Kyle Lowry: Our Game 1 Will Be Our Game 7

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Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry is tired of losing Game 1’s. The Raptors have lost the first game of each of their last 10 playoff series. Lowry and fellow All-Star teammate DeMar DeRozan made no secret of their ambition for today’s Game 1 against the Washington Wizards in an appearance on ESPN’s The Jump with Rachel Nichols.

“What you told me,” DeRozan said, turning to Lowry. “Our Game 1 will be our Game 7.”

Lowry and DeRozan said “seven” together, and Lowry continued.

“That will be our Game 7. Me and him talked about it, and we’ll present that to the team.”

When Lowry started to back off of a comment that the season would be wasted if the team didn’t have significant success in these playoffs, DeRozan cut in.

“It’s a wasted year, period,” he said. “You put in all this work and you want to compete for that championship. Anything less is you going to the summer upset, thinking like, man, I’ve got to do this all over again.”

“Like right back down to the bottom of the totem pole,” said Lowry.

While the top-seed Raptors enter the first round with lofty expectations, the Wizards limp into the playoffs with a disappointing eighth seed and a season marred by point guard John Wall’s extended injury absence.

“It’s a challenge, definitely, playing against the number one seed,” said Wizards coach Scott Brooks after his team’s season-ending loss to the Orlando Magic. “We’d have loved to get a higher seed, but we didn’t put ourselves in that position in the last 10 games.”

The Wizards went 3-9 over their last 12 games, including five losses in the final six. Wall has been available for much of that stretch, but the team has faced chemistry concerns with Brooks referring to his team as selfish.

“Let’s face it, any time you lose one of the best players in the league, it puts your team in a tough position,” said Brooks. “But we battled all year and made a run at the playoffs. We’re a different team with John. He’s dynamic, he’s powerful and he’s explosive. He gets easy points for all of us.”

While the Wizards are stumbling into the playoffs, the Raptors enter the postseason as the only team in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Raptors coach Dwane Casey said the Game 1 struggles of years past were partly what inspired him to institute more ball movement with the team this season.

“That’s one reason why we changed our offense to spread the ball around where teams [can’t] double up on DeMar and Kyle,” said Casey after a Friday practice. “Or they feel the pressure of having to carry the load. We have other guys that we can trust and get the ball to and make plays. Hopefully, that’s the plan and that’s going to take care of some of the woes we’ve had in Game 1.”

Casey was asked about Wizards center Marcin Gortat, which led into a discussion of one of Toronto’s biggest question marks, the availability of 6th Man of the Year candidate and reserve point guard Fred VanVleet.

“Gortat is one of the most efficient guys in the league at setting screens, screening his own man, holding his own man, doing all those things to create lanes and driving alleys for Wall to get to the basket,” said Casey.

What Casey didn’t say is that Gortat is possibly the league’s most infamous setter of moving screens. When Casey was asked about a play in the season-ending loss to the Miami HEAT in which VanVleet injured his shoulder fighting over a screen, it gave Casey an opportunity to do some early campaigning with the officials.

“If a guy is moving [and] you’re hitting a guy head-on, that’s a play that will cause injuries,” said Casey. “And I think our league did a good job of protecting shooters. Now we’ve got to do a better job of reading legal screens and illegal screens because that’s where a lot of the injuries are coming now. Guys coming off DHO’s (dribble hand-offs), pin-downs and pick and rolls. That’s a tough call. That one slide, that one more step is very difficult for officials to see. That was the play where he hurt his shoulder.”

Casey was not sure if VanVleet will be ready to go for Game 1. If he isn’t, it’s a major concern for Toronto, which outscored opponents by 12.1 points per 100 possessions with VanVleet on court this season, a team-best among Raptors with at least 200 minutes. Casey said his team relies on its bench and will have to make adjustments if VanVleet misses part of the series.

“I think you have the number one bench in plus-minus in the league, one of the top-producing benches in the league,” said Casey. “And I think they’re a huge part of who we are. It’s one of those things that we’ve got to read as we go along if Fred can’t go tomorrow.”

If VanVleet isn’t available, it will be next man up for the Raptors with more responsibility falling on the shoulders of fellow reserve point guard Delon Wright. But regardless of who plays, Casey said what matters is the mentality his team brings into Game 1.

“It’s about the mental approach,” said Casey. “And if it takes Kyle feeling like it’s Game 7, so be it. Let’s do it. Let’s have Game 7.”