The Toronto Raptors have won some important games against challenging opponents recently. Tonight’s clash against the Philadelphia 76ers doesn’t quite feel the same. In this one, anything but a decisive win would be a major disappointment. Looking at the 76ers’ 6-18 record and roster filled with borderline NBA players, it’s hard to imagine they will be able to put up much resistance against the Eastern Conference’s second best team. Simply put, this isn’t a battle against the Boston Celtics, or even the Milwaukee Bucks.
Still, this is the world’s best basketball league, and anything can happen on any given night. The 76ers are coming off two consecutive wins, which is a pretty big deal for the franchise. The team boasts some solid young players with plenty of energy, who just lack the composure of winners. They could surprise the Raptors, but it’s unlikely.
Here are three things to watch for:
Respect the Process
At this point, Joel Embiid is a lock for Rookie of the Year, and he should only get better after Christmas when he is off his minutes restriction. At an impressive 18.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, Embiid isn’t the type of player who can singlehandedly win a game for his team, but he could get the momentum going in the right direction. He matches up fairly well against the Raptors, in that he can pull Jonas Valanciunas to the perimeter, where he struggles defensively, and then beat him with his foot speed and crafty dribbles.
Defensively, Embiid is also a threat to the Raptors. He averages 2.5 blocks per game, and is a pretty active presence around the hoop. The main factor that limits his effectiveness is that his team as a whole struggles so much that they allow opposing offences to exploit several points of weakness at once. So, even though he may protect the paint effectively, the mid range and perimeter will likely be porous. Despite his team, watch for Embiid to be a lot of fun, playing basketball with the enthusiasm of a kid in a playground with his friends.
Terrence Ross Doesn’t Suck
It’s still early, but Terrence Ross may have finally figured it out. The man most fans gave up on last year is turning in by far his best season as a pro, putting together a quiet bid for Sixth Man of the Year. And, he hasn’t had a trademark game yet this year, where he tears open an opposing defence and reminds people that he is capable of wild scoring performances. Against a poor team, this could be that night.
Ross is averaging 11 points and two rebounds per game. That may seem pedestrian, but he is doing it while shooting 50 percent from both the field and beyond the arc, while turning in a steal per game in the least minutes he has played since his rookie season. Ross has a player efficiency rating of 20.1, which is a big step considering his previous best was 12.9 last season. He is basically the same player, but more confident and efficient. As the season wears on, expect him to get more time to shine.
Get Pat Going
There’s not much to dislike about the Raptors’ 17-7 record, but if we are pulling hairs, Patrick Patterson could be better. The veteran power forward has been underwhelming this year in the box score, and though it hasn’t hurt the team, playoff runs require every piece to be doing its part. Against the 76ers, Patterson could get back on track, particularly from beyond the arc.
Spacing is a huge part of what the Raptors do on offence. This season, the team’s shooting from beyond has been excellent, but Patterson has fallen behind his usual averages. He is good for just 35.5 percent of his three-pointers this season, much less than the 41 percent he averaged last year or the 45 percent he managed the year before. Due to disorganization, there may be more open opportunities against Philly — a good chance to get hot, and cary that energy into future games.
Where to Watch: Sportsnet One, 7:00pm EST