Game Preview | In Toronto, an Opportunity to Reset Rivalry
Toronto, exceptionally cosmopolitan, diverse, and boasting plenty of fantastic food and cultural offerings, is a terrific city, arguably one of the top stops on the NBA circuit.
It just hasn’t been a particularly hospitable place for your 76ers (17-8) the last half decade or so.
But thanks to the addition to an elite player, and a recent string of successful basketball, the Sixers are looking forward to Wednesday bringing a potential reset to their rivalry with the Raptors (20-5), currently the best club in the league.
"You have an All-Star who’s now on our team,” Brett Brown said following Tuesday’s practice in Camden, making reference to Jimmy Butler. “It’s a new day, we’ve got a new team, and we’re feeling good about the direction that we’re heading.”
Since Butler’s November 14th debut, the Sixers have gone 8-2, tied with the LA Clippers for the best record in the league during that period.
As for Butler, he’s averaged 18.1 points (48.5 fg%, 44.8 3fg%), 4.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 2.0 assists amidst this stretch. The stat line reflects 1). the all-around value Butler has brought to the Sixers, and 2). is made that much more impressive given the let-me-humbly-and-effectively-feel-out-my-new-surroundings approach he’s adopted in the aftermath of his trade.
Specific to Toronto, whom the Sixers have beaten twice in the teams’ last 21 regular season meetings, Brown believes Butler will serve as a “sparring partner” for Kawhi Leonard, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year acquired by the Raptors this summer.
“I go into every match up the same - I don’t care who you are in the league, I’m trying to get the best of you, trying to help my team win,” Butler said Tuesday, while calling Leonard a “good friend.”
Leonard has been outstanding for Toronto, and that was certainly the case the first time around this season against the Sixers (31 pts, 7 reb, 4 ast, 4 stl). Don’t be fooled, though.
There’s a lot more that makes the Raptors, in their first year under new head coach Nick Nurse, tick. Let us list a few ways.
• 3rd in offensive rating (114.0 pts / 100 poss.)
• 8th in defensive rating (106.3 pts / 100 poss.)
• 2nd in net rating (7.7)
• 2nd in field goal percentage (49.2)
• 5th in 3-pointers (292)
• 3rd in fastbreak scoring (17.8 pts / 100 poss.)
And, of course, the individual pieces that make up the Raptors’ whole are dangerous.
In addition to Leonard (25.6 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.6 spg), Toronto rolls out a starting line-up featuring Kyle Lowry (no. 1 NBA 10.3 apg), Serge Ibaka (56.4 fg%), Danny Green (64 3fgm, 43.8 3fg%), and Pascal Siakam (no. 5 NBA 63.6 fg%).
But with Butler in the fold, and modest momentum on their side, the Sixers believe they now have a good shot at ending an 0-12 drought in Toronto.
“We have a different team, we added Jimmy,” said Joel Embiid, who posted 31 points and 11 rebounds in the Sixers’ October 30th 129-112 loss at the Raptors. “We’re still learning how to play with each other, we still got a lot to improve, but it will be a great test for us.”
Toronto will take the floor at Scotiabank Arena Wednesday coming off just its fifth loss of the season, Monday’s 106-103 defeat to the Denver Nuggets. With their eight-game winning streak now over, the Raptors sit 3.0 games in front of the Sixers for leads in both the Atlantic Division, and Eastern Conference.
• Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network
• Video: NBC Sports Philadelphia / NBC Sports MyTeams app, ESPN / WatchESPN app