It’s overreaction season in the NBA and according to far too many, the Raptors are doomed! Calls of basement-dwelling status, over-inflated contracts that will never be lived up to, and prospective trades have been ever prevalent in the media. But it might, just maybe, be okay to take in that the season is incredibly young. Yes, the Raptors haven’t been down 0-2 to start the year in some time, but there are 70 games still to play.
Another reason not to panic? How about that Toronto has been a world-class organization since Masai Ujiri stepped foot in the building seven years ago and they haven’t been under .500 in almost as long? A collective deep breath is going to go a long way, Raptors fans — even with Toronto’s squad set to take on the Philadelphia 76ers tonight. Let’s breathe.
Here are tonight’s game details and some things to keep an eye on in Philly.
Where to Watch
SN, 7:00 PM ET
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Aron Baynes
Philadelphia — Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, Dwight Howard
Toronto — Patrick McCaw (out - knee)
Philadelphia — Joel Embiid (back - probable), Furkan Korkmaz (adductor - out)
For the Raptors to stand any chance in, quite frankly, any game with this roster, Nick Nurse is going to have to figure out a lineup that transitions the starters to the bench. Thus far, the results have not been pretty as both DeAndre’ Bembry and Matt Thomas’ relative weakness — offense and defense respectively — have been wholly exposed.
Against a 76ers team that is trying to recapture their early glory days when Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid were surrounded by shooters and preceded to feast on the league, Toronto will have little margin for error. Could Malachi Flynn see some backup guard minutes, or will [redacted] get an opportunity after playing a total of three minutes over the last two games?
Nick Nurse on Norman Powell's struggles: "Norm hasn't got on track really at all, let's be honest. He hasn't shown anything since the preseason or the regular season."— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) December 28, 2020
Norman Powell will certainly continue to be given a chance to play through his struggles, but Nurse could, at any moment pivot to one of his bigger guard/forward bodies in Paul Watson or Yuta Watanabe in order to find something that works.
Make or Miss League
The Raptors have come out hot to start their first two games, shooting 50 and 59 percent, respectively. To say that Toronto hasn’t sustained that pace would be an understatement as their percentages dipped — in some cases, quite drastically. Against the Pelicans, the Raptors managed to go 0-for-10 from three point range in the third quarter and a paltry 28 percent on five field goals made in the fourth. They didn’t fare much better against the Spurs in their second game either, as their first and second quarter shooting disparity was a whopping 17% — shooting 32% for the second and only 39% for the third.
If the Raptors hope to compete against a much better Philadelphia 76ers team, Toronto is going to have to show more consistency from the field, especially when their three point shot isn’t dropping. Much of this consistency is going to have to come from Pascal Siakam. Though Pascal has played decent defense and is doubling his assist numbers from last year, his three point percentage his dipped by 10 percent thus far.
Fred VanVleet says everyone on the team needs to be better at communicating defensively. Says there's no excuse considering there's nobody in the building.— (@AaronBenRose) December 27, 2020
Could this be the crux of the issue for the Raptors? Might it be as easily solved as just, talking more? Losing Marc Gasol has certainly hurt the starting unit’s defense and Serge Ibaka’s rim protection has been missing off the bench, save for Boucher’s seven block explosion against the Spurs.
While those two players were core actors in Toronto’s defensive scheme, they would both be the first to tell you that the reason the Raptors defense was as good as it was, was because everyone was in sync and moving in tandem. That has not looked to be the case in the first two games as opposing players have waltzed down the lane without opposition and opponent’s wide open looks from three are no longer accompanied by a scrambling, defender barreling towards the shooter at high speed. This will be imperative if the Raptors hope to prevail against a Philadelphia team that is now going to hoist a ton of threes.