Tonight’s matchup finds two teams who’ve recently fallen off their perches atop the conference. The Raptors have slipped out of first place in the conference with their recent woes, while Philadelphia’s climb towards double digit wins has taken them out of top spot in the lottery odds. The Philadelphia 76ers have been vying with the LA Lakers all season for the title of being the most fascinating least interesting basketball team of all time. Philadelphia comes up in storylines all the time. This is not to be confused for Philadelphia’s on court product being a great storyline. The Sixers are mentioned for being the most blatant tanking effort since George Costanza’s campaign to get himself fired. They’re mentioned for stashing first round picks that sit with injuries, prolonging the teams tanking process. For filling their dormant cap space with the bad contracts of worse players from half a dozen teams desperate to free up space in exchange for all of the second round picks. There are good things about this team. Nerlens Noel shows athletic spurts of defense that are a lot of fun. His name is also fun to say. KJ McDaniels is a walking block party, which is crazy for a rookie 2nd round pick wing player. He’s averaging more blocks per 36 minutes than some starting centers. Michael Carter-Williams looks like a legitimate starting point guard, as long as he isn’t shooting. Tony Wroten has been buoying fantasy teams all season. Speaking of, unfortunately, if you have him starting for you in a daily league, he’s doubtful to play tonight after hurting his knee last night against Atlanta. Joel Embid is arguably the most interesting player on the Sixers, but that has a lot more to do with asking out Rihanna and Kim Kardashian in Twitter, speaking his mind, the schmoney dance and playing the what if game with his potential than anything he’s done on the court, since he hasn’t yet and isn’t likely to play this season. Basically, you’re watching this one for the Raptors.
The Raptors could really use an easy opponent to get back on track and find some rhythm on defence. They’ve used the 76ers for just such a purpose before, winning by 32 points over them in early November. But as the 76ers slipped grasp on last place has shown, they’re not without the ability to occasionally win. The raptors defence should look better for 2 reasons. First, because they’ll be able to play two big men without fear of Philly punishing Valanciunas or stretching the floor with shooting. Second, because the turnover prone 76ers are awful from beyond the 3point line, reducing the likelihood of the Raps getting killed for the wide open 3s that have resulted from the aggressive defence trapping scheme they’ve been playing this season. The Raptors have lacked the ability to take away the second or third pass 3 pointer that opens up after trapping hard. The Sixers are the worst distance shooting team in the league though, putting up 29% as a team. That’ll help.
There’s a chance that DeMar DeRozan comes back tonight. That would be as tremendous a feeling for us fans at home as it would be for the team that has struggled recently without him. The starting unit has slipped hard without DeMar’s defence, ball handling and free throw attempts. The second unit has stumbled as well between a regression in shooting percentages and a lack of lineup consistency. DeMar’s return and the punching bag quality of Philadelphia’s league worst offence should help both. James Johnson is most likely back to the bench with DeMar back, though hopefully still with the expanding role he’s been taking on as of late.
As much as DeMar’s return will be a good thing, there is also going to be a period of adjustment as the team returns to the style of play they began the season on. Kyle Lowry has absorbed a much higher role in the teams offence without DeMar, putting up the highest usage rate of his career. A little more rest and a little more diversity of shots will be good for the team, but Lowry has also earned himself a bigger piece of the offensive pie, and both players will have to adjust to the new reality there. Ross will be happy to have the pressure off of him to put the ball on the floor with DeMar running those sets again. It’s too bad that Terrence won’t have that pressure forcing him to grow his game, but it’s become clear that he’s simply not comfortable trying it. Valanciunas is likely to get another chance to shoot early and often, and continue the offensive steamroll that he opened the Piston’s game with.
There really isn’t a lot of value in doing a specific roster breakdown for 76ers matchups. Here, I’ll explain thusly. Let’s play a fun little game. I’ll name 6 people.
Now, see if you can tell me which 3 of them played for the 76ers last night, and which 3 are random names of kids I went to kindergarten with. I bet you can’t. If you can get it right, you’re either the biggest, most obsessed fan of the NBA out there, or a stalker with terrifyingly specific knowledge about my childhood.
If the Raptors lose this game, they run the serious risk of finding out why Toronto Maple Leafs fans are the worst. Thus far, the Raptors fans have mostly reserved their internet based loathing and insanity for NBA writers. If this losing stretch gets even worse with a loss to the 76ers, the madness could turn inwards. Godspeed, Dinos, godspeed.