Critical wins against the Rockets and the Bucks have the Raptors returning to Toronto road-weary, but feeling positive, at 10-6. Tonight, they begin a six-game home stand against the Philadelphia 76ers, who will be without their stud rookie Joel Embiid.
The Sixers, of course, have been playing it cautious with their centre, as he’s been able to break out on a minutes cap of just 24 per game. He’s also not playing in back-to-backs, which is why he’s sitting out this one at the Air Canada Centre. The 76ers are fresh off a surprisingly competitive tilt with the East-leading Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, losing 112-108.
The reason I mention Embiid off the top is because that’s really where the excitement begins and ends for the 4-13 Sixers. With per-36 numbers of 28.3 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 3.8 blocks, the 7’3” Embiid hasn’t had the usual transition period for bigs in the NBA. He’s got a team-best net rating of -2.2, and when the Sixers are without him, they’re a shallow team without a lot of talent.
With that in mind, a win will be expected for Toronto tonight. Here’s three things to watch for as they look to pull that off.
At the bottom of the NBA barrel, the Sixers are ahead of just the Magic in offensive rating at 95.7. After Embiid, their best scorers are Ersan Ilysova (13.2 points per game) and a questionable Jerryd Bayless (11.0). I don’t need to fill in this painting with colour — the Sixers are not a good offensive team even with their star out there.
That means it’ll be important for the Raptors to carry momentum from a couple games where their defence took steps forward. They were frantic in their coverages against Houston, and held Milwaukee to under 100 points. Against Philadelphia, it’ll be about ensuring that a new hero doesn’t emerge. Raptor-killer Gerald Henderson is here, so let’s keep our blood pressure low and ensure he doesn’t break out, yeah? If the Raptors’ heads are up and engaged, they should have no problem holding down all this middling talent.
Fresh off 26 points and seven rebounds against the Bucks on Friday, DeMar DeRozan should be licking his chops as he goes up against an undersized 76er backcourt. He’s had 30 points in ten of the last 16 games, and there’s no reason to think he won’t get over that margin again tonight. Seeing the likes of Henderson and Robert Covington, DeRozan should be able to get to his spots all night.
He’s also shown a killer instinct as a passer over the last three games, recording 20 total assists, and showcasing that again will help keep the rest of the team engaged.
As they go for three wins in a row, the Raptors will be hoping their recent success with the three-point shot continues. Toronto is shooting 48.1% as a team from long distance in the last three games, with key contributions from the once-struggling Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson, and DeMarre Carroll.
The breakout for Carroll is especially welcome, as he was enormous in the Bucks win with four three-pointers and nine of his 14 points in the fourth quarter. A healthy Carroll opens up opportunities for DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, and he’s coming along in that regard too. Speaking with reporters yesterday, Dwane Casey says that Carroll could be playing in back-to-backs come 2017.
Start time: 7:30 p.m. EST on Sportsnet One