Beyond the halfway mark of a seven-game homestand, the Sixers have rattled off four wins in a row, and seven of their last 10. They now sit at 16-12, good for fifth place in the East, just behind Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the never boring Nets. Now Philadelphia will host their first-round opponent from last season, the Toronto Raptors. Joel Embiid is back to his destroyer of worlds ways.
Joel Embiid's skillset is nuts— Brock Landes (@LandesBrock) December 17, 2022
A guy his size shouldn't be able to move like this ... pic.twitter.com/n9KFdspb4B
The Raptors have had a bit of a disappointing start to their year. At 13-16, they’re in the last play-in spot at 10th place. Many experts picked them to be quite a bit better than they’ve been, and it remains to be seen if they’ll make a splash trade to try to reinsert themselves to the top of the pack.
Nick Nurse’s group dropped four straight before taking down the hospital Warriors on Sunday. Still, they’re just 3-11 away from Scotiabank. While Philadelphia isn’t good (or healthy) enough to take them for granted, they should have a distinct rest advantage. The Raps are away from the North, they played yesterday, and the Sixers have been off since Friday, sleeping in their own cozy beds.
One guy who has not disappointed this year is Spicy P, Pascal Siakam. The dude who once deliberaly tripped Joel Embiid in a playoff game, and once inadvertently broke Embiid‘s eye bone in another two years later, has been mostly balling this year, playing at an All-Star caliber clip. Defeating this team begins with slowing him down. Averaging 24 points 8.4 rebounds and seven assists, the Sixers may need to send help if he begins to cook. Last postseason, Tobias Harris did an outstanding job covering Embiid’s fellow countryman from Cameroon, and dodging his pointy elbows, but Harris missed last game so we’ll monitor his status — or see how spry he looks if he does suit up.
Fred VanVleet was an All-Star last season but this year a combination of injuries and other elements have diminished his play. The undrafted guard just hasn’t been able to get into the same type of rhythm this year.
Harden has been a mixed bag against the Toronto Raptors in his Sixers career. Of course there was a game where he could barely get by Precious Achiuwa on a switch last regular season. But then once the playoffs began, James looked like a brand new player, getting into the paint and causing all kinds of disruptions, forcing the smallish Raptors defense to make tough decisions.
James helped the Sixers generate a 3-0 series lead and then he played well in the closeout Game 6, getting into the paint at will, as the Sixers polished off Toronto and advanced to the second round.
After a dud in Houston in his first game back from a foot sprain, Harden has finally begun to cook. He and Joel set the tempo on Friday against the Golden State Warriors. The two-man action between those two when they’ve both been healthy has been too much for even most top teams to stop. Of course the challenge has been keeping them both healthy, but that’s another story for another day. Coming into this game at least they are heathy. Knock all kinds of wood.
Sean Kennedy recently wrote of The Beard’s recent play:
“Another guy playing masterfully of late is James Harden, who tallied 27 points and nine assists, bringing his averages to 23.8 points and 13.0 assists across the last four games. Maintaining this version of Harden throughout the season while sprinkling in enough load management here and there to keep him healthy will be paramount.”
And on a recent pod with Kennedy, I also wondered if Joel Embiid was playing like the best player in the world right now. So good luck to guys like Juancho “Bo Cruz” Hernangomez or the game’s third Cameroonian, Christian Koloko.
We heard recent word that Tyrese Maxey was still hoping to return on Christmas day from his fractured foot. So the Sixers will lean even more on the Harden and Embiid duo, and they’ll continue to look for high-caliber production from De’Anthony Melton.
Melton has been an excellent addition to the team. Easily one of Daryl Morey‘s best acquisitions in Philly (aside from drafting Tyrese Maxey, of course) was trading Danny Green and a late draft pick for Melton coming over from Memphis. Melton has filled a huge need for this Sixers team, especially one that has battled the injury bug all season long. I’d feel a lot better about the Sixers’ title chances if they just had two more Melton’s. Someone work on that clone thing, please.
The Raps have the 13th-ranked offensive rating, just a tad better than the 76ers, 15th rank. But on the other end, Philly ranks fourth, to the Raps 14th defensive rating. OG Anunoby has been out, nursing a hip. It seems the Sixers won’t have to deal with him. So it’ll leave Scottie Barnes, FVV and Spicy P trying to get the road win. And I can’t say I love their chances.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Toronto Raptors
When: 7:00 p.m. EST
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philly,
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic