Preview: Game One of 76ers-Raptors tonight in South Philly
NBA playoff basketball is finally back, and it is time for the 76ers to make a run for the title. It all starts tonight in Wells Fargo Center against a Toronto Raptors team looking to put themselves on the map after a great end to the regular season.
The Raptors come into this matchup as the fifth seed out of the East. Toronto was a fringe play-in team for the majority of the regular season but caught fire in March to jump all the way up to the five spot. The Raptors won 15 of their final 19 contests on the season, including another scrappy win over the 76ers.
The 76ers landed with the fourth seed in the East after jockeying for a top-three spot since the All-Star break. The Sixers dropped too many costly games against other East contenders, but still landed themselves one playoff series with home-court advantage. It is also important to note that Philly went 1-3 against the Raptors in their regular-season series, a pattern that Sixers fans would not like to see repeated for this post-season matchup.
- Charles Bassey (Out)
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Take Advantage of a Full 76ers Roster on Home Court
In case you missed it, Matisse Thybulle’s vaccination status has effectively taken him out of any road game for this 76ers-Raptors series. That means every game of the series through Wells Fargo Center means just a bit more, especially from a lineup standpoint. Thybulle is one of the Sixers best defenders, especially when it comes to perimeter defense.
What makes this team and this series even more interesting is the fact that Philly was actually worse at home this season than on the road. The 76ers finished with a 24-17 home record versus a 27-14 road record. Those are splits rarely seen for a franchise that routinely packs the Wells Fargo Center for home games, and is known as one of the tougher places to play in as a road team in the NBA.
All of these factors add some extra pressure to the Sixers to perform in South Philly tonight. The last time this team took to this court in a home playoff game, the team embarrassed themselves in ways that would change the team’s complexion forever. Philly needs to come out strong with their fans behind them to shed the home woes of recent history, but also get solid play out of one of their best defenders that can’t accompany the team up North for games three and four.
James Harden Needs to Step Up
One of the bigger factors in the 76ers slumping out of a top-three seed at the end of the regular season was a brutal offensive slump from James Harden. After such a hot start that had every NBA analyst raving about the return of “Rockets James Harden” the Beard has looked like quite the opposite.
Harden finished the season with brutal shooting splits that at one point landed around the 36-percent mark from the field. James was still facilitating at a high level, but couldn’t buy a bucket when asked to score. Clutch step-back three’s rattled out, his turnover rate skyrocketed especially on dribble drives, and he wasn’t getting to the line like he had been when first suiting up for the 76ers post All-Star break.
The Beard has been putting in the work in the gym gearing up for this Sixers-Raptors series, and all indications from him show he’s just ready to ball out. Words and getting shots up in Camden can only go so far though, and the 76ers are going to need him to play to a superstar level, especially in this first game.
The Raptors have made it clear for years their game-plan is to swarm Embiid with a flurry of double and even triple teams when he touches the ball. Harden needs to punish them for that not just by setting up other teammates to score, but by being the multi-level scoring threat that has him as one of the NBA’s 75 best players of all-time.
|Toronto Raptors||+4.5 (-110)||+155||O 216.5 (-110)|
|Philadelphia 76ers||-4.5 (-110)||-190||U 216.5 (-110)|
The 76ers have struggled to win games against the Raptors all season long, but playoff basketball is a whole other beast. This Sixers roster has too much talent to lose, and with the added fire of the Philadelphia faithful in the sold-out Wells Fargo Center, I have to be biased and run with Philly here. Joel Embiid has heard too much nonsense about the MVP voting and I expect him to come out and prove why nothing matters as much as playoff basketball.
Mandatory Credit: Mark Blinch