October 2, 2023

What to watch as the 76ers head to Tampa to play Raptors


Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

For first time ever, the Philadelphia 76ers will play a game in Tampa Bay, Florida. The 20-10 Sixers are in Tampa Bay for a two-game mini-series against the 15-15 Toronto Raptors. This is just one oddity of a season played during the COVID-19 pandemic, a team from Toronto playing in Tampa Bay

Here’s some storylines to watch out for tonight:

2 big players may return for the Sixers tonight

Ben Simmons (illness) and Shake Milton (left ankle sprain) were both listed as probable on Saturday night’s injury report.

Milton seemed sharp during a workout at the Wells Fargo Center before the Sixers’ win Friday over the Chicago Bulls, and head coach Doc Rivers said he anticipated the 24 year-old to play Sunday night. The Sixers’ bench was poor without Milton against Chicago, being outscored 35-16 by the Bulls’ second unit.  

Simmons had also been probable throughout the day leading into the Bulls game, bot was then ruled out an hour before tip-off. Rivers said Wednesday he thought Simmons had a stomach flu. 

On the Raptors side of things, Kyle Lowry is doubtful because of a left thumb sprain. The Raptors actually haven’t lost a game without the Villanova legend since Nov. 16, 2019, and are 5-0 when he sits this season.

Another former Philadelphia college basketball star, St. Joseph’s product DeAndre’ Bembry, has started the last two Raptors games, victories over Milwaukee and Minnesota. 

After a career night, Embiid wants to stay hot

Before COVID-19 affected the NBA, Joel Embiid routinely chatted at his locker with Philadelphia basketball icon and Sixers executive advisor Sonny Hill. When asked Friday night after scoring a career-high 50 points and grabbing 17 rebounds whether he ever amazes himself, Embiid thought back to one tip from one of those discussions. 

“No,” he said. “One thing the great Sonny Hill always told me — we used to talk all the time after games and before games; with COVID, that’s not possible — he used to always tell me, ‘Can’t get too high, can’t get too low.’ Sometimes I have big games. It just feels like the past 15 or 20 games, it’s been all big games and all big numbers. But, if that’s what’s needed from me, then I’m going to do it. … I play to win, so whatever it takes. If it’s me having to set screens and get guys open, passing the ball and running the offense like I did last game when I had nine assists, that’s what I’m going to do. If it’s dominating and just scoring, that’s what I’m going to do.

“But I care more about the defensive end, and I’m pretty happy about what we did tonight, because defensively we haven’t been good the past couple games. My goal is to be the Defensive Player of the Year. I care more about that end and I’m happy that we did a better job tonight.”

Embiid is obviously correct that every single game of his lately could be classified as “big.” The last time he scored under 25 points was Jan. 14. He’d put up 45 points, 16 rebounds, and five steals the game before, so it’s he hasn’t had anything close to a slump yet this season. While he might eventually have an off shooting night, his variety of offensive greatness has thus far made him immune to it.

Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher should be Embiid’s main two contests. Embiid looks to capitalize on advantages in athleticism over Baynes and size/height over Boucher, one of the NBA’s most improved players this year. Expect Toronto will try to double team Embiid as much as possible. 

2 completely different shooting styles

The Sixers are second this season in mid-range shooting frequency, and 29th in three-point frequency, per Cleaning the Glass. The Raptors are have the complete opposite shot profile, as they’re 28th in mid-range frequency and fourth in three-point frequency, again per Cleaning the Glass.

Since the Sixers have several very good mid-range shooters, with Embiid (the best of the bunch), their low three-point volume hasn’t cost them too many games. Still, Sunday’s matchup against Toronto stands out as one in which the Sixers’ opponent could have a massive edge from beyond the arc. 

Fred VanVleet, who had a 50-point game of his own this season (54 points on 23 field goal attempts against the Magic on Feb. 2), certainly won’t mind firing away. He’s averaged 20.0 points, 6.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals in the first season of a four-year, $85 million extension. 

Tonight’s essentials:

  • When: 7 P.M. E.S.T.
  • Where: Amalie Arena  
  • Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia 
  • Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
  • Social media coverage: Won’t have social media coverage tonight

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