The Toronto Raptors head into Sunday’s clash against the Philadelphia 76ers just hoping not to do something stupid. Anything short of a comfortable win against a 28-48 team would be a failure for the Raps, as they continue to duke it out for playoff seeding.
The Raptors are coming off a nice win against the Indiana Pacers, in which the team showed resolve after losing a bad one to the Charlotte Hornets the game before. The Raptors have won seven of their last eight, and have caught the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference standings with the playoffs just six games away.
Against bottom feeders like the 76ers, who just shut down two of their last remaining NBA-calibre players in Jahlil Okafor and Robert Covington, the Raptors need to get easy wins and rest their best players. That means Sunday’s game could be a feature show for the kids hoping to one day start games at the ACC.
Here are three things to watch for tonight:
Everyone’s Second Favourite Rookie, Dario Saric
Saric will win Rookie of the Year, even though everyone likes his teammate Joel Embiid much, much more. But, he isn’t just benefiting from unfortunate injuries. Saric has legitimately been great since All-Star Weekend, lifting his scoring average from 10.8 before to 18.6 after.
The 76ers don’t have a lot of options right now, with a staff full of players still learning how to fit in the NBA. Saric knows his place, so expect him to be featured once again against the Raptors.
The Homie — a nickname I do not prefer to Super Dario — has gone against the Raptors three times this year, and has been bad every time. Combined, he has only scored 18 points on the Raps. And, on Sunday, his job will be even harder, since this is the first time he has played the team since Serge Ibaka came to town and helped fill a dire need at power forward. Saric can shoot, move and, most importantly, think on the court, all of which he will have to do if his team is going to have any shot.
DeRozan should get a much needed break against the 76ers. In an effort to cope for the loss of Kyle Lowry, DeRozan has put the team’s offence game on his shoulders since All-Star Weekend. In that time, he has only played less than 30 minutes once, and has regularly logged around 38 minutes. That’s a lot of wear and tear for a man who is going to be expected to sustain his efforts during a deep playoff push.
As they would every night, the Raptors are going to want to establish an early lead in the first quarter, and then let the young guys take over. Ideally, DeRozan will be able to sit and the sometimes capable hands of Norman Powell will be enough to guide the Raps to a comfy win.
The Raptors have a bounty of young, seemingly good players they don’t really have room to develop (except for with the team’s D-League affiliate). That’s the curse of being good, but even then, Dwane Casey needs to look for his spots to let his green guys find their legs. All this to say I just want to see Jakob Poeltl lumber around.
Watch the Pain in Their Eyes
If you look really closely during Sunday’s game, you will see a distinct pain in most of the 76ers’ eyes. The nostalgia has kicked in, and those guys wish they were still in college playing for their alma mater. That sure would beat putting the final polish on the toilet boil that has been this season for Philly.
The average age of a 76er is 24.7, tied for youngest in the NBA. And, the team has 11 past first-round picks, third most in the league. Most of their players were playing meaningful minutes in the tourney just two or three years ago, and there’s no way they don’t miss that glory.
So, during Sunday’s game, look into their eyes, and feel smug that you cheer for a real adult team with real adult players.
Where to Watch: Sportsnet One, 6 pm EST