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Raptors to take on Sixers and make a bold declaration: Preview, start time, and more

Toronto will stop in Philly to pick up the Sixers on their way home. They’ll play a game first, though.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Toronto Raptors Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The Raptors wrap up a quick two-game road trip with a game in Philadelphia Thursday night, before flying home to host the 76ers in a rare NBA home-and-home series.

After a dominant showing against the Hornets last night, Toronto heads into the Thursday night match up with Philly hoping to capture some of the energy that helped them carry a 20-point lead throughout the second half in Charlotte. Toronto was led by incredible shooting performances from Serge Ibaka, OG Anunoby, and DeMar DeRozan and will hope to replicate the hot shooting against a tough defensive team under Brett Brown.

For Philadelphia, center Joel Embiid will likely be sitting out both games versus the Raptors as he eyes a prime time return against the Knicks on Christmas Day. Embiid also missed the first match up between these two teams, so Raptor fans have yet to see how the 76ers will size up against Toronto with a healthy roster.

Overall, the Sixers are a reeling team right now — a common theme of Raptor opponents in the month of December — having lost three in a row and seven of their last eight games.

Here are the details of tonight’s game:

Where to Watch:

Sportsnet One, 7:00 pm

Lineups:

Toronto – Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas

Philadelphia – Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Robert Covington, Amir Johnson, Dario Saric

Injuries:

Toronto – Lucas Nogueira (calf - questionable), C.J. Miles (probable)

Philadelphia – Joel Embiid (back – doubtful), J.J. Redick (hamstring – questionable) Markelle Fultz (shoulder – out), Justin Anderson (shin splints – out)

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Force Turnovers

The most common ailment of a young team is usually its bad decision making. While stacked with talent, the 76ers are not immune to their inexperience — and it manifests in the form of 18 turnovers per game, the most given up by any team in the NBA. This must be a focal point of Toronto’s defensive blitz on Thursday, and an area they should press from the start should they want to remove any hope the Sixers have of winning the game.

Philly is an efficient offense inside the 3-point line, continually getting good looks at the rim while making them at an above-average clip. Therefore, it needs to be a priority of Toronto’s to reduce the number of shots they get all together — something that can be achieved by forcing an already leaky back court to commit a ton of turnovers.

With Ben Simmons averaging four turnovers per game, it seems natural to press the rookie as much as possible on defense from the second he crosses half-court. And when he manages to get into the paint with his patented one-dribble drive from the 3-point line, make sure he meets maximum resistance from Valanciunas and Ibaka. And most importantly, force him to trust his teammates to make shots from the perimeter.

Without the biggest weapon in the Sixers’ pick-and-roll game (Embiid), the defense won’t have to sag off the corner shooter in order to crowd an incredible roll man. As a result, Simmons will quickly discover the level of difficulty in getting three point shots from corner shooters who suddenly aren’t as open without Embiid drawing the defense in. Hopefully, with defensive pressure, this change causes a few extra turnovers by Simmons as he wrestles with a decision.

Clog the Paint

As mentioned above, when the Sixers get into the paint, they are extremely tough to stop defensively. Like the Raptors (who average 48 points in the paint per game), the 76ers love to fill the hoop from close range, averaging 47 points per game. Of course, without Embiid, who will likely be on the bench for the two Raptors’ contests, this number will naturally dip — however, Toronto should treat the 76ers’ offense with respect regardless of the centre’s status.

Ben Simmons is one of the league’s top scorers around the rim — where he takes over 40% of all his shot attempts, making 73% of them. He’ll be a very tough cover for OG Anunoby, who I suspect will be tasked with stopping the dynamic rookie point forward (because I can’t imagine a six-foot Lowry in that position, with all due respect). Clogging the paint and forcing the few shooters the Sixers actually have to launch threes all night will be Toronto’s best bet in limiting the post-intensive offense.

Speaking of Lowry, this is the type of game where he can rack up several charges by stepping in front of someone like Simmons. You heard it here first!

By keeping their big guys in the post, Toronto will not only try to limit the scoring but also the Sixers’ ability to snatch up offensive rebounds (thus decreasing their shot attempt totals), of which they grab nearly 12 per game — a mark good enough for 4th best in the NBA. That’s an absurd number to see as a Raptors fan.

Take the Open Shot

Philly is an excellent defensive team in terms of opponent shooting percentages, meaning there won’t be many opportunities for a wide open look. They allow just 35% from distance and 44% overall — good enough for 6th and 4th in the NBA, respectively. This season, Toronto has obviously focused on making the extra pass, but we’ve all seen a few instances where the ball continued to fly when it should’ve been launched at the rim.

It’s really been up to the individual — it’s not like the team is serially responsible for making this mistake — but against a defense like Philadelphia, the team can ill afford to pass up an open look. Pascal Siakam, who began the season looking like he made real progress with his 3-point shot over the summer, has literally fallen off a cliff. If you were to look at his percentages from early season to now, the graph would be a vertical line, I think.

Siakam has become notorious for passing up open looks, and even though I cheer him on every time he sizes up the rim from the corner, I don’t blame him for ultimately making that extra pass. He knows his limitations, and I applaud him for recognizing those faults instead of forcing what he thinks everyone else wants from him. Regardless, Siakam needs to toss up a few of those shots every now and then, something he seems to be doing in recent games.

Crowding the paint against an Embiid-less 76ers team, taking every opportunity the defense gives and playing up to their experience against an inexperienced (but talented) Sixers team are all ways Toronto can gain control of the rhythm early. Whether or not they let go is completely up to them.