With Toronto decimated by COVID protocols, Sixers-Raptors storylines to watch


With two games left in 2021, the Sixers can improve to two games over .500 on Tuesday night in Toronto.

Here are the essentials for their game against the 14-16 Raptors: 

  • When: 7:30 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 7 p.m. 
  • Where: Scotiabank Arena 
  • Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia 
  • Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the MyTeams app 

And here are three storylines to watch:

Health at the forefront 

The Raptors lost to the Cavaliers on Sunday by 45 points. Yuta Watanabe's 26 points and 37 minutes led the team.

While Toronto might get a few players back Tuesday, the Sixers will still have more of their key pieces available. As of Tuesday afternoon, five Raptors were out in health and safety protocols: 

  • Fred VanVleet
  • OG Anunoby 
  • Scottie Barnes 
  • Justin Champagnie 
  • Isaac Bonga 

Precious Achiuwa and Malachi Flynn were listed as questionable under health and safety protocols. Pascal Siakam, Gary Trent Jr. and Khem Birch recently cleared protocols. Birch was listed as questionable, Siakam and Trent probable with a designation of "return to competition reconditioning." 

Meanwhile, the Sixers’ Danny Green, Shake Milton and Andre Drummond remain in the NBA’s protocols. The team also had three players in protocols (Joel Embiid, Matisse Thybulle and Isaiah Joe) in this season’s first Sixers-Raptors matchup, a tight home loss in which VanVleet scored 32 points and Tyrese Maxey posted 33. 

Zone defense on deck? 

Toronto’s zone defense was an important part of that Nov. 11 meeting. 

“I thought their zone hurt us a little bit,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said. “We didn’t get into our stuff, our zone O, quick enough. And then on misses, they just shoved it down our throat and got to the basket I think four or five straight times. I thought that was the turning point of the game.”

The Sixers have struggled against zone on several occasions this year, including a narrow victory over the Magic and a defeat to the Heat. In the Miami loss, Rivers was disappointed by how “the ball just stayed on the outside” and thought the team should have posted Embiid up more. 

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse tends to like mixing up defenses, and some zone would make sense Tuesday for his undermanned team. 

How will Raptors test Embiid? 

Embiid is fresh off of a great performance, a 36-point, 13-rebound night in the Sixers’ win Sunday over the Wizards. 

However, he’s historically had a difficult time against the Raptors. In a two-game February mini-series last season, he shot a combined 9 for 33 from the floor with four assists and eight turnovers. For his career, Embiid has a 40.9 field goal percentage, 28.3 three-point percentage and 40/62 assist-to-turnover ratio in 14 matchups with Toronto. 

Embiid’s passing has likely been his biggest area of improvement early this season. His 0.64 assist-to-usage ratio and 10.5 turnover percentage would be career bests, per Cleaning the Glass. For a third straight season, Embiid has been the league’s highest-volume post-up player and is again producing a shade over a point per possession. His 10.2 percent turnover frequency on post-ups would be the lowest mark of his career, per NBA.com/Stats.

Those numbers are encouraging and align with the sense that Embiid has evolved as a facilitator, but the Raptors always seem to pose a unique challenge with their aggressive double teams and varied defenses. 

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