The Philadelphia 76ers are slight underdogs for their second round series against the Toronto Raptors, and that’s for good reason.
The Raptors handled the Sixers in the regular season, winning the season series 3-1. The Sixers struggled to stop Kawhi Leonard in each of the three games he played against them; he didn’t play during the Sixers’ lone win of the series last December. Leonard averaged 30.3 points per game on 48.1 percent shooting against the Sixers in the regular season.
Though the Sixers struggled against Toronto in the regular season, they also didn’t have their post trade deadline roster during any of those games.
The additions of Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, Mike Scott, James Ennis III and Jonathon Simmons added depth for the Sixers at the deadline. Depth was what the Sixers needed to compete at a higher level, especially against the Raptors.
But even if they contain Leonard, the Sixers will have other players to worry about.
Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka are all versatile, and each player can knock down open threes. Siakam, a Most Improved Player candidate, averaged 22.6 points per game against the Magic, and he shot 36.4 percent from the 3-point line. Ibaka and Gasol also shot well from deep; Ibaka shot 37.5 percent and Gasol shot 53.8 percent.
Along with the Raptors’ primary three bigs, they also have key contributors in Fred VanVleet, Danny Green and Norman Powell.
Whether the Sixers’ depth can produce will be a factor, but playing quality perimeter defense will be a bigger one. Though they aren’t the best in defending the perimeter, the Sixers will need to play their best perimeter defense of the season against the Raptors.
Even if Leonard has his game going, the Raptors still will likely have their offense flowing — and that offense includes making threes at a quality rate. The Raptors have shot 36.8 percent from the 3-point line in the playoffs, and they shot 36.6 percent from three in the regular season.
From a defensive standpoint, the Sixers will need to be their best. On offense, though, Joel Embiid will need to show why he is one of the most dominant players in the league.
Embiid has battled knee tendinitis since the All-Star break, and he missed Game 3 in the first round because of the injury. The Sixers will need Embiid to be healthy to win this series. With the offense being based around him, Embiid will need to succeed so that others can, too.
Though the Sixers have used him as a trailer near the top of the arc on the secondary break, Embiid needs to be in the post more frequently for Philly to beat the Raptors.
Having him be a trailer or floor spacer is fine in some situations — that adds variety to the offense. But there are also times when Embiid needs to focus more on dominating inside. Embiid has averaged 24.8 points per game on 50.7 percent shooting during the playoffs.
The matchups don’t favor the Sixers all around, and the Raptors can especially take advantage Embiid and Ben Simmons.
In five career games against Gasol, Embiid has averaged 14.0 points on 34 percent shooting, along with 4.4 turnovers. Simmons hasn’t fared well against Leonard during his career. In three games against Leonard, Simmons has averaged 13 points per game, but he has also averaged eight turnovers.
For the Sixers, having their full rotation consistently produce on both ends of the floor will be imperative.
With the Raptors having Leonard, one of the top players in the league, they have the edge, even with the Sixers having improved their depth. Winning this series will be difficult for Philly, but playing well on defense could help the Sixers ignite their offense and compete with Toronto.