For the first time since Kawhi Leonard’s historic series-winning shot in Game 7 of the 2019 Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers are set to renew postseason acquaintances – this time, in the opening round.
The Raptors currently have NBA odds of +165 for the series, but enter the postseason as one of the league’s hottest teams, going 14-4 in their past 18 games – the best mark in the league over that stretch.
And while the postseason is a completely different animal, Toronto can be emboldened by the fact it went 3-1 against Philadelphia during the regular season, including winning the last two meetings.
Before looking at the NBA betting lines, I have pinpointed what I feel are the two biggest keys to the Raptors finding success in this series and potentially pulling off the upset.
Limit James Harden’s Production
The X-Factor of the entire series is arguably Sixers star guard James Harden. Harden was general manager Daryl Morey’s big trade deadline acquisition and the player was presumably viewed as the missing piece in Philly’s championship aspirations.
So far, the results have been mixed.
While Harden has vaulted the Sixers offense into one of the league’s most dangerous, the club finished the regular season just 7-6 against playoff/play-in teams. Harden also enters the postseason in the midst of a cold stretch, shooting below 40% from the field in five of his past six games.
Toronto, specifically, did a tremendous job limiting the 32-year-old, holding the former MVP to a combined 30 points on 8-for-24 shooting in the past two regular-season meetings. Nick Nurse’s group will need more of the same if they hope to prolong Philadelphia’s playoff woes.
Take Advantage of Philly’s Poor Depth
Needless to say, the Sixers are a completely different team when MVP candidate Joel Embiid is off the floor.
Over the past two meetings, Toronto outscored Philadelphia a remarkable 61-36 in 21 Embiid-less minutes as the Sixers continue to lack a capable backup center option in the wake of the Harden deal that sent Andre Drummond to Brooklyn.
You know head coach Doc Rivers is going to ride his superstar big man for as long as he can, so it will be vital for the Raptors to take advantage of every opportunity where Embiid needs to catch his breath.
Philly’s depth will be tested even further when the series shifts to Toronto, as the club’s best defender Matisse Thybulle will be ineligible to play in Canada due to his status as an unvaccinated player.
Per the AP, “Thybulle is barred from Canada because unvaccinated foreign nationals are currently prohibited from entering the country and limited exemptions to the rule no longer apply to professional athletes.”
The 25-year-old led Philadelphia with 114 steals in 65 games this season, so his absence should provide the Raps a little more freedom on the offensive end at Scotiabank Arena.
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