Even if the Raptors are well and truly back, they are about to face as stiff a test as exists in the NBA today.
The Philadelphia 76ers are 20-10, fourth in the NBA, and leading the East. Joel Embiid is my pick for MVP and in the midst of a stretch so good all you can do is laugh. He has scored below 30 points in exactly two games since January 15, and he’s coming off a 50-point game. He has become a practically flawless player.
Embiid’s defense has always been game-changing; that’s nothing new. But his offense has shifted this season, and all for the better. He remains a capable shooter, but he rarely shoots 3s. In fact, he has never attempted so few 3s in a season as he is thus far, even as he’s hitting at a 40-percent clip. He’s a throwback monster in the post, so capable of scoring that if you give him time and single coverage, he will create an ideal shot. And if you double-team him, he’s become a fantastic passer, with 14 assists in the last two games.
He’s not the only weapon the Sixers possess. They run seemingly every play through the post, and Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris are deadly there, as well. They surround them by knockdown shooters in Seth Curry and Danny Green, and the offense works with that mix. Though the Sixers run few pick-and-rolls, Simmons, Harris, and Shake Milton off the bench are more than capable practitioners. The Sixers are a better team than ever, and they have the ability to give the Raptors trouble all over the floor. Toronto is hot, though, and if they’re truly a team that has found its identity, rotation, and overall mojo, there is no better test than the Sixers.
If the Raptors are going to be a small-ball team — and I have a bigger piece coming about that topic on Monday — then Embiid is about as deadly a test as exists in the NBA. If Anunoby can survive against Embiid, then the Raptors can beat anyone playing small.
Joel Embiid tomorrow pic.twitter.com/gzlvhadLQS
— Samson Folk (@samfolkk) February 21, 2021
This will be a fun one.
Tipoff: 7:00pm EST | TV: TSN | Radio: TSN 1050
Kyle Lowry (thumb) is day-to-day, but if he plays, everyone would be available, minus the G League assignments! Wouldn’t that be neat?
PG: Fred VanVleet, Malachi Flynn
SG: DeAndre’ Bembry, Pat McCaw, Matt Thomas
SF: Norman Powell, Terence Davis, Paul Watson
PF: Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher, Yuta Watanabe, Stanley Johnson
C: OG Anunoby, Aron Baynes
This team could be healthy, and that’s a scary thought.
PG: Ben Simmons, Shake Milton, Tyrese Maxey
SG: Seth Curry, Furkan Korkmaz, Isaiah Joe
SF: Danny Green, Matisse Thybulle
PF: Tobias Harris, Mike Scott, Paul Reed
C: Joel Embiid, Dwight Howard, Tony Bradley, Vincent Poirier
Raptors are +2.5, and I like that, if the team is healthy. The Raps are heating up, baby. The over-under is 224.5