Extra Pass: Raptors hope to get back on track vs. Sixers

Published March 20, 2022, 11:30 AMMiguel Flores

The Raptors are looking to ramp up their hunt for an outright playoff spot in the East as they face the Sixers (8:30 AM on NBA TV Philippines via Smart GigaPlay app ad Cignal TV).

With just around three weeks before the postseason kicks off, we’re in the precious territory of uber competitive regular season games. Teams are jockeying for playoff positioning, so few can afford to manage load.

Tomorrow, we get a possible playoff matchup when the Toronto Raptors (39-31) visit the Philadelphia 76ers (43-26). The Raptors sit on the edge of play-in territory, trailing the Cleveland Cavaliers by half a game for the sixth seed and a guaranteed playoff spot. The Sixers, on the other hand, are in limbo as the current third seed. Philly is neck-and-neck with the Milwaukee Bucks for the second seed while Boston is on their heels, trailing them by just a game. 

The Eastern Conference is certain to end on a wild note, so the Sixers and Raptors are highly likely to end up as the 3-6 or 2-7 matchup in the first round. This matchup is tricky. The Sixers have more star power but the Raptors are deeper, have a more creative coach, and doesn't have to deal with incorporating a new star.

The Philly experience

Roaming the Sixers Reddit and Twitter universe is a tense experience. Their team has gone all-in. If this doesn’t work out, there aren’t ways to pivot anymore. They’re now at the mercy of Joel Embiid’s health and James Harden’s playoff reputation. So these last couple of weeks, Philly fans have been searching for reasons to be optimistic while at the same time overreacting to every blip on the road.

The Sixers have been mostly fine with Harden. There were times when they looked shaky, like when their superstar pair went 12-for-64 against the last-place Orlando Magic and needed overtime to win. In 10 games as a Sixer, Harden has put up 22.4 points and 10.8 assists per game and, most encouragingly, is shooting 43.3 percent from the field, up from 40.1 as a Net.

Sixers players have been so open on most possessions that Harden and Embiid work their magic. Perhaps Philly’s biggest problem is they don’t have a lot of reliable shooters. Tobias Harris, Tyrese Maxey, and Danny Green are all streaky from downtown. Matisse Thybulle is going to play a ton of minutes in the playoffs, but he’s a 30-percent 3-point shooter, at best. Philly’s most reliable shooter in Georges Niang shoots 39.8 percent at 5.2 attempts per game. After the Minivan, there’s a major drop off.

Against Toronto, Philly should have a major advantage in that no Raptor is built to guard Embiid one-on-one. They are going to have to double him and trap Harden. Who’s going to be the Sixers’ third best option?

Nurse’s orders

If this year’s Toronto team were a Drake album, they would be Scorpion – experimental, fun, and true to their past self. Just as Drake tried to draw from his roots with songs like “Nice for What” and “I’m Upset”, the Raptors are mustering images of their underdog past with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry at the helm.

The Raptors thrive in chaos. They like moving the ball and running on turnovers and defensive rebounds. They’re long, tall, and quick in most positions, even if they don’t have a true center. The Raptors are right in the middle of the league -- 15th in both offensive and defensive rating. The stats say they don’t anything great. But watching them tells a different story.

Fred “All-Star” VanVleet is electric. Pasal Siakam has lowkey turned into a superstar. Scottie Barnes is the next Raptors All-Star, and it shouldn’t take him long to develop into that. The Raptors foursome of VanVleet, Siakam, Barnes, and Gary Trent Jr. ranks second in the league in net rating, trailing Boston’s main guys.

Though the Raptors have no one to guard Embiid, they have more depth. They also have one of the most creative coaches in the league. Don’t put it past Nick Nurse to find a scheme to stop Embiid and Harden.

Where to watch

The Sixers-Raptors game will tip off at 8:30 AM on NBA TV Philippines via Smart GigaPlay app ad Cignal TV.

While waiting for this game to come on, you can check out the Celtics visiting the Denver Nuggets, live at 8:00 AM on NBA League Pass. These are the two biggest games tomorrow with heavy playoff implications.