76ers-Raptors and Spurs-Nuggets Game 7 Preview

With a big and excellent day of basketball ahead of us, here are previews for today’s actions.  Previews for tomorrow’s action will be up tomorrow morning.

No.3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. No.2 Toronto Raptors

If we learned anything in the first round, it’s that the Bucks are the one team that we have zero concerns about coming into this next round.

Sure, that could be indicative of their opponent.  The Pistons never had a chance in that series, and played like they didn’t as well.  What happened was exactly what we thought would happen.  Detroit got killed, and the Bucks essentially got a pass in the first round.

The Raptors and 76ers both made us hold our breath for a minute; the 76ers much more than Toronto.  The Raptors came out and lost AT HOME to Orlando in Game 1; setting up what we thought could have been a greater Raptors choke than ever before.  They eventually whipped themselves into shape; DJ Augustin’s fall back to Earth helped as well.

The Magic got to the Raptors in Game 1 and pestered them in Game 3.  Vucevic found himself in that third game of the series after struggling immensely in Game 1, and Terrence Ross got hot late to make it close.

If we can take anything from the Orlando series to learn about Toronto, it’s that using a big guy who can do it all and a spark-plug scorer can make it a game.

The 76ers have one of those in Joel Embiid.  Redick isn’t crafty enough to count as the Terrence Ross prototype.

But Embiid was in and out of the lineup against the Nets, and even with him in the Sixers had their problems.

The Nets relentlessly attacked the rim no matter who was playing five for Philly.  Embiid was ridiculous defensively in Game 5, where he looked fully healthy, but that was also a game where the Nets had quite possibly the worst offensive showing of the playoffs.  Philly’s defense was really good, but Brooklyn’s offensive showing made it twice as worse.

Still, Embiid’s health has to be in question.  When he’s healthy, he’s unstoppable.  He’d be too athletic for Marc Gasol and too strong for Pascal Siakam.  But when he’s not out there or not fully healthy, the Sixers lose a massive contributor on both ends  (when he’s out) or have their already prickly chemistry thrown off even more (When he’s playing at less than 100 percent); we saw the bad side of that in Game 1 against the Nets.

That inefficient, brick-chucking Embiid is detrimental to the Sixers, especially against a high-powered Toronto offense that moves the ball, has multiple looks and a cold-blooded killer in Kawhi Leonard.

Aside from the problems Embiid presents, the Raptors defense can put Philly into bind.  Ben Simmons’ newfound aggression has been a good sign, but Toronto is much more equipped to handle it.  Toronto can try and force Simmons to play as he used to by sagging off and making him drive, to which he would face Siakam or a brunt Gasol at the rim.  They could also be aggressive with him at the point of his attack by slapping Kawhi or Siakam on him at the top of the key and try to pester him that way.

Simmons has shown lately that, if you give him the lane, he’s going to attack.  So Toronto is probably better playing man-to-man, tight D on him from the start of the possession.  They’re going to make Simmons work; really work.  And they have a lot more answers than Brooklyn did, who had Jarrett Allen wandering aimlessly under the rim wondering where to help.

That leaves Tobias Harris, Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick left for Toronto to contain.  That sounds daunting of course, but the Raptors have the personnel.  Danny Green figures to be matched up with Butler, and Kawhi on Harris given the switch.  But Redick is a bit of an x-factor, as he is in any series.  He’s not a fantastic matchup for tall, long teams due to his ability to get any shot off, his constant movement and his smallness.  He’s going to make Lowry run to keep up with him.  I would expect to see a bit more Norman Powell in this series; he’s a good defender and has length but isn’t big enough for Redick to just curl around off screens and motion.

Factor in those defenders against the tendencies of the Sixers offense to combust due to bad decision-making from a multitude of players and you have a problem for Philly.  The chemistry and question marks surrounding Embiid’s health make me feel even better about Toronto now in this series rather than earlier this year, and that’s coming from someone who has had Toronto in the Finals since the first month of the season.

Philly won’t be wiped.  They’ll get a massive Embiid game or two, or a game where Toronto doesn’t play well (Entirely likely) for whatever reason.  But Toronto is the better, more equipped team, and will send Philly into a summer full of questions.

Prediction: Raptors in 6 

On Spurs-Nuggets Game 7…

This series has gone in the complete opposite direction I thought it would.  The concerns some had about Denver being just a regular season team have came true.  Jamal Murray has at times had deer-in-the-headlights, while at other times has been the guy the Nuggets have needed him to be; that crunch-time, cold-blooded scorer.

The Nuggets have had bad luck but have also played bad defense in this series.  Essentially, the Nuggets got torched by Derrick White once and the Spurs having a crazy good shooting night in two other games.  DeRozan’s prowess hasn’t helped, but we weren’t really expecting the Nuggets to be able to contain him fully in the first place.

To avoid the upset, the Nuggets need Nikola Jokic to replicate his Game 6 performance; a game where he not only facilitated the offense well but also scored a ton (43 points).  When Denver has ran everything through Jokic in this series, they’ve had immense success.  Couple that with a Murray Game 2-like showing and Denver should win.  But getting both of those to happen in the same game, and the Spurs to have neither of their game-winning catalysts ignite, has been tough.

The Nuggets have home-court, meaning they should shoot better and overall play better.  Having Gary Harris, who has been excellent this series, guard DeRozan should limit his production, and the same goes for Paul Millsap on LaMarcus Aldridge.  Denver needs one of them to be stopped, or else what happened in Game 6 will happen again.