As luck would have it, the Raptors are to Ben Simmons, what Jrue Holiday is to Kyle Lowry and Damian Lillard. The Raptors bold defense of “Shoot it, coward” has had brilliant early returns against the young phenom from Australia. Unfortunately for the Raptors, the same defense has been played against the Raptors as a whole this season. As the Raptors visit the 76ers, they’re looking to sort out the problems that Simmons isn’t willing to acknowledge. Not only that, but they’re attempting to keep pace with the impressive Bucks.
Early in the season, the games the Raptors played against the 76ers were a large flex of the muscles. Validation that the Kawhi Leonard trade was a resounding success and that the Raptors would be bullying the East’s elite as they sat firmly on top. Now, it’s a real test. The Bucks and Celtics are both 9-1 in their past 10 games, it’s starting to get crowded near the top. The Raptors are in desperate need of a staple win or two. As the schedule gets a bit thinner toward the end of the season, the Raptors are getting less and less opportunities to showcase the potential that everyone was sold on. You can back them to win tonight or bet live here.
The Raptors front-court has a true specimen to deal with in this one. Joel Embiid comes to town after eating Demarcus Cousins alive and overwhelming the likely NBA Champions. Another big ask of Serge Ibaka as he’ll take the lion-share of minutes across from Embiid, and will have to contend with him all night. With the Raptors ranking as one of the NBA’s worst (23rd) at cleaning their own glass, there will have to be a concerted effort offered to that part of the game. The Raptors had a particularly great display against the Pacers in which they locked up Myles Turner for a large part of the game, fronting him tenaciously with Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet. That likely won’t work against Embiid, as Turner is a lot easier to dissuade from the rim than Embiid is. Why bring it up then? Well, maybe we can hope that Nurse has something cooked up and this was a reminder that he has a couple fun wrinkles up his sleeve.
While Simmons is nearly averaging a triple-double against the Raptors this year (15-10-9.7) he’s coupled that with a horrid 6.3 turnovers per game. That amount is fine to overlook when it’s next to James Harden’s robust scoring numbers, but it doesn’t jive very well next to Simmons’. Not to mention a lot of Simmons scoring has come in garbage time, or when the deficit was 10+ points. Not to mention when Leonard suits up across from Simmons, his scoring numbers plummet to 9.5 a game. Outside of a dependency on home-court, there’s not much else to explain Simmons struggles other than Leonard and Siakam’s terrific defense on him.
Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick will likely draw Danny Green and VanVleet as counterparts for most of the game – depending on how Nurse wants to allocate Leonard’s defensive minutes. Last time out, both Redick and Butler had 25+, with Butler getting up to 38. Even though those number seem high, that was the game-plan. The Raptors were terrific at limiting turnovers (only 11) and suppressed Embiid and Simmons while Butler and Redick put up over 40 shots, accounting for just under half of the 76ers attempts on the night. That’s a clear indicator of how to beat the 76ers, and a game-plan I think we can expect to see in this one. The only difference is the absence of Jonas Valanciunas who put up an absurd 26 and 8 in 18 minutes last time out.
On offense last time out, Leonard accounted for more than half of the 3-pointers made by the Raptors (5 of the 8) and carried a fairly lifeless offense on his back. The 76ers don’t seem to have a great scheme for stopping Leonard, so this seems as good a time as any to break out of this small, 2-game funk – 17 ppg – 40-percent shooting.
The Coldish Take (workshopping this into my previews… we’ll see… don’t bully me)
Look for a decent game from Norman Powell in this one. He should be able to shed TJ McConnell and Landry Shamet on the ball-screen and will be looking at Mike Muscala and Amir Johnson as the last line of defense for a decent chunk of his minutes. He’s averaging double-digits over his past 10 games on over 50-percent from the floor and nearly that from three (48-percent). On top of that, he’s been a positive on the floor in all but one of the games over this stretch and looks poised to continue his high-quality play against the 76ers.
TV: TSN | Radio: TheFan590 | Tipoff: 8PM EST
Kyle Lowry (back) is doubtful for tonight’s game, and Jonas Valanciunas (thumb) is doubtful as well, but will look to make his return this week.
PG: Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright
SG: Danny Green, Norman Powell, Malachi Richardson
SF: Kawhi Leonard, CJ Miles, Patrick McCaw
PF: Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby
C: Serge Ibaka, Greg Monroe, Chris Boucher
Markelle Fultz (shoulder) is out indefinitely, Wilson Chandler (quad) will be out for 2-3 weeks.
PG: Ben Simmons, TJ McConnell
SG: JJ Redick, Landry Shamet, Shake Milton
SF: Jimmy Butler, Furkan Korkmaz, Haywood Highsmith
PF: Mike Muscala
C: Joel Embiid, Jonah Bolden, Amir Johnson
Have a blessed day.