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Raptors host Sixers in possible playoff preview: Preview, start time and more

With a playoff spot clinched, will the Raptors start resting players?

Toronto Raptors v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers both still have a lot to play for as the season winds down. Neither team has solidified its playoff positioning yet, and a win tonight — when the Sixers visit Toronto — could have implications for both teams.

For the Raptors, they’re looking to keep ahead of the Chicago Bulls in the race for fifth place in the east. The Bulls lost last night, meaning the Raptors are 1.5 games up, leaving the “magic number” at two — any combination of Bulls losses or Raptors wins equalling two secures the fifth spot.

Now, finishing fifth or sixth might not matter too much to Toronto, because the teams in second, third and fourth are not yet solidified. Just a half-game separates the 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Boston Celtics.

For Philly, they’re looking to move out of the #4 seed and into #3 — specifically to avoid a first round matchup with Toronto, partially because Toronto always plays Joel Embiid exceptionally well, and partially because of “ineligibility,” which we’ll get into below.

And hey — it’s still not impossible that the Raptors and 76ers switch spots! If the Raptors go 3-0 and Philly goes 0-3 the rest of the way, it’s Toronto in 4th and Philly in 5th!

Tonight’s game will help us figure out which outcome is most likely.

Where to Watch

Sportsnet, 7:30 PM EST

Lineups

Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Khem Birch, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam

Philadelphia – James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid

Injuries

Toronto – OG Anunoby (thigh – questionable), Yuta Watanabe (quad – questionable)

Philadelphia – Charles Bassey (shoulder – out), Matisse Thybulle (ineligible – out)

*****

“Ineligible to play”

Word hit the street (aka the internet) yesterday afternoon that Matisse Thybulle would be “ineligible to play” tonight in Toronto, and presumably in any playoff games in Toronto — “ineligible” likely meaning that Thybulle has not received the required COVID vaccination for cross-border travel.

I’ll say up front, we don’t know for sure if that’s the case. Maybe Thybulle is vaccinated and there’s another reason! Nothing is confirmed.

If it is that, well, it seems like a lot of hand-wringing over an overrated defender who’s a minus on offense, but, hey, that’s what the internet is for — getting really upset and unleashing supremely bad takes over the least consequential shit imaginable.

Also, personally, I dislike the “ineligible” language. That makes it sound like this is something out of Thybulle’s control. It’s not. He’s eligible to get the vaccine, which makes him eligible to play in Canada. He has chosen not to get vaccinated, and therefore, has chosen not to play in Canada. Isn’t that what (foolish) people keep saying — that it’s a personal choice?

OK then, make that choice and live with it. Put it on the injury report as “personal decision – out”.

Anyway. Thybulle’s presence or absence isn’t going to swing tonight’s game or a playoff series one way or the other. It’s not like he’s OG Anunoby or anything.

The Green night

Finally — finally! — Danny Green is going to receive his 2019 championship ring tonight! Yes, it’s Danny’s first game back in Toronto, in front of fans, since Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals. I’m not sure what kind of presentation Green will get — certainly nothing like Kawhi’s, in December 2019 — but hopefully there’s a video tribute and someone like Masai Ujiri to hand Green the ring.

It’s gonna be sad, in a way, because it’s like the door is finally closing on that championship team. It’s like the last bit of business to be done, and then we finally walk away.

But of course, we’re all happy for Danny, who clearly enjoyed his team here, and I hope he receives a warm round of applause for his role on that team. And with Thybulle out, hopefully Doc Rivers does the right thing and gives Green the start tonight in TO.

Give it a rest

With three games left and a playoff spot clinched, you can bet the Raptors will start resting players, perhaps as early as tonight. I hope that OG Anunoby gets at least one game back, for conditioning purposes, but don’t be surprised to see Fred VanVleet, Scottie Barnes, and Pascal Siakam sit out a couple of these games.

One big plus of avoiding the play-in tournament is the extra days of rest between the end of the regular season and he playoffs proper. After the Raptors wrap up the season on Sunday, they’ll have six or seven days off — round one will begin on the following Saturday.

Which of course brings us to the “how much rest is too much rest leading to rust” debate, but in Fred’s case in particular, I’d be happy to give him as much time as possible to rest that knee!