Things have changed drastically the last time these two teams met. Well, just on one side, really. The 76ers began the season with a slow start, at 9-6 with a few bad losses. They had a solid core around Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid in Robert Covington, Dario Saric, J.J. Redick, but the 76ers front office felt they needed more.
They needed a guy who could take the load off Simmons and Embiid, serve as another play-maker and shot-maker and to give a young Sixers team an All-Star veteran presence. That ‘guy’ was and still is Jimmy Butler. With his break-up in Minnesota seemingly inevitable, the 76ers moved quickly, trading Covington and Saric (and picks) to the Timberwolves in return for the 29-year-old All-Star.
That trade may have sacrificed their future, but the 76ers are in win-now mode and it seems to be paying off since the trade. Butler has already made a strong impact on both ends of the floor while guiding the 76ers to a 17-8 record (8-2 since the trade).
Jimmy Butler has averaged a team-high 7.1 points in the 4th quarter (54.8 FG%, 62.5 3PT%, 85.7 FT%) through his first 10 games with the Sixers, including two game-winners. He knows how to close. pic.twitter.com/TVRZOE92uu— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) December 4, 2018
Along with Butler, Simmons and Embiid have continued their great seasons as well. Simmons is picking up where he left from his rookie campaign a year ago, posting 15.5 points on 56.3 percent shooting from the field, 8.8 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 1.4 steals per game.
Embiid is arguably having an MVP-type season, putting up 27 points per game with a true shooting percentage of 58.1, grabbing 13.4 rebounds, dishing out 3.5 assists, and blocking two shots per game.
Joel Embiid heading into 17-8 #Sixers' Wednesday game at. 20-5 #Raptors: 'The past couple games, I haven't been aggressive and I've been playing bad, so I've just got to make sure I get it back tomorrow. I think tomorrow is a perfect game to do so.' pic.twitter.com/BDd4q0eOFT— Tom Moore (@TomMoorePhilly) December 4, 2018
Philly has jumped right back in the conversation as one of the few top Eastern Conference teams and will look to steal one from the Raptors tonight.
Here are the details for tonight’s game:
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 8:00 p.m. ET
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Philadelphia – Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, Mike Muscala, Joel Embiid
Toronto – Norman Powell (OUT – Partially dislocated left shoulder)
Philadelphia – Markelle Fultz (OUT – Thoracic outlet syndrome), Justin Patton (OUT – Foot surgery), Zhaire Smith (OUT – Jones fracture in left foot)
Kawhi Leonard vs. Jimmy Butler
Oh, how the tables have turned. While the Raptors tried for years to assemble a team to dethrone LeBron, now it seems like the Sixers are trying the same thing to assert their dominance over the Eastern Conference’s new best team: Toronto. Don’t get me wrong, the Sixers didn’t go out to get Butler solely to stop Kawhi Leonard and the Raps, but it certainly helps them out quite a bit.
Going into tonight’s game, Butler and Leonard will be going at each other when they’re both on the floor, as when Butler came to town as a member of the Timberwolves. Leonard went off for 35 points while shooting 15-for-23 from the field with a net rating of 3.5 when Butler was on the court. Butler had a decent game too, with 23 points on 7-for-13 shooting, but credit to Leonard for making him look ordinary (rather than like a terrifying Raptor Killer as he has been in the past).
Shoot (well) and Defend From the Outside
The Raptors have shot it poorly from three-point land in their last two games against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Nuggets, combining for 18-for-67 (26 percent) from deep. The Raptors cannot afford another shooting night like that, especially going up against the 76ers, who aren’t as big of a threat from deep but have a dominant inside game. Kyle Lowry and Leonard can and will look for their shots, but it’s the others in Toronto who must get going. Keep an eye on Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Delon Wright, and C.J. Miles in particular.
In the 10 games since the Butler trade, Philadelphia is 17th in the league in three-point makes with 108 and are 24th in three-point attempts with 285. However, they are sixth in the league in three-point percentage at 37.9 percent, so even though they don’t shoot at a high volume, they still make them at a high percentage.
Can’t Lose Composure
It’s becoming a trend: the Raptors coughing up their leads resulting in one too many close games. It seems Toronto plays well in the first half of games but then lose their composure in the second — which leads to costly big minutes on the starters. Saturday’s game against the Cavaliers was a perfect example of that. (To say nothing of their play-from-behind effort on Monday against the Nuggets.)
Things have to change tonight because the 76ers have enough skilled players to claw their way back from deficits. And Butler is the kind of player whose never-say-die attitude can wreak havoc with a soft team. The schedule only gets tougher from here for the Raps, so a wire-to-wire victory against this 76ers squad would help them build some momentum going forward.