Toronto Raptors

Bell Game of the Week: Raptors host Wizards in highly anticipated return to Toronto

Bell Game of the Week: Raptors host Wizards
Bell Game of the Week: Raptors host Wizards (NBA Canada Illustrations)

600 days.

When the Toronto Raptors host the Washington Wizards at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021 (7:30 p.m. on TSN), that's how much time will have passed since a regular-season NBA game was last played in Toronto.

As one could imagine, plenty has changed since then.

The Raptors enter the season with just four players who have ever played a home game in Toronto on their roster. Of the group, OG Anunoby, Chris Boucher and Fred VanVleet will suit up against the Wizards, while Pascal Siakam (shoulder) is still on the mend from offseason surgery.

MORE: What we learned about the Raptors in the preseason

Needless to say, it's the newcomers that will be taking much of the spotlight.

It begins with Scottie Barnes, who has proven to be the perfect culture fit in Toronto after the franchise elected to take him with the fourth overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. Barnes made a great impression over five preseason contests, averaging 9.8 points and 4.8 rebounds to go along with a team-high 5.6 assists per game.

For perspective, Barnes was an 18-year-old high school senior the last time the Raptors played a home game at Scotiabank Arena.

Barnes headlines a group of rookies that also features second-round pick Dalano Banton and two-way players Justin Champagnie and David Johnson. The NBA dream has been realized for each of the four rookies, but the dream holds a bit of a different meaning for Banton, who, while growing up in the Rexdale neighbourhood of Toronto, grew up cheering for the Raptors and idolizing their stars.

Banton has now grown into becoming that same figure he idolized and serves as a physical reminder for the next generation that the dream is attainable.

Precious Achiuwa, Isaac Bonga, Sam Dekker and Goran Dragic are the other four players who will make their Raptors debut on Wednesday, with Achiuwa and Dragic each likely to log heavy minutes. After facing the Raptors in the 2016 Eastern Conference Semifinals as a member of the Miami Heat, Dragic gets to experience a raucous Scotiabank Arena crowd from the other side, while Achiuwa, who was a rookie last season, will play in Toronto for the first time in his career.

MORE: Four plays that show Achiuwa's sky-high potential

While not technically newcomers, players like Khem Birch, Malachi Flynn, Gary Trent Jr. and Yuta Watanabe, who made their respective Raptors home debuts in Tampa, will finally get a proper introduction to the fan base.

With Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment announcing that Scotiabank Arena will operate at full capacity, the Raptors will be welcomed home to an atmosphere similar to that of the NBA Playoffs.

The Wizards, who underwent a transformational offseason of their own, are led by superstar guard Bradley Beal, who experienced the Scotiabank Arena crowd at its peak during the opening round of the 2018 postseason. To further illustrate that changes abound in Washington, Beal is the only remaining member from that team - the franchise even tabbed Wes Unseld Jr. as its new head coach this offseason.

That said, Beal isn't a bad person to maintain the continuity, as the 28-year-old is coming off of a season in which he earned All-NBA honours with averages of 31.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per contest. He is now joined by notable newcomers in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Spencer Dinwiddie, Montrezl Harrell and Kyle Kuzma, while former top-10 picks Deni Avdija (2020) and Rui Hachimura (2019) each look to take leaps towards stardom.

As it stands, the Wizards and Raptors are teams projected to battle for some of the East's final postseason seeds. The season opener is an opportunity for each team to make an early-season statement and rack up a win that could prove to be crucial down the stretch of the year.

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