There’s only so much you can take away from preseason games — especially the first game, and especially with both teams missing a bunch of players (see below). Do not expect basketball to be played at its highest level.
But one thing is for certain — it’s gonna feel really damn good to see the Raptors take their home floor tonight.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 7:00 p.m. EST
Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Goran Dragic, Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa
Philadelphia — Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle, Andre Drummond
Toronto — Gary Trent Jr. (sore thigh — out); Chris Boucher (dislocated finger — out); Khem Birch (health and safety protocols — out); Pascal Siakam (shoulder surgery — out)
Philadelphia — Joel Embiid (rest — out); Ben Simmons (not with team — out); Charles Bassey (not with team — out)
On paper, tonight’s game is not exactly shaping up to be a great look at what both of these teams will be this season. Both teams are missing their best players (Siakam and Embiid), and of course, the 76ers are also missing Ben Simmons (remember him?).
But the preseason, of course, is all about evaluating the new arrivals and the young guys, right?
For the Raptors, that likely means getting longer looks at players without guaranteed contracts. Can Yuta Watanabe and Freddie Gillespie build on what they accomplished last season? Can Isaac Bonga or Sam Dekker impress the Raptors’ braintrust?
For Philly, we’ll likely get to see new Sixers backup centre, and frequent Raptors punching bag, Andre Drummond in his first action in his new uniform (too bad Khem Birch won’t be around to make him look silly). We’ll also get to see Jaden Springer, Philly’s first-round pick from this past summer’s draft.
And hey, speaking of rookies...
I’m probably not alone in thinking this season’s most fascinating Raptor is Scottie Barnes, the rookie who is impressing everyone with his energy and enthusiasm. I can’t wait to see him play against real (read: not Summer League) competition!
But as I always do with rookies, I will proceed with caution. Barnes still has a lot of growing to do, and I suspect we’ll see one of those areas of growth appear early on — and that’s fouling. Rookies never get a favourable whistle, and player as amped up as Barnes always seems to be is surely going to be drawing every official’s attention. Hopefully, he can stay on the floor long enough for us (and, I guess, the coaches, they’re kind of important too) to get a good look at him.
And because I know his offensive game is still raw, I’m mostly gonna be looking to see how well he’s picking up Toronto’s defensive schemes, how well he switches and recovers and how well he closes out. Those are the things we know Nick Nurse likes to see in his players, and Barnes mastering them early will certainly help him stay on the floor (again, if he can stay out of foul trouble.
Home sweet home
Tonight’s game isn’t just a homecoming for the Raptors. This will be — believe it or not — Danny Green’s first game back in Toronto since he left the team in free agency in the summer of 2019! I don’t know whether or not Danny’s managed to get his hands on his championship ring since then, or if the Raptors would give it to him in a preseason game... but it is a long-overdue return!
Summer 2019 feel simultaneously like yesterday, and also like a decade ago. By my count, there are only six players remaining between the two teams from their now-classic Eastern Conference semi-final battle: VanVleet, Siakam, Boucher, Embiid, Tobias Harris and Furkan Korkmaz.
As for the atmosphere, even with only 10,000 fans allowed in the building, this will surely be one of the loudest preseason games ever played in Toronto. With the team in a state of transition and the world still very much not back to normal, it might be a long season — but tonight, preseason or not, is a time of celebration.