Last night, the Toronto Raptors lite managed to win their 25th game of the season. It was against Cleveland though, so Toronto isn’t going to brag about it. Instead, let’s look ahead to a more [ahem] worthy opponent.
Unlike the Raptors, the Philadelphia 76ers are almost whole. Yes, they’ll be without Markelle Fultz once again, as the 20 year old shooting guard has been sidelined indefinitely with thoracic outlet syndrome. But aside from him, the 76ers new-ish and improved roster is pretty much healthy — and definitely looking to grab at least one win from the Raptors.
The same can’t be said for the Toronto Raptors, who are without, well, everyone. With Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka expected to be out until after Christmas, Danny Green recovering from knee to knee contact in Wednesday’s interesting win against the Pacers, Jonas Valanciunas out for at least four weeks with a dislocated thumb (courtesy of Draymond Green), and Kawhi Leonard still typically not playing in back-to-back games, the Raptors are down to the Bench Mob and possibly a few guys from the YMCA.
It didn’t stop them last night, though, so hopefully tonight will be no different. Now here are the details for tonight’s game, and some things to watch for.
Where to Watch:
TSN, NBA TV at 7:30pm EST
Toronto - Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Greg Monroe, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby.
Philadelphia - Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Wilson Chandler, Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler.
Toronto - Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas, Kawhi Leonard
Philadelphia - Markelle Fultz, Justin Patton, Zhaire Smith
Beware Joel Embiid
With Ibaka and Valanciunas out, the 76ers will rely heavily on Embiid, both offensively and defensively. Jonas kept Embiid to just 10 points (and one technical!) the last time these teams met on December 5th; that’s 16 less than his current season scoring average. This time, the responsibility of containing him will fall primarily on Greg Monroe. As a Raptor, Monroe has played less than six minutes against Philadelphia, but still managed to accumulate four rebounds, two on each end. Embiid, who played 30 more minutes than Monroe in the last game, had 12 rebounds.
Limiting Embiid, an almost 80 percent free throw shooter, from getting to the free throw line will significantly lessen his point totals. Keeping him behind the arc will limit it even less, as he shoots just over 30 percent from three-point range. While Valanciunas was able to outplay Embiid in every aspect, his three early fouls were cause for concern, as he had been the key to the Raptors containing the Cameroonian big man. This time around, when Embiid is in possession of the ball or heading towards the basket, the Raptors could benefit from having a smaller player dig in against him (VanVleet or Wright, for example) to avoid committing fouls that will send him to the line. A zone defense could also prove advantageous for the Raptors, especially if it keeps him as far from the basket as possible.
Play to Strengths and Push the Pace
If they can’t catch you, they can’t contest. Where JV is slow in transition, Monroe moves with more agility, allowing him more finishing opportunities. This clip is from five years ago, but (A) it’s against LeBron James and (B) if Serge Ibaka can turn back the clock, then so can Greg Monroe.
The 76ers, especially when compared to the Raptors, are not a fast paced team. They rely heavier on their ability to finish shots rather than create them. If the Raptors can keep the game at a pace that is faster than the 76ers are comfortable playing, Philadelphia will not be able to get into a position that will allow them to finish. Keeping the ball in the Philadelphia end as much as possible will diminish their ability to run their usual half court sets, leaving them to scramble and (hopefully) turn the ball over.
Maintain The Lead
When all of your starters are injured, the option to rely on your bench to bail you out is non-existent. Last time the Raptors and the 76ers played, we saw the Bench Mob turn a one point lead into an eight point lead to start the fourth quarter. But with the bench players playing starter minutes, it becomes their responsibility to not allow the game to come within one point — for all 48 minutes. Do the remaining Raptors have the mental toughness to make that happen? We’ll see.
Happy Holidays, everyone. Kawhi Leonard is a Toronto Raptor.