Tonight, at 8:00 PM Eastern, the Sixers tip-off against the Toronto Raptors in what will be one of their most crucial games yet. The Raptors currently hold the top seed in the East, with a record of 20-5.
Despite their loss to the Nuggets on Monday, the Raptors have looked like a well-oiled machine even in games in which Kawhi Leonard did not play. They have a deep rotation of forwards, all of whom are strong defenders, and have Kyle Lowry leading the back-court. Much like the Rockets of yesteryear, the Raptors shoot, and they shoot a lot. The problem with that game plan, as seen through game 7 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals, is that cold streaks can happen. The loss to Denver at home snapped an 8-game win streak for the Raptors, in a game in which Kyle Lowry went 1-6 from 3 and 1-7 from the field, including missing a 3-pointer to potentially send the game into OT. Nonetheless, the Raptors sport the best record in the NBA at the moment, and appear to have the deepest, most versatile roster as well.
The 76ers, however, are coming off a hot streak of games, including their first major blowout wins against the Wizards and Knicks, and a convincing win against the Grizzlies. All 3 of those games saw the Process hold their opponents to 98 or fewer points, which represents the on-court success of the team’s defense as new addition Jimmy Butler has nestled into his role in the team. Butler is a great 1-on-1 defender, but adding a good defender doesn’t automatically boost the team’s defense. Nonetheless, as time has passed the kinks have been worked out, more or less.
Tonight is the first game the Sixers will play on foreign territory against a competitive opponent in weeks, as they’ve had an easy stretch of home games against lower end teams such as Washington or New York. This has given the team some momentum, for sure, but the game against the Raptors will prove to be a test of the team’s execution and resolve. The Raptors are going to hunt players they can exploit on defense like JJ Redick and Landry Shamet, and it will be up to the Big 3 to deliver as well as for the role guys to perform and offset any defensive deficiencies.
Most importantly, this game should be a guiding force for both teams. How do the Raptors bounce back from a cold-streak and a close loss? How can the Sixers keep their defense locked down as they travel, and can they execute well enough to score effectively? We should find some answers in the NBA’s premier match-up Wednesday night.