After a brief return to normal-ish regular season basketball, contending teams are beginning to wind down their stars’ usage to preserve energy for the playoffs. Last game, Nick Nurse rested Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka, giving free rein to Chris Boucher, Matt Thomas and Norman Powell who capitalized on the extended minutes.
The Bucks and Raptors are locked into the first and second seeds respectively, so while Monday’s game between them was essentially purposeless, it felt good to watch the bench players thrive. Previously, Toronto’s lesser-used role players had yet to make any real impact in these final seeding games. If the Raptors want to see lasting success late into the playoffs, having alternative scoring options remains essential, especially given the team’s lack of a reliable isolation scorer.
Toronto’s next opponent, the Philadelphia 76ers, have been going through it recently. As if Ben Simmons’ recent season-ending injury wasn’t enough, Joel Embiid exited Sunday’s game with a left ankle injury, and it’s becoming increasingly likely that Philly will land a strong Celtics team in the first round of the playoffs. On the positive side though, while it’s unclear when Joel will return to action, ESPN reported that the injury is likely not serious. He did not play against the Phoenix Suns yesterday.
Due to the uncertainty surrounding these two teams (resting, injuries, etc.), today’s starting lineups are unpredictable. While today’s game may indeed feature everyone’s favourite matchup (Marc Gasol vs. Joel Embiid), it’s very possible one or both of those players end up sitting this game out. With the season winding down and a playoff meetup unlikely, this might be our last chance to see Gasol versus Embiid on their current rosters. Here’s to hoping we get at least one last showdown.
Below are the details for tonight’s game. Please take the lineups with a colossal grain of salt:
Where to Watch
TSN1, 6:30 p.m. ET
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Philadelphia — Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle, Alec Burks, Mike Scott, Kyle O’Quinn
Toronto — Patrick McCaw (left knee soreness — out), Serge Ibaka (right knee contusion — questionable), Oshae Brissett (right knee soreness – out)
Philadelphia — Josh Richardson (rest – day-to-day), Tobias Harris (ankle – day-to-day), Al Horford (knee – day-to-day), Joel Embiid (ankle – day-to-day), Ben Simmons (knee – out indefinitely)
By far, the most important goal of tonight’s game is leaving the floor after 48 minutes with no injuries. Of course, it would be nice to come away with the victory, but the outcome of tonight’s game really doesn’t matter. As previously mentioned, the Raptors are locked into the two-seed and will face the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs starting next week.
Very likely, Nick Nurse will trot out a starting lineup consisting mostly of rookies and role players. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or more of Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol or OG Anunoby took this game off after Kyle, Fred and Serge rested against the Bucks on Monday. After all, if the Raptors’ coaching staff has learned anything over the past couple of seasons, it’s that load management is very worth it.
Show Me What You Got
As we get closer to the postseason, players are given one last chance to showcase their talent before the coaching staff settles on a general idea of their playoff rotation. The Raptors bench will probably see extended minutes tonight, and if anyone needs to get back into the usual flow of things, it’s Terence Davis. He had a decent outing against the Bucks (10 points, 5-of-8 from the field), but did not even come close to reaching the explosive highs he hit earlier this season. Matt Thomas may have even usurped his spot in the rotation with a 22-point outburst on Monday.
Nick Nurse indicated that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is the team’s eighth man. While his consistent hustle is both valuable and admirable, Rondae often stagnates the Raptors’ offense, which is already prone to tensing up on the occasion. In the playoffs, the Raptors are going to need trustworthy scorers who can change a game with a stretch of brilliance. Over these last couple of games, I expect Davis to put his best foot forward and attempt to remind Nurse of the offensive force he once was.
Memories, Oh Memories
It’s no secret that this iteration of the 76ers has played a pivotal role in the Raptors’ success story. Philly has cemented itself as one of the main rivalries of the modern era, having been on the other end of the most iconic moment in Toronto basketball history. Marc Gasol has consistently gotten the better of Joel Embiid, even once famously holding him to zero points, spawning a glorious collection of memes across the NBA Twittersphere.
Over the next couple of years, the Raptors and 76ers are likely going to go through some key roster changes. The dialogue around whether Embiid and Simmons can co-exist has seen a recent, drastic increase in air time. The Raptors may lose any of Marc, Serge and Fred in free agency. Unless something wildly unexpected happens over coming weeks, the Raptors won’t face Philly until next season. If the fate of the entire world seems uncertain, then surely nobody knows what’s going to happen with these two teams. Enjoy this matchup, it’s the last of an era.