Gameday: Raptors @ 76ers, Jan. 15

The 29-12 Toronto Raptors travel to Philadelphia to take on the 19-20 76ers.

It was an eventful week for the Toronto Raptors in the first part of their challenging January stretch. They went a reasonable 2-2, though not in the manner most had expected. One can’t help but wonder how the entire week would have turned out had they taken care of business against the Nets in regulation. If Kyle’s butt was in good health without that dangerous leap for the rebound in Brooklyn in the additional frame, and they didn’t need to exert themselves to get that win in a 53-minute contest, would they have beaten the Heat on the second game of the back to back? Would they have stayed within striking distance against Golden State in the first half? Maybe, maybe not.

The second part of the club’s January trial by fire against four teams near or above .500 continues with a trip to Pennsylvania. The hungry Philadelphia 76ers have gone 5-2 in their last seven contests, including wins against the Spurs and Pistons. They could easily be at 6-1 if not for the collapse in London against the Celtics. Boasting the 2nd fastest pace and the 3rd best offensive rebounding rate in the league, the Sixers will demand the Raptors’ full focus and attention on an early start on MLK day.

History is on Toronto’s side, as the Raps took care of 18 of the last 19 meetings between the two franchises, including all three so far this season. But with Philadelphia playing arguably their best basketball of the season, this one represents their best chance of getting one over the Raptors.

I asked Jim Adair III, managing editor of Liberty Ballers, a few questions to help set this one up, and he was kind enough to answer.

Alex:  How’s Markelle Fultz progressing? The Sixer tradition of medically ‘stashing’ its top picks continues. Is there reasonable confidence he’ll hit the league by storm once he returns like Embiid and Simmons have?

Jim: Wow, not starting me off with a softball I see. I wrote something Friday morning about Markelle – along with other “don’t panic” pieces along the way – and the answer to how is he progressing is essentially “we don’t know.” I’m not sure how much people hear about it outside of the Philly bubble, but there’s a lot going on. There are theories that it’s all mental, that there was no injury at all, that Fultz’s shot is irreversibly broken and the trade up to get him was a fireable offense. I’m not there, but people aren’t exactly calm about it.

When it comes to a redshirt season, after experiencing that with Simmons and Embiid, I’m kind of numb to it. There would be uproar here about another supposedly misdiagnosed issue by the medical department, but in a season where the Sixers are a fringe-playoff team at their peak, I’m not so sure the difference between missing a half season and full season is all that large. Still, I think we’ll see him back on the floor in the next half-dozen games or so, or know in that same span if he’s done for the year.

Alex:  With 10 of Philly’s next 13 games (13 of 16 if you include the previous 3 in which they went 2-1) coming against teams currently firmly in the playoff picture, is this their sink or swim stretch of the season?

Jim: It may be. A go-to rationale for the blown leads and up-and-down season so far has been two-fold. First, the Sixers have had one of the hardest schedules in all of the NBA so far (the hardest according to some metrics). Second, there’s the adage that young teams just don’t win. Both of those things are true, but using them to rationalize an under-performing team is a concept that is wearing thin.

Before the season I said that the Sixers should be a playoff team, but if they aren’t the season isn’t a failure. For that reason, I don’t know if I’d say this stretch is sink or swim, but it may give us the truest look into who the team really is.

Alex: After Simmons and Embiid, if you had the choice to pick a third All Star from Philly, is it Saric, Redick or Covington?

Jim: Each of those players have their loyalists in this fan base, and each have their detractors. Saric has been the team’s third-best player for a good chunk of the season, but hasn’t been their third-most reliable, if that makes any sense. Robert Covington has continued to play the tough defense that made him a legitimate NBA player, but his shot has wavered – as it always has throughout his career – and some people are beginning to wonder if it’s indicative of how the rest of his season will go. Right after signing his extension, one of Cov’s best friends died, and I don’t think he’s been quite the same since. It could be correlation without causation, but I think there’s something there. These players are human after all. Redick, on the opposite side of the Saric coin, has been the team’s third (or second) most reliable player, while not always being the third-best on the floor at any given point. But he gives the team shooting they don’t have anywhere else, is second on the team in scoring, and sometimes keeps the team in games they would’ve given away otherwise. To me, he’s the answer.

Alex: With Redick appearing to have seamlessly fit into the squad, how would you rate the chances of him resigning in the summer vs. testing free agency?

Jim: There’s another theory around here – we survived the tank mostly intact, but it turned most Sixers fans into Alex Jones-level conspiracy theorists – that JJ Redick signed for one-year, $23 million with a handshake agreement (or soft understanding) that he could possibly come back this offseason for a lower price on a multi-year deal. The front office seems dead set on a big free agent this offseason and structured their roster to essentially be free of any and all unnecessary salary (sans trade chip Jerryd Bayless) in order to make an offer to someone.  JJ enjoys playing here, is close to his family in Brooklyn, and seems to like being the veteran on the team. At the same time, he’s never missed the postseason in his entire career. If the end of the season comes around and he’s hit with comparable offers from the Sixers and, say, San Antonio, maybe he still stays. But wouldn’t everyone choose a team like the Spurs? I’d rate the actual chances at somewhere around 60-65% right now, but only JJ knows the real odds.

Projected Lineups


PG: (Kyle Lowry), Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Alfonzo McKinnie
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles, Malcolm Miller, Bruno Caboclo
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: None
TBD: Kyle Lowry


PG: Ben Simmons, Jerryd Bayless, T.J. McConnell
SG: JJ Redick, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
SF: Robert Covington, Justin Anderson, Furkan Korkmaz
PF: Dario Saric, Richaun Holmes, Trevor Booker
C: Joel Embiid, Amir Johnson

OUT: Markelle Fultz

The game tips off at 1:00pm EST on TSN1, TSN3, TSN4 and TSN5.