeRozan 3-pointer, of all things, put the game to rest. Raptors 114, Wizards 106.

Three points from the night:

The step back. If the Wizards won Friday, they would have been sitting on a three-game winning streak that included two wins against Toronto and a victory over Golden State. Such work would have dispelled concerns about their bumpy start after the All-Star break. Instead, Washington’s defense reverted to the ineffective form it displayed the first two games — both losses — after the break. “We didn’t have the defensive urgency to start the game,” Brooks said. “Thirty-five points in the opening quarter – that basically set the tone for them. Then we couldn’t stay in front of the basketball when they went to small lineups. In the fourth quarter we couldn’t turn it off and they got 35 points in the fourth quarter.” The loss gives Toronto the season series against Washington, and moves it into a virtual tie with the Wizards. With 22 games to play, holding any tiebreaker is a bonus. The prime concern for Washington is to remain among the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference.

Brandon Jennings’ debut is muted. Earlier in the day, fresh Wizards point guard Brandon Jennings said he was concerned about not being a new player who screws things up for a team that is rolling. He played just 9:47 on Friday and was 0-for-3 from the field. John Wall encouraged him to be more aggressive. Brooks encouraged him to be more aggressive. Jennings plans on being more aggressive Sunday against Orlando when he plays with the second unit. “I wish my debut would have been a little better. But, overall like [Marcin] Gortat was telling me, he said, ‘Use these 20 games to get ready for the playoffs. Get ready,’” Jennings said. “He said that they’re going to need me in May when the playoffs start. Guys have been encouraging. They understand that this is my first game in a new system [and] new everything.” Jennings is in town to provide some relief for Wall. It didn’t happen in the first game. Wall was on the floor for 38:13, above his already stern average of 36.7 minutes per game. One night is one night. Though, the Wizards have a short time period to start to see results.

Toronto goes small, Wizards do not. In one of the odd wrinkles of the evening, Toronto went often to a small lineup that featured Serge Ibaka as the center. Raptors starting center Jonas Valanciunas played just just 12:56. Toronto used a lineup that mixed Delon Wright, Norman Powell, DeMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson, DeRozan and Ibaka effectively. Brooks chose to stay big, never using Markieff Morris as the center or Jason Smith at that spot. It was an odd decision considering the success Toronto had with its small group (and that Smith had Tuesday night). One of the nightly questions is which coach will lead and which will react. Friday, Toronto coach Dwane Casey made his move early, quickly seeing that Valanciunas was not going to be effective. Brooks remained stubborn with his big men. It was a philosophy that did bring Washington back into the game. But, it was also ended with a loss.

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