The Philadelphia 76ers take on the Toronto Raptors in the East’s 4/5 first-round playoff matchup. Philly has home court, but Toronto won the regular-season series 3-1. Will we see a different result in this series? Or will Doc Rivers and the Sixers’ playoff struggles continue? Let’s break down this matchup and find out.
76ers Series Winner (-180 at DraftKings Sportsbook)
Raptors Series Winner (+150 at DraftKings Sportsbook)
|76ers in 7 (+320)||Raptors in 7 (+600)|
|76ers in 6 (+475)||Raptors in 6 (+475)|
|76ers in 5 (+380)||Raptors in 5 (+1200)|
|76ers in 4 (+800)||Raptors in 4 (+1900)|
Toronto was among the hottest teams in basketball over the last month of the season, winning 14 of its final 18 games. Pascal Siakam had a huge second half and finished the regular season inside the league’s top 20 in both VORP (value over replacement player) and win shares (8.1). Fred VanVleet took another step forward in 2021-2022, averaging career highs in points (20.3) and assists (6.7). VanVleet also ranked inside the NBA’s top 20 in VORP this season. Scottie Barnes is a frontrunner for the league’s Rookie of the Year award. Barnes averaged 15.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists on the season and also finished inside the league’s top 50 in win shares (6.6). Gary Trent Jr. and OG Anunoby posted career highs in points per game with 18.3 and 17.1 respectively.
While the Raptors did rank top ten in the league in defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) this season, they will have a tough time defending Joel Embiid in this series. Toronto does not have a player in its rotation taller than six-foot-nine. The Raptors will likely use 6″9 Chris Boucher and 6″8 Precious Achiuwa as the primary defenders on Embiid. It is hard to envision either of those two slowing down the most dominant seven-foot scorer since maybe Shaq. Nick Nurse may try and double Embiid or come up with a creative zone to contain him, but the Sixers are a very good three-point shooting team – so that may not work out well.
The Sixers looked unstoppable out of the gate after the James Harden trade as they started out 5-0 with Joel Embiid and Harden on the court together. However, Philly has gone just 9-7 with both of those two on the court since starting 5-0. James Harden is going to have to play better if Philly has any hopes of making a run in these playoffs. Harden struggled a bit down the stretch of the regular season, averaging just 15.8 points per game on 36.1% shooting over his final five games. Nevertheless, Harden was still a top 15 player in the league this season in terms of VORP, and he finished second in the league in assists per game with 10.3. If Harden can fix his recent shooting woes, he should be very effective in this series.
Joel Embiid is very much in the conversation for the 2021-2022 regular-season MVP Award. Embiid averaged a career-high 30.6 points per game and 4.2 assists per game while also grabbing 11.7 rebounds per game and shooting over 37% from deep. Embiid finished the year top 3 in VORP, win shares (12.0), and BPM (box plus/minus). The 28-year-old center has established himself as one of the best players on the planet. Look for him to have a dominant series against an undersized Toronto frontcourt.
Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris, and Matisse Thybulle all have huge roles on this Sixers team. Maxey took a gigantic leap in his second season, averaging 17.5 points and over four assists per game on 42.7% shooting from three. Maxey finished in the league’s top 30 in win shares with 7.3. Harris averaged 17.2 points and 3.5 assists per game this season and was top 50 in the league in defensive win shares with 2.6. Thybulle is Philadelphia’s best perimeter defender. He ranked third in the entire league this year in DBPM (defensive box plus/minus).
Prediction and Best Bet
I think this ends up as a very close series between two good teams who are deep. Toronto is a great defensive team and has enough offense to compete in this series. In the end; however, I think Embiid will prove to be too much for Toronto’s undersized frontcourt to handle. If Toronto doubles him or plays some kind of a zone, Embiid will find his teammates for open threes. Philly had the seventh-best three-point shooting percentage in the NBA this year (36.4%). I expect James Harden, who is under as much pressure as anyone in these playoffs, to play much better than he has as of late in this series. Thybulle and Embiid will lead the way on the defensive end.
The price is a bit steep here, but I am comfortably trusting Embiid and Harden to carry Philly to the second round over this Toronto team. The Raptors are a lot of fun, but the Sixers are the better team.
Best Bet: 76ers Series Winner (-180 at DraftKings Sportsbook)
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