These Philadelphia 76ers don’t back down. Despite missing Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, Isaiah Joe, Matisse Thybulle and Seth Curry against the Bucks on Tuesday night, the Sixers still played hard and put together an admirable performance, eventually losing 118-109. Led by Tyrese Maxey with 31 points, the team’s remaining role players continued to step up, play hard, and gave the Sixers a chance to win until the final minutes.
On Thursday, the Sixers are bringing their home stint to a close against the 6-6 Raptors, who currently rank 9th in the East.
Fortunately for the Sixers, more help could be returning. While Embiid, Thybulle and Joe remain out due to COVID-19 healthy and safety protocols, Harris has been upgraded to questionable. Curry, who was out against the Bucks with a left foot contusion, is also questionable to return.
Harris was playing brilliantly to start the season before missing the last six games after testing positive for COVID. He’s averaged 19.8 points, nine rebounds and 4.2 assists per game with a 60.5 true shooting percentage and sound defense. Whether he returns against Toronto or in another game or two, he’ll give the Sixers a real lift.
The Raptors will be downsizing and playing with a depleted frontcourt. There isn’t a new, official injury report from the team yet after their 104-88 loss to the Celtics on Wednesday, but it’s unlikely that Pascal Siakam will play, and Khem Birch will be out.
The Raptors are off to a decent start this year. They’ve lost three straight and the absence of Siakam for all but one game has hurt them, but with Fred VanVleet, Siakam, the addition of Gary Trent Jr., and growing young players like OG Anunoby and rookie forward Scottie Barnes, there’s still a bunch interesting talent there.
Anunoby will be the toughest assignment for wings like Danny Green to cover. The Raptors’ new leading scorer, averaging a career-high 20.2 points per game, is taking a leap as a creator. Anunoby has continued to hone his handle and physical driving game, shooting off the bounce, and is taking more threes than ever, firing 7.8 per game at a 36 percent clip. Barnes has also been highly impressive to start the season. At 6’9” with length, energy, athleticism, and good instincts, he’s an terrific defensive prospect. With his creative (and ambitious) feel as a passer and increased aggressiveness, versatility and comfort as a scorer since coming into the NBA, he’s easily been one of the top players in this year’s rookie class so far. Put all that together, and he’s averaging 17 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.
Harris’s potential return would be awfully helpful to keeping taller, stronger forwards like Anunoby and Barnes in check. Along with VanVleet, these two will be the Raptors to focus on — both from a matchup standpoint for how the Sixers’ smaller wings compete defensively, and for their entertainment value.
The biggest headache for the Sixers will be handling the Raptors’ energetic, rangy, versatile defense. Toronto ranks 11th in defensive rating so far, and from VanVleet hounding players at the point of attack, to Anunoby and Barnes flying around on the wings, there’s a lot for the Sixers’ shorthanded offense to deal with. Maxey, Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton are all performing well and providing improved play off the dribble, but the Sixers’ ability to consistently get into the paint and collapse the defense could be tested at times.
Andre Drummond has had his down moments with some defensive errors and messy turnovers, but for the most part but he’s been thriving in his role this season. He’s also been on an absolute rebounding tear lately, recording 45 rebounds (including 15 offensive boards) in the last two games alone. Facing the Raptors’ smaller frontcourt — which has featured the 6’8” Precious Achiuwa at center, and will likely be without both Siakam and Birch — should help Drummond keep it going.
If the Sixers can just get some of their top players back to add some more firepower and structure to their offense, this team can continue to impress. Their first-ranked offense may regress somewhat as shooters cool down and their schedule gets harder, but the Sixers have plenty of shooting, snappy ball movement (albeit without a go-to, high-level playmaker), multiple ball-handlers playing well, and real depth. With guys like Maxey and Korkmaz taking a step forward and new signings like Georges Niang and Drummond continuing to excel off the bench, some improvements have been made.
Even if Harris or Curry don’t return on Thursday, the Sixers should have a good shot to grab a win. The Sixers will also be the more rested team this time, with the Raptors playing on the second night of a back-to-back and potentially lacking the same level of defensive energy they need to be at their best.
After a couple of losses, it would be great for the Sixers to pick up a win before their schedule ramps up. On Saturday, they begin a brutal 12-game stretch featuring 10 road games, including matchups against Utah, Denver, Golden State and Atlanta.
When: 7:00 pm ET, November 11, 2021
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBA TV
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic