SPORTS

Sixth man Williams could be Raptors' X-factor in playoff series versus Wizards

04/17/2015 05:03 EDT | Updated 07/03/2015 08:59 EDT
TORONTO - Lou Williams' back is a tapestry of ink that, according to the tattooed street sign stretched across his shoulder blades, depicts the corner of "Hustle" and "Hard Work."

The Toronto Raptors are counting on both from their sharpshooting guard when they open the NBA playoffs Saturday afternoon against the Washington Wizards.

The Raptors acquired Williams in a trade last summer in one of the biggest bargains of the off-season. Now Williams is a favourite to win the NBA's sixth man of the year award, and poised to potentially be Toronto's X-factor in the playoffs.

"Lou's the sixth man of the year for a reason," Kyle Lowry said. There's no question about it, if he doesn't win sixth man of the year it would be a sham."

The NBA will announce the sixth man winner sometime during the opening round of the playoffs, but the six-foot-two, 175-pound guard isn't exactly waiting with baited breath.

"Kyle's opinion," Williams said of Lowry's compliment. "But that's nice of him to say.

"I've probably played the most games out of all of the other candidates. I've been very consistent this year. So we'll see what happens. It's probably one of the best seasons of my career. So if I get it, I get it. If not, I'm sure somebody else is deserving."

General manager Masai Ujiri said it was a risk acquiring Williams. Rehabilitating from a torn ACL, he was coming off his worst season in seven years. He's rebounded as a Raptor in spectacular fashion, averaging a career-high 15.5 points a night.

"He's a phenomenal player. We made a trade and we hoped we were getting a good player that could come back from a tough injury," Ujiri said. "It's a risk you take when you do our jobs.

"For me, he's done absolutely well. . . that's what you hope for. Did we know that it would be this big? He's done really well. To me, he should be the sixth man of the year."

Williams has given the Wizards, in particular, fits this season, averaging 19.7 points and shooting 48.8 per cent from the field — 38.9 per cent from three-point range — in Toronto's three regular-season victories. The wily vet is also a master at drawing fouls.

"In the playoffs, I realize teams are probably going to blitz me and try to take the ball out of my hands, so it's just a matter of going out there and making basketball plays, making smart reads," said Williams, who has appeared in 37 playoff games. "Playoff basketball isn't about who scores, stats or putting numbers up on the board. It's just about winning at the end of the day.

"When you play a game in a series, it becomes chess. It becomes who can outsmart the other team. So it's not really about just going out there and getting your numbers."

Williams takes some pressure off Toronto's leading scorer DeMar DeRozan.

"Something we really didn't have last year was a scoring threat off the bench like Lou," DeRozan said. "For him to do the things he's done this year, incredible.

"Having a guy who can run off 13-14 points in eight minutes and get to the free-throw line, it definitely helps. Definitely, hands down, no question (he's my sixth man of the year). He's a great guy, keeps everyone in a good mood, he's never in a bad mood. He keeps everyone's spirits up and makes you want to have fun.

The 28-year-old from Memphis is one of the more colourful Raptors. He's dabbled in rap, including his debut freestyle "Imma Boss." He's also referenced in Drake's song "6 Man." With Philadelphia, Williams was famous for averting a potential armed robbery three years ago. He was stopped in his car when a man reportedly approached and drew a gun. The robbery was averted when the gunman recognized Williams, who treated his would-be assailant to McDonald's.

On a Raptors' trip to Oklahoma City this season, Williams didn't stay with the team at The Skirvin Hilton Hotel, because of stories it was haunted.

The other sixth man candidates are Isaiah Thomas of the Boston Celtics, Jamal Crawford of the L.A. Clippers, Golden State's Marreese Speights, and Taj Gibson of the Chicago Bulls.

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