Analytics people are now deceased, apparently.
In a pre-game address, Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown was asked a couple of questions about the visiting Toronto Raptors and, as you would expect a good coach to be at this point, he was quite complimentary of them, DeMar DeRozan in particular. From our pal James Herbert, who is in Philadelphia for cheesesteaks and basketball right now:
brett brown on the raptors: “we’re playing against a team that is so underappreciated to me.”
he then rattled off a bunch of stats illustrating how good they’ve been
— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) December 21, 2017
brett brown on demar derozan: “he kills analytics people.”
— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) December 21, 2017
The level of respect for the Raptors was a conversation on my timeline earlier today, as it tends to be when the Raptors are hot. No, there hasn’t been a ton of recent love (we see you, Tom Ziller), but there also doesn’t really need to be. Toronto is good for a fifth year in a row, and while they’re fundamentally changing how they play, people are justified in maintaining their opinions until the postseason (or until the schedule gets tougher). A word of advice, though: The Raptors are quite good, and the changes are coming along quite swimmingly. The Raptors, owners of a top-six offense and defense and a top-three net rating, are more than happy to be slept on while debates focus on Cleveland, Boston, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, anyway.
If it matters to you or to them, turning this 10-1 stretch into something like 14-2 before the calendar flips might be enough noise made in the Eastern Conference standings.
The game tips off at 7 on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.
Toronto will roll with the same 11-man group as they did on Wednesday, as C.J. Miles remains on the shelf following a dental procedure and Lucas Nogueira continues to work his way back from a calf tear.
There is good and bad to that. On the bright side, the Raptors still have 10 players they trust and an 11th man in Malcolm Miller who is fresh off his NBA debut and a stretch of dominance with Raptors 905. The Raptors also didn’t task any player with more than 31 minutes on the front end of the back-to-back, and their stars played just 24 (Kyle Lowry) and 29 (DeMar DeRozan) minutes. There should be plenty of bodies with plenty left in the tank. The other side to that would be that Miles’ absence continues to pose problems for an all-bench group that’s really struggled to score without him. The second unit as constructed against Charlotte owns a minus-5.3 net rating in a tiny 24-minute sample, during which they’ve defended incredibly well but scored at a pedestrian rate.
How the second unit holds up in another opportunity here could inform how Dwane Casey manages the rotation when everyone is back to health.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Delon Wright
SF: OG Anunoby, Norman Powell
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Malcolm Miller
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl
OUT: C.J. Miles, Lucas Nogueira
905: Bruno Caboclo, Lorenzo Brown, Alfonzo McKinnie
In a surprising turn, Joel Embiid has gone from doubtful to questionable to probable for this one. Adrian Wojnarowski reported Wednesday that Embiid could miss both games in this home-and-home series, with an eye toward returning from a rest period (with a sore back as the impetus) for a Christmas Day game. What’s more, Trevor Booker has been upgraded to probable from questionable due to illness.
The 76ers are still loaded with injuries, J.J. Redick chief among them (Jerryd Bayless starts in his place), but getting Embiid and Booker into the lineup will be huge. Philadelphia is dramatically better with Embiid on the floor, and he’s a matchup nightmare, particularly with Ben Simmons also out there. His presence – just the third time he’ll have ever played the Raptors, by the way – will put a big onus on Toronto’s bigs to continue defending as well as they have during this 10-1 stretch. Expect Casey to use Jonas Valanciunas out of the gate but try to throw a lot of looks Embiid’s way to keep him out of a comfort zone.
This is obviously a hit for the Raptors. It’s a win for the quality of the game, though, and it’s richer data for the Raptors as they try to see just how real this stretch against soft competition can carry over against better teams.
UPDATE: Embiid is out after all, despite the upgrade from doubtful to questionable to probable. This franchise, man. Amir Johnson figures to start at center. Trevor Booker is available despite an illness.
PG: Ben Simmons, T.J. McConnell
SG: Jerryd Bayless, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
SF: Robert Covington
PF: Dario Saric, Trevor Booker, James Michael McAdoo
C: Amir Johnson, Richaun Holmes
OUT: Joel Embiid, J.J. Redick, Markelle Fultz, Furkan Korkmaz, Justin Anderson
TBD: Joel Embiid, Trevor Booker
Delaware: Jacob Pullen
- Raptors 905 don’t play again until Saturday, but with Alfonzo McKinnie having played little of late, Lorenzo Brown chewing up 45-day clock, and no practice time on this mini-trip, they’ve hung back with the G League affiliate to get some work in ahead of Saturday’s home game at Hershey Centre. (They could conceivably still make tip-off at the Air Canada Centre later that afternoon if Gardiner traffic allows.) Malcolm Miller is with the Raptors as an 11th man.
- Over at The Athletic, I wrote about how the Raptors could get even more out of C.J. Miles. Uhh, obviously not tonight, they can’t. RR readers can get 20 percent off a subscription at this link.
- Kyle Lowry and his family surprised 26 underprivileged children with a trip to Toys ‘R’ Us on Monday. His work in the community remains admirable and appreciated.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 18, 2017
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 20, 2017
The Raptors are 3-point favorites with a 218 over-under. Only being 3-point favorites might seem like a light line against a struggling team, but on the second night of a back-to-back against a fresh home opponent with Embiid now likely to be playing, it makes sense. It was as high as Raptors -4 earlier on and could sniff Raptors -2.5 leading up to tip-off.