The Philadelphia 76ers underwent a gruelling rebuilding process (ahem, Process) starting in the summer of 2013. In the 2017-18 season, that process finally yielded results; Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid were healthy, Dario Saric, T.J. McConnell and Robert Covington were ideal role players to slot around them, and the team had veterans like Amir Johnson, JJ Redick and Marco Belinelli to fill out the roster.
It led to a third-place seed in the Eastern Conference, and valuable playoff experience for the young core.
This year, expectations are that much higher... the problem for Philly is, the Boston Celtics are healthy and loaded, and Toronto added a force of nature called Kawhi Leonard.
Here are the details for tonight’s game.
Where to Watch:
TSN, 7:30 pm EST
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Philadelphia — Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz
Toronto — Delon Wright (thigh - probable), Fred VanVleet (toe - day-to-day)
Philadelphia — Jerryd Bayless (knee - out), Wilson Chandler (hamstring - out), Zhaire Smith (foot - out)
Tired Legs; Who’s Got ‘em?
Both teams played last night; the Raptors were on the road in Milwaukee, and the 76ers were at home against Atlanta. Both likely flew in to Toronto late last night. One advantage the Raptors have: Kawhi Leonard didn’t fly anywhere. He was at home here in Toronto the whole time, undoubtedly analyzing reams of Sixers game film and calculating just how he’s going to make things miserable for Brett Brown and his team. That, and being at home, and coming off a tough loss, should give the Raptors a considerable edge in this one.
Outside Shooting; Will Simmons and Fultz Let Fly?
It’s the biggest question facing the Sixers: Can you win when two of your starters are afraid to shoot?
Simmons has taken 71 shots this year; exactly five of them came outside of the paint. He hasn’t taken a 3-pointer yet!
Fultz, meanwhile, has a slightly more balanced shot chart, with 37 of 73 shots coming outside the paint, but still only 11 3-pointers (he’s 4-for-11).
Eleven total three-pointers from your starting backcourt? That seems like stacking the deck against yourself in today’s NBA. By contrast, Kyle Lowry and Danny Green have combined for 66 attempts.
Now, Toronto did lay a ton of bricks in Milwaukee last night (9-for-45 from downtown). Look for a stronger shooting game on the homecourt.
Inside or Outside: Who’s taking Embiid?
This is a fascinating matchup. Embiid is a scary opponent; he can score down low and he can step outside. The Raptors, meanwhile, have two centres to guard him; one more suited to checking Embiid’s outside game (Ibaka) and one more suited to banging down low (Jonas Valanciunas). They’ve also got Greg Monroe to absorb a few fouls and get inside Embiid’s head with his old man game, if they need him!
It’ll be interesting to see how Nick Nurse matches up with Embiid, and how Brett Brown employs him. I suspect Ibaka gets the start and the bulk of the minutes but I’m curious if using more Valanciunas might be the chess move; that might entice Embiid to spend more time outside, where he thinks Jonas can’t guard him, and trick him into shooting threes—which I think Toronto will be totally fine with (he's shooting just 23%).
Either way, we’re in for a great Eastern Conference showdown tonight at Scotiabank Arena.