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Sixers-Raptors preview: could it be three straight?

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Joel Embiid’s back in action, and maybe Nerlens Noel too!

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

This time a year ago, the Sixers held a 1-24 record, their top rookie was fresh off a two-game suspension for cold-cocking a (probably deserving) Masshole on the Boston streets, and reports were swirling that recently hired Chairman of SnBasketball Operations Jerry Colangelo had been brought in at the explicit request of the league. Simply put, we were living in dark times.

At this moment, the Sixers sit at a (relatively) respectable 6-18, their top rookie is a 7’2” cheat code who willingly – hell, gleefully – calls himself The Process, and thei– okay, the team’s still led by a Colangelo, but things are pretty darn good. In fact, Philadelphia is just two wins away from its best start under fourth-year head coach Brett Brown.

Winners of two straight for the second time this season, the Sixers enter Wednesday night’s home meeting with the Toronto Raptors (17-7) as 8.5-point underdogs. There’s good reason for that wide disparity. Dwane Casey’s squad has won nine of its last 10 games, with the team’s only loss coming against the East-leading Cleveland Cavaliers (17-5). And when the Sixers and Raptors last met, on November 28th in Toronto, Philadelphia lost 122-95 in a game that was basically over by halftime. The Sixers were without Joel Embiid in that game due to rest, but they’ll get him back for this rematch.

In addition to Embiid’s return to action, point guard Sergio Rodriguez will also be back on the floor after missing a game with a stomach bug. Nerlens Noel, who made his season debut in Sunday’s 97-79 win over the Pistons, is questionable (UPDATE: OUT) with an ankle sprain suffered in that game. Jerryd Bayless will miss his 22nd game this year with a lingering injury to his left wrist that increasingly seems as if it may require surgical intervention. The Raptors should be at full strength.

Projected Starters

Sixers: Chacho, Gerald, RoCo, Ersan, JoJo

Raptors: Kyle, DeMar, DeMarre, Pascal, Jonas

Looking Ahead: Winnable Games???

Wednesday’s meeting with the Raptors marks the Sixers’ last meeting with an above-.500 opponent until December 29th, when the team faces the Utah Jazz (15-10) on the road. Until then, the Sixers will face the Lakers, Nets, and Pelicans at home followed by the Suns and Kings on the road. It’s a great opportunity for the Sixers to gain some confidence heading into the new year, and it also might mark the first time since 2012-13 that the team has held a record outside the bottom-three in the league after mid-December.