Game Preview | Busy Opening Week Continues With First Back-to-Back

by Brian Seltzer Reporter

Scene Setter:

TORONTO, ONT - Following a tough loss to the Boston Celtics in their first home outing of the regular season, it’s on to the next one for the 76ers. The catch is, the next one comes quick.

Saturday night, the Sixers will be right back on the floor, visiting the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre (7:30 PM EST; NBC Sports Philadelphia / 97.5 FM The Fanatic).

Not only will the Sixers be faced with the task of taking on yet another perennial Eastern Conference playoff team, as was the case Wednesday in Washington, and again Friday versus Boston, they’ll be doing so on limited rest. 

The back-to-back set, which marks the Sixers’ first of the season, presents an NBA scheduling dynamic that, despite being on the decline lately, remains a noteworthy reality that players must account for.

In these scenarios, veteran Amir Johnson has found one particular factor pivotal. 

“Just make sure you get your rest,” said Johnson, who, beginning his 13th season in the league, is one of the most experienced members of the Sixers’ roster.

T.J. McConnell, now in his pro third campaign, agreed. “A lot of rest” is vital, he said Friday.

“There’s not really much you can do,” said McConnell, who scored 4 points and grabbed 4 rebounds in 12 minutes in Friday’s 102-92 defeat to Boston. “You get in late, you wake up, stay off your feet and rest, and just have the same mindset you had in the game the night before.”

Ben Simmons, on the other hand, is grinding his way through an NBA back-to-back for the first time this weekend. Twice in college, he and LSU played on consecutive days, but did so as part of tournament games held at the same site. The 2016 No.1 pick had a similar experience last year, when he suited up for the Sixers in summer league action.

“I already know, just take care of my body, make sure I’m ready for the next one,” Simmons said Friday, when asked how he plans to approach the Sixers’ current back-to-back. “That’s tough, especially traveling, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s all a part of the process.”

In recent years, as part of a push to enhance player rest, the NBA has made a point of minimizing the number of times teams play twice in as many days. Comparing this season to last, the number of total back-to-backs league-wide was slashed from 488 to 432. The dip resulted in the average number of back-to-backs for each of the league’s 30 teams to drop by roughly two, from 16.3 to 14.4 (source: NBA).

Examining the Sixers' situation specifically, a season ago, the club had 17 back-to-backs on its slate. For 2017-2018, there are only 14, and after Saturday’s stop in Ontario, more than a month will pass before the Sixers encounter their next back-to-back, a home-road swing against the Wizards and Celtics on November 29th and 30th, respectively.

In one respect, Johnson has come to embrace the rapid turnarounds demanded by back-to-backs. As he views it, they force teams to look forward, rather than behind. 

“The good thing about the NBA is there’s always continuous games,” Johnson said Friday. “You just have to prepare yourself for different match-ups. 

“One match-up, you have John Wall. The next match-up you have Kyrie [Irving], and then, who else knows coming next? You just have to prepare yourself.”

As if trying to contain a pair of elite guards weren’t enough of a challenge for the Sixers their first two games out of the gate, Philadelphia native Kyle Lowry looms in Toronto. Like his backcourt partner DeMar DeRozan, Lowry, a 2009 Villanova product, has been named an All-Star three times.

Still in the early stages of his career, McConnell sounded as if he’s learned to take back-to-backs in stride, regardless of when they pop up on the schedule, how much travel is required between games, or the caliber of opponent lined up on the other side. 

“The coaches and the medical staff do a good job just taking care of our bodies,” McConnell said, “and that’s probably the most essential part of back-to-backs.”

Following Friday’s game at The Center, the Sixers announced Joel Embiid, who racked up 11 points and 14 rebounds in 28 minutes against the Celtics, won’t play Saturday against the Raptors. The big man is expected to be available Monday, when the Sixers wrap up their brief road trip at Detroit.

Opponent Outlook:

Looking to build on their franchise-record run of four consecutive seasons with playoff berths, the Toronto Raptors figure to be relatively well-rested heading into Saturday’s Atlantic Division affair. The Raps have only played once so far, a convincing 117-100 home victory over the Chicago Bulls Thursday. Big man Jonas Valanciunas starred, pumping out 23 points (9-17 fg) and 15 rebounds in 31 minutes.

Follow Along:

Video: NBC Sports Philadelphia / NBC Sports app

Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network