Don’t be sad. Even though the Raptors came up short on Saturday’s game against the Warriors, there were plenty positive takeaways. DeMar DeRozan put up 42 points, the bench showed unwavering resilience in the face of adversity, and the Raptors proved to the league that, even without Kyle Lowry, they are not a team to be trifled with.
Putting up a blowout win against LeBron James and a subsequent close game against Steph Curry and company is certainly enough to gain recognition throughout the league as a contender. One might think that, in comparison, the outcome of a game against a middling, borderline playoff team such as the 76ers, is trivial. Of course, there is merit to that statement; the Raptors are out of the spotlight for now.
However, Toronto’s squad does boast an unfortunate history of playing down to their opponent’s level. The last time the Raptors played a non-top tier team, the Miami Heat pulled off the unlikely upset, winning 90-89. That ignominious loss came at the tail end of a five-game winning streak. This time around, the Raptors are in a similar situation. Coming off two terrific games against the league’s best teams, Toronto is facing yet another classic trap game. The Raptors are surely favoured in this match-up, but the early start time, along with underestimating their opponent, may pose some problems. If the Raptors want to avoid being labelled inconsistent, this is a prime game to silence critics.
At the end of 2017, the 76ers seemed stuck in a rut, having gone just 5-10 in December. However, they’ve managed to get their mojo back as of late, winning four out of their last five games. Now, the 76ers sit at a 19-20 record, just one spot shy of the playoffs. After a double-digit loss against the Celtics, Philly is looking to get back on track against the Raptors.
Here are the details for this afternoon’s game.
Where to Watch:
TSN, 1:00pm (MLK Day!)
Toronto – Delon Wright, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
Philadelphia – Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Joel Embiid
Toronto – Kyle Lowry (day-to-day, tailbone)
Philadelphia – Amir Johnson, Furkan Korkmaz, Markelle Fultz
The 76ers are full of energetic (and large) youngsters — Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric to name a few. Naturally, their rebounding is amongst the best in the league, ranking first overall in rebounds per game and fourth overall in offensive rebounds per game. The Raptors, on the other hand, aren’t so adept at that facet of the game.
Don’t get me wrong — Toronto certainly possess an array of talented, young big men — but their usage rates are far lower than the rookies and sophomores on Philly. Thus, the rebounding is often left to Serge Ibaka, whose many strengths do not include rebounding, and Jonas Valanciunas, who has weaknesses to his game elsewhere. Valanciunas will need to battle Embiid in the post all game and snag as many rebounds as possible on that end. I expect Jakob Poeltl to get some extended run in this game, as his proficiency on the offensive glass will prove essential.
Underestimation Leads to Failure
Don’t sleep on Philly, folks. They may be inexperienced but they are fully capable of putting up a fight against some of the best teams in the league, including wins against the Minnesota Timberwolves and San Antonio Spurs, and close games against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets.
As previously mentioned, the 76ers have surged as of late. If the Raptors start the game off lazily, it becomes increasingly difficult to muster up the energy to complete a comeback win, especially against the competitive Embiid. Toronto did it once before in their come from behind win in December against Philly, but it would be better if the Raptors came out of the gates swinging. Otherwise, the aforementioned dreaded trap game may come to fruition.
For the Raptors, being a part of the Atlantic Division used to mean a guaranteed top-four position come playoff time; the Celtics and 76ers never used to pose a threat to overtake Toronto atop the division. Now, the future is bright for all three teams, and fans would be delighted to know that we will likely see many exciting match-ups for years to come.
Once Markelle Fultz returns to Philly’s roster (even with his questionable shot), the 76ers will be able to play Ben Simmons off the ball, utilizing his talent as a slasher, and Fultz and Embiid will be able to run a lethal pick-and-roll. Nothing is more tantalizing than a future rival, and there could be one in the making right here.