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Raptors-Sixers Preview: The Next Major Test

Toronto enters the Embiid Zone.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

You know you’ve found something special when less than 30 games into an athlete’s professional career, a fanbase with notably high expectations continues to say, “I’m just running out of things to say about him,” and they actually mean it positively. (Best wishes, Arnett)

Joel Embiid is incredible, and unsurprisingly, when the team around him plays in a way that accentuates his strengths and backs him up competently, the team is pretty good, too. Well, maybe not unsurprisingly. This is all surprising.

Joel Embiid is the first player in NBA history to score 20-plus points in nine consecutive games while also playing under 30 minutes in each game. He’s producing in absurd volume on the third-highest usage in the league (35.8), behind only Russell Westbrook (41.1) and DeMarcus Cousins (36.8). 28/11/3.5/2.8/1.2 per 36 on 58% TS, while holding opponents to 42.5 percent shooting at the rim (29.3 percent in January thus far). We’re out of things to say about him because, I mean, what can you say about that when it comes to a kid who’s played basketball for six total years, and sat for two of those? Or when it comes to any kid for that matter?

Drooling aside, next up is the Toronto Raptors, and if Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn’t Embiid’s toughest test at the rim already, DeMar DeRozan is certainly in the conversation too. Derozan notoriously lives around the elbows, and while you don’t have to like his game aesthetically (paging the under-40 crowd), he’s still second in the league in points per game on drives at 9.5, shooting 55.9 percent on them, per SportVU. His drives are wonky - he has a deeper arsenal of runners and floaters than just about anyone in the league, and has a pretty uncanny ability to finish in traffic. It’s a big job for the Joel Embiid/Nerlens Noel combo as deterrents from the basket.

They’ve certainly been up to the challenge, though. Since Jahlil Okafor’s first benching on Dec. 30, the team is 6-2 with the fourth-stingiest defensive rating in the league at 101.6. Okafor has been back in the picture for the past two games due to rest and injuries, but it’s expected that both Embiid and Noel will be ready for this one, so his role for Wednesday evening is very much up in the air.

Toronto heads into this one on the second night of a back-to-back, after edging the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center Tuesday night.

Should be a fun one, because Joel Embiid will be playing basketball in it and that’s proven to be an enjoyable activity for all of us thus far. 7 PM, on Comcast Sportsnet and 97.5 The Fanatic. You know the drill.

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