For the first time in recent memory, the Toronto Raptors are in the midst of a divisional race.
It may be November, and the division may be riddled with teams below .500 -- perhaps making it more of a walk to the finish line then a run. Nonetheless, the Raptors have a legitimate shot to make up some ground in the Atlantic while other teams continue to struggle.
But, should they even want to?
This is a question everyone has been asking since Masai Ujiri took over as general manager in the offseason. The only difference now is that it seems - at least for the time being - that Toronto has a reasonable shot at securing a playoff spot, should they reign in some sort of consistency.
If this is indeed the more favorable path - I would argue it isn't, but that's beside the point - then this seeming meaningless game in late November against the supposed-to-be-bad Philadelphia 76ers has suddenly become at least semi important.
Aside from being a interdivisional game, this matchup marks the first in a series of winnable games. On Friday, the Raptors will see Washington visit the Air Canada Centre, then on Tuesday the struggling Brooklyn Nets also visit the ACC. Miami will be in town next Friday before Denver makes their way to Toronto on December 1st.
It's not inconceivable that Toronto could take three of four in that stretch, putting them in a very favorable situation in the Atlantic, reaching .500.
Conversely, this stretch could also be disastrous. Losing three of four could set this team back significantly, not unlike their 4-19 start last year.
Anyway you look at it, this will be an interesting few games of Raptors basketball. As always, here are the three keys to a potential Raptors victory against the Sixers:
1) Stop the ball at the point of attack: The biggest strength for the 76ers this season has been the play of their point guards. Michael Carter Williams has been a revelation and Tony Wroten has surprised many with his play in relief of Carter Williams.
Carter Williams has been awesome; averaging 17.4 points, 7.6 assists and 2.6 steals in eight games. When he plays, he carries the offense. He is the engine that makes the team go. Stop him and stop the Sixers.
Tony Wroten is no slouch either, and after notching his first career triple-double last week, he has proven that he too his a legitimate point guard in this league.
2) Get Valanciunas going early and often: Valanciunas got off to an excellent start against the Blazers on Sunday, scoring 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the opening quarter and that was against a solid defensive centre in Robin Lopez.
Against the Sixers, Valanciunas should have a field day matched up with the physical, but shorter Spencer Hawes.
3) Move the Ball: This will always be the third key to the game until the Raptors decide to take this advice and move the ball.
The assist-to-shot ratios have been shoved down your throats after every game this season, so I am going to spare you guys and make this one nice and simple. PASS THE BALL.