Look, Friday’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers wasn’t great. The game was highly winnable, and at this point every win is huge for the Toronto Raptors’ chances at grabbing the sixth seed. (The Cleveland Cavaliers took a one-game lead the same night by beating the Nuggets in OT.) But throughout this season the Raptors have risen to the challenge by competing with the league’s top teams, so despite some tough upcoming opponents (Bulls Monday, Cavs Thursday), there is still hope. Also: Scottie Barnes!
The Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers have split their season series 1-1 so far, but both games were played amidst odd circumstances. The Raptors’ victory was against a Sixers team missing Embiid, while the Sixers’ win was over the COVID-depleted Raptors missing, among others, all their big men except Chris Boucher (listed 80 pounds lighter than Embiid). Two predictable results given the situations!
Tonight, though, both teams are relatively healthy, save for some wear-and-tear and the absence of OG Anunoby. The Sixers also have a new guy in the rotation you might’ve heard of. This should be an exciting game that, once again, does not resemble either of these teams’ first two matchups. And who knows? This might just be a postseason preview.
Here are the details for tonight’s game.
Where to Watch
Sportsnet/Sportsnet One, 8:30 PM EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Khem Birch
Philadelphia – James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid
Toronto – OG Anunoby (finger – OUT), Malachi Flynn (hamstring – OUT)
Philadelphia – Joel Embiid (back – questionable)
Stopping Embiid (...and Harden)
When Joel Embiid went off for 36 points and 11 rebounds to beat the Raptors in December, Toronto was missing Khem Birch, Precious Achiuwa, OG Anunoby, and Scottie Barnes — practically each of their sturdiest players. So on the one hand, it’s no wonder Embiid dominated. On the other hand, having three of those players does not necessarily mean they’re going to stop the MVP odds-on favourite.
Nick Nurse loves throwing everything he has at Joel Embiid. Embiid himself said following a preseason game vs the Raptors: “This is not the type of team I’m going to go out and score 50 because they are going to double and triple-team on every single possession.” Harden, while not necessarily as explosive as he once was, is nonetheless a dangerous offensive player who can pick apart a defense and create shot opportunities for others. Stifling this duo will be hard work for the Raptors, especially without Anunoby – but it all starts with swarming Embiid and forcing him to give up the ball.
Apologies for the contrived OutKast reference, but I am just running out of ways to convey the brilliance of Scottie Barnes. Friday against the Lakers, Barnes scored a career-high 31 points (he shot 14-for-21), collected a career-high 17 rebounds, and dished six assists. Since the All-Star break, he’s averaging 19.8 points, 8.8 boards, 3.5 assists, and 1.7 steals on a 61 true-shooting percentage. He’s been getting love from national media, as well as a glowing vote of confidence from LeBron James.
One of my favourite post-All-Star Scottie stats is the steady climb of his usage rate from 18.7 to 21.1 percent. The team is trusting him with more possessions as an on-ball creator, including crunch time situations, and he’s rewarded their trust with big plays. Granted, he’s made some costly errors too, but putting a rookie on-ball in clutch situations comes with an expected learning curve. We got a good one, folks!
On the Road Again
The Raptors are 22-15 on the road this season, tied for the league’s fourth-best road record. Their recent five-game winning streak occurred all in one road trip. Meanwhile, they’re 17-16 at home, just 17th in the NBA. A road back-to-back against two top-five teams in the East is a daunting part of the schedule, but for a Raptors team that excels on the road and plays up to their opponents’ level, maybe it’s exactly what they need.
Or, perhaps not! We’ll find out soon.