The Toronto Raptors will look to start their 2017-18 campaign off at 2-0 on Saturday when they host the Philadelphia 76ers at the Air Canada Centre. The Sixers are coming in following a loss on Friday night, which means they’ll be out fragile megastar Joel Embiid, who despite his protestations, won’t be playing in back-to-backs for the time being. The task for the Raptors, then, is to not sleep on a Philly team that hasn’t come out of the gate hot but possesses a fair number of threats outside of their now-obscenely rich center.
“You still gotta beat them,” Jonas Valanciunas said at shootaround. “He’s a good player but they still can play hard and we’ve gotta do a good job on them. They’ve got a lot of young guys, they’re high energy guys, running the floor, playing with extra speed, I would say. So the main key is to match the energy, get back on defense. ”
The game feels a little more important than an early-season affair might normally. Coming off of a decisive opening night victory against the Chicago Bulls, the Raptors would love to string back-to-back wins together to give themselves a bit of a cushion before they embark on a difficult six-game road-trip. They’re trying not to look ahead to that, though, instead focusing on a hot start for the sake of a hot start and a message sent about what it will be like to play in Toronto this year.
“We’re trying to get as many wins as possible, especially at home,” Norman Powell said. “We can’t make it easy for anybody to come in here and beat us on our home floor. We’ve gotta take pride in that, defending and protecting our home floor.”
North over everything, and all that.
The game tips off at 7:30 on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.
In news we only found out after the preview went up this morning, DeMar DeRozan is questionable for this one due to flu-like symptoms. It’s unclear who would start if he can’t go, as head coach Dwane Casey has sometimes preferred not to disrupt the second unit (C.J. Miles), but the 76ers have a matchup problem that could use a Miles or OG Anunoby, sliding Powell to his more natural shooting guard spot. Perhaps Alfonzo McKinnie or K.J. McDaniels would jump the second unit to fill in, if Casey’s averse to breaking up Bench Dad from his children.
A lot more of the offense would shift to Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell either way, and it would stand as a lost game for DeRozan’s continued growth in his new role, not to mention how it would even out Philly’s loss of Embiid some. Fortunately, Casey said before the game that DeRozan is good to go despite dealing with a bit of a stomach bug.
He did not tip his hat as to any other rotation plans, though he was clear it’ll be a gang effort with the 76ers main pieces, naming some players who didn’t play much Thursday (McKinnie, Pascal Siakam, and Bruno Caboclo) as potential options.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, K.J. McDaniels
SF: Norman Powell, C.J. Miles, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Bruno Caboclo
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: Malcolm Miller
The 76ers are down Embiid but they remain high on difficult matchup problems. J.J. Redick is a unique challenge as an off-ball terror with a hair-trigger jumper, the type of check that could have Powell – or whoever draws the short straw and has to chase him through a forest of screens – feeling pretty sore after the game. Chief among the matchup challenges is Ben Simmons, a point guard-power forward hybrid with great open-court speed, ridiculous vision, and no natural option to defend him.
“It’s everybody. It’s not one particular player, it’s going with the gameplan in how we’re gonna guard him, how we’re gonna make things difficult for him,” Powell said. “He’s a very versatile, skilled guy. Bring the ball up the court, find his teammates, being able to score in the post. So it’s all five guys sticking to the foundation of our defense and trying to lock in and play together and slow him down and everybody else.”
Simmons has some weaknesses, most notably his lack of aggression and constitution attacking the rim in traffic, but he’ll make it a tough night for whoever has to keep him in check possession-to-possession. At last word, Simmons was expected to play despite the back-to-back, though the Sixers obviously hold the option to change course.
Elsewhere, the expectation is that old friend Amir Johnson will start since Jahlil Okafor has been out of the rotation entirely through two games. If he does, Valanciunas has a surprise ready for him.
Asked Jonas Valanciunas about maybe catching Amir Johnson with his pump-fake. "Oh, he'll bite."
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) October 21, 2017
Check back to confirm starters. UPDATE: Amir starts. Welcome back.
PG: Markelle Fultz, T.J. McConnell, Jerryd Bayless, Jacob Pullen
SG: J.J. Redick, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Nik Stauskas
SF: Robert Covington, Justin Anderson, Furkan Korkmaz
PF: Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, James Michael McAdoo
C: Amir Johnson, Jahlil Okafor
OUT: Joel Embiid, Richaun Holmes
- Today was the G-League Draft, and boy is there a lot of news to go through (some of it broken by your intrepid G-League scoop-getter). You can catch up on the draft here and some other news here. Both contain updates as they pertain to Kyle Wiltjer and other camp cuts. Training camp opens Monday for the 905.
- DeMar DeRozan is giving fans the chance to design his shoes, which is an immensely cool promotion:
— DeMar DeRozan (@DeMar_DeRozan) October 21, 2017
- We’re giving away another pair of tickets with InTheActionSeats.com:
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) October 21, 2017
The Raptors opened as 6.5-point favorites but the line quickly jumped to Raptors -9 when the Embiid news made the rounds. It came back to Raptors -8 when DeRozan was announced as questionable. It might edge back toward -9 now that DeRozan is playing. The over-under has hovered around 216-216.5.