Wizards, Raptors begin playoffs in Toronto

(SportsNetwork.com) - The NBA playoffs begin Saturday afternoon when the Atlantic Division champions, the Toronto Raptors, host the Washington Wizards at Air Canada Centre.

The Raptors, fourth in the Eastern Conference, will host a first-round matchup for the second consecutive year. Washington, ranked fifth, is also in the postseason a second year in a row.

The dynamic of this series took an interesting tone early when Paul Pierce, who signed with the Wizards in the offseason, said the Raptors lacked the "it" factor.

"Paul Pierce has always got to say something," said Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan, who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Month for April. "He said something last year, he's always got to say something. Just let him talk. I could care less what he says."

Toronto set the franchise-record for wins in a season with 49 (49-33) and lost in seven games to the Brooklyn Nets in last season's Eastern Conference quarterfinals. The Raptors haven't made it out of the first round of the playoffs since 2000-01.

The Raptors ended the regular season with seven wins in the final 10 games, and put a lid on the schedule with Wednesday's 92-87 victory over the Charlotte Hornets. Kyle Lowry scored 26 points and the All-Star is feeling good after missing some time with an injury.

"This is what we play for," Lowry said. "Now it's the time where it gets a little bit more serious."

Toronto is 1-6 in the opening game of a playoff series and the only time it won Game One was in the semifinals versus Philadelphia in 2001. The Raptors start a playoff series at home for the third time in franchise history.

Meanwhile, the Wizards have reached the postseason for a second straight year after missing the playoffs the previous five. They recorded 46 wins - the most since posting 54 in 1978-79 - and struggled down the stretch, losing two straight, three of four and eight of the last 14 contests.

The Wizards knocked off the Chicago Bulls in five games in 2014 before falling to the Indiana Pacers, 4-2, in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Washington was led this season by All-Star starter John Wall. He averaged 17.6 ppg and 10.0 apg, but backcourt mate Bradley Beal wasn't far behind at 15.3 ppg.

The Wizards were the ninth-best defensive team in the NBA in terms of opponents' scoring. They'll need to be great considering the Raptors were the fourth-best offense at 104.0 ppg.

The Wizards struggled with the Raptors this season, losing all three matchups, and are 1-7 in the past eight encounters. The Wizards and Raptors have never met in the postseason.