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THE ENEMY: J. CALDERON | D. DEROZAN | L. FIELDS | E. DAVIS | A. GRAY

MATCHUP TO WATCH

F-C Amir Johnson vs. F-C Spencer Hawes

Updated: 3:55 PM, January 17, 2013

It's difficult to comprehend that big man Amir Johnson is currently in his eighth NBA season. That's because Johnson, who was blessed with all-world athleticism, size, and length, still has room to grow.

Selected by the Detroit Pistons with the fifth-to-last pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, the 6-9 Johnson appeared in just 11 games in his first two professional seasons. Over the two seasons following, the prep-to-pro prospect averaged a mere 3.5 points (57.6 FG%) and 3.8 rebounds in 13.5 minutes a night. 

Despite his lack of playing time and consistent production, Johnson showed enough promise to prompt Toronto Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo to sign him to a five-year, $30 million contract in 2009.

In his first three seasons in Toronto, Johnson struggled to earn consistent playing time, logging just 22.3 minutes per game, primarily off the bench, and averaging 7.6 points (58.6 FG%), 5.8 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks in 218 appearances. 

This season, the story appeared as if it was going to stay the same, but a recent stretch of inspired play has changed the tune on Johnson. The athletic big man has averaged a healthy 15.5 points (57.8 FG%), 9.8 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, and 1.5 steals in his last six games, seeing his playing time increase (to 37.1 MPG) in the absence of former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani (elbow).

When the Sixers and Raptors met on January 9, Johnson notched 19 points (6-11 FG), 12 rebounds, and five assists.

After seeing his minutes fluctuate early in the season, Spencer Hawes has solidified himself as the Sixers' first big off the bench, a role in which he consistently logs between 20 and 30 minutes every night. 

In the first 16 games of this season, the seven-footer played 20 minutes or more just eight times. In the team's last 23, he's done so all but once (nine minutes vs. GSW on December 28).

Over that stretch, he's averaged 10.9 points (46.2 FG%), 6.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.3 blocks in 24.9 minutes per game off the bench. 

The Key

Amir Johnson is one of the more impressive athletes and transition threats in the league at his position. 

Utilizing his size, strength, and quickness, he's scored 52.2% of his points this season from inside of three feet. He is also a dangerous "and-1" threat, because of his ability to finish through contact and because of his career free-throw percentage of 70.6%. 

Limiting live ball turnovers will be key, as the Raptors feature a number of strong transition finishers (Johnson, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, etc.) as well as skilled set-up men in Kyle Lowry and Jose Calderon.