Pre-Game

Gameday: 76ers @ Raptors, Nov. 28

Bryan Colangelo is back! Or something. I’m not sure what else to get excited about with the Philadelphia 76ers visiting the Toronto Raptors and The Process sitting out. Any time Colangelo is involved, it’s a fair time for reflection, and while he made some really nice moves at the helm of the Raptors, it’s nice to be in a different place, stable and without the notion to tank or constantly tinker. Colangelo was good for this franchise (particularly for DeMar DeRozan), for a short while, and here’s hoping he does just enough with the terrific situation he’s walked into in Philly to make the Sixers fun but still non-threatening.

There’s also the matter of hot-shooting Canadian two-guard Nik Stauskas playing at home, which is always cool, and it’s great to see him having a bounce-back from beyond the arc in a pivotal year for his career. My dude T.J. McConnell, he of the best calves in the NBA, is here, too. And Dario Saric is fun! I don’t know, there are a lot of fun pieces in Philly but with the injuries they have and the lack of Embiid in this one, it’s a little tough to get too up for it.

At least it’s the start of six in a row at home over 11 days. It’s a nice opportunity for the Raptors to build some momentum after closing their arduous road trip strong. The NBA doesn’t provide a lot of cupcake games on the schedule, but every game is winnable – including the second night of a back-to-back against a sputtering Hawks team – save for maybe the Cavaliers’ second visit of the season (and you know the team will be up for that one). Looking ahead is dangerous, though. Sixers first. Whom tryna trust a process?

The game tips off at 7:30 on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 590.

To help set the stage, I reached out to Jake Pavorsky of Liberty Ballers, who was kind enough to help us out.

Blake Murphy: I am on record as trusting The Process, in the larger, macro, Sam Hinkie sense. I am also trying to trust The Process in the more micro sense, like benching Joel Embiid in overtime or sitting him on back-to-backs. I do not, however, trust the part of The Process that dictates that I will not get to see The Process in Toronto. I’m so sad that Embiid is sitting this one out. What kind of magic are Raptors fans missing out on here, if they haven’t been watching.

Jake Pavorsky: Raptors fans will be missing out on arguably the most exciting players through the first 15 games. This is a guy who is 7 foot 3, that hasn’t played basketball in over 2 years, and is averaging nearly 18 and 8 a game while shooting over 46 percent from three on 2 attempts per game. Those numbers are ridiculous for anyone, let alone for a guy who has had to overcome as many obstacles as Embiid. He can back you down, shoot over you, even take you off the dribble. He knocks down threes almost effortlessly. He even had four assists against the Cavs yesterday. Embiid is so fun and dynamic, that Sixers basketball is almost no longer worth watching when he’s not on the floor. Hopefully Toronto fans get a chance to watch him up close soon, but if you’ve got League Pass, try and catch a Sixers game every once in a while (make sure he’s playing, of course). It’ll be worth your time.

Blake Murphy: Is the way Embiid is playing making the last few years more palatable for Sixers fans in retrospect? Is the obvious talent there, and with Ben Simmons, enough to convert any lapsed or original non-believers in what the plan was, big picture?

Jake Pavorsky: The goal of The Process has always been to find a superstar, and although we’ve had to wait longer than we would’ve liked, it seems as though the Sixers finally have that. Having a potential generational talent like him would make 10 years of losing worth it, and fans haven’t been able to connect with a talent like this since A.I. Ben Simmons, who can always be really, really good, is an added bonus. The past three years were hard because as much as we believed in what the team was doing, there wasn’t anything tangible. Now that Embiid is balling out, it’s changing the outlook on everything.

Blake Murphy: Dario Saric finally came over, which is a ton of fun. How has he looked so far? Rookie qualifiers and all, but is he meeting expectations out of the gate?

Jake Pavorsky: Dario’s definitely meeting expectations, if not succeeding them a tad. The adjustment from Europe to the NBA takes time, but he’s holding his own. Saric is shooting 39 percent from three on three attempts per game, which is really surprising out of the gate. He’s been moved to the second unit to provide an infusion there, and I hope soon enough they start running the offense through him. Dario is such a good passer that I’d put him in the high post and just let him create for others. I don’t think he’s gonna blow people away, but you’ll look at his stat line later and see that he makes an impact in all facets of the game.

Blake Murphy: How weird is it that Jerryd Bayless seems really important to this team? It’s Jerryd Bayless! I like Sergio Rodriguez and I love T.J. McConnell, but this team has long needed a higher functioning starting point guard, and Bayless is at least closer to that.

Jake Pavorsky: Yeah, it’s not optimal. Bayless is still trying to nurse a wrist injury, so there’s a chance he doesn’t even play. Bayless is solid, but they shouldn’t be relying on him as much as they are to piece the offense together. But when you have two guards who aren’t threats off the dribble and can’t really shoot, Jerryd Bayless starts to look your savior. The good news is it seems like the Sixers are grooming Simmons to be their future point guard, which will be a nightmare for other teams. Bayless can then slot into a sixth man role, or play off ball next to Simmons, as he’s a really good catch-and-shoot threat.

Blake Murphy: Is Hollis Thompson the most underrated player in the NBA?

Jake Pavorsky: Hollis is another weird wrinkle to a very strange team, and Zach Lowe recently brought to light just how bizarre his numbers are. He’s averaged right around 40 percent from three his whole career, but from watching this team for the past four years it feels almost impossible. The theory we’ve come up with is that he does most of his scoring when the game is completely out of reach. When you need a bucket from him, he goes ghost.

With that said, he’s been really good this year, and is improving both off the dribble and as an off-ball cutter. I was really sick of him after last season, but he’s winning me back over this year. I don’t know if you can say a player is underrated if not enough people know who he is to even rate him, but I will say he might be the best three-point shooter nobody has ever heard of.

Raptors updates
Everything’s pretty quiet on the Raptors front. DeMarre Carroll is expected to play with no back-to-back situation and coming off of two days off, and his recent progress has been really encouraging. Fred VanVleet, Jakob Poeltl, and Bruno Caboclo will all be with the parent club, too, perhaps providing an opportunity for them to see the floor if the Raptors can put away the Sixers quickly enough. VanVleet and Poeltl, in particular, have looked good on their 905 stints and have probably earned a few minutes of garbage time, should the team ever find its way to garbage time. (Seriously, how is every minute the Raptors play high-leverage? It’s exhausting.)

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred Vanleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: Pascal Siakam,Patrick Patterson, Bruno Caboclo
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
ASSIGNED: None
OUT: Delon Wright, Jared Sullinger

76ers updates
Well, let’s start with the bad news: Joel Embiid isn’t playing. He’s not even here to get a good quote off of. The Sixers played Cleveland yesterday, and they’re not going to task Embiid with traveling on a back-to-back he won’t play in, anyway. It makes sense, and it’s definitely a positive for the Raptors’ chances of winning the game, but from a fan perspective – I am the proud owner of a Trust the Process Christmas tee – it sucks to miss an opportunity to see him up close.

Jahlil Okasfor will still present a nice test for Jonas Valanciunas and the other Raptor bigs, and they’ll be able to focus mostly on him in the post and as a dive-man since there aren’t a ton of ball-handlers here who are threats to attack and score in the pick-and-roll. They do have Gerald Henderson, though, who you may recognize from Will’s nightly Gerald Henderson Award, as he literally turns into Kobe Bryant whenever he plays the Raptors.

Elsewhere, Ben Simmons remains out indefinitely, and Nerlens Noel, member of the Kenneth Faried All-Stars, is still at least a couple of weeks from returning. Jerryd Bayless is questionable as he continues to slowly work his way back from a wrist injury – he didn’t play Sunday but traveled with the team to Toronto, and he’ll likely be a game-time call. Sergio Rodriguez would stand to start if Bayless can’t go.

PG: Sergio Rodriguez, T.J. McConnell
SG: Gerald Henderson, Nik Stauskas
SF: Robert Covington, Hollis Thompson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
PF: Ersan Ilyasova, Dario Saric
C: Jahlil Okafor, Richaun Holmes
TBD: Jerryd Bayless
ASSIGNED: None
OUT: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Nerlens Noel

The line
The Raptors are mammoth 14.5-point favorites, and no matter how confident I am in a victory, I just can’t give those kind of points knowing how the Raptors have been blowout-avoidant and how they occasionally struggle to put teams away. Over the last four seasons, the Raptors have won 39 games by 15 points or more, and they did so against the Sixers late last year and against the Pistons early this season, so maybe it’s not as rare as it feels. Still, that’s a lot of points, and it looks like the line might bump even further to 15. My math suggests the Raptors should cover, but I’m not touching a line that big with actual money. Because I’m a coward.

Raptors 113, 76ers 98

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