Here They Come But Where Are They Going? Previewing The First Round

By Michael Doctorovitz, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

The playoffs are here and the matchup is set. The Philadelphia 76ers will face off against the Toronto Raptors in the first round with game one on Saturday, April 16, at 6pm. The Sixers will be favored heading into this series, given that they have the best player in the series, Joel Embiid, and also home court advantage, but don't let that fool you, this will be a tough matchup. The Sixers lost the season series to the Raptors 3-1 and will face some major challenges going into this.

The first major challenge they face is going to be on the defensive end. With their best wing defender, Matisse Thybulle, not available to play in Canada due to vaccination restrictions the Sixers will struggle to defend shooters from the outside. This is where they will need Danny Green to be vintage and step up big time in Thybulle's absence but with Green's age and the Raptors' youth, it could be overwhelming.

The shooting of James Harden has also caused a lot of concern around the Sixers lately. The media has been sure to bring this up in recent weeks, especially Stephen A Smith. Smith has been on record multiple times in the past couple weeks saying that Harden is under the most pressure in these playoffs and that President of Basketball Operations, Daryl Morey's, job could be on the line along with head coach Doc Rivers. Most recently, this morning former NBA player, Tim Legler, said that if Harden shoots under 50% in any of these games then the Sixers will be upset by the Raptors. 

On the other hand, hall of famer Shaquille O'Neal said on Sunday night that the Sixers will sweep the Raptors. 

This will be an interesting series and one that could give Sixers fans a bit of deja vu. The last time the Sixers and Raptors faced off in the playoffs was in 2019 when Kawhi Leonard broke the hearts of Sixers fans everywhere with a shot that still haunts them to this day. This is a different Sixers team though. 

In 2019, the Sixers were constructed with a bit more shooting and of course superstar Jimmy Butler who is now a member of the #1 seed Miami Heat. This current team though has a much better version of Embiid. Embiid has been amazing this season, becoming the first center to lead the league in scoring since Shaq in 1999-2000. Embiid scored at a historic pace this season, averaging 30.6 ppg in 33.8 mpg. Unfortunately that might not be enough for MVP honors, which just feels wrong but there is nothing he can do about it now. 

To win this series, the Sixers will need Rivers to outcoach Nick Nurse, head coach for the Raptors, and they will also need to execute much better on the offensive end. The Raptors will attack Embiid with double and triple teams and will send lengthy defenders his way as well as Harden's. This is where they will need the bench to step up more than it has in the regular season. To close out the regular season, Shake Milton scored 30 points off the bench in 32 minutes. He will not see that much time in the series nor will he need to score 30 but he will need to produce in the minutes given to him in order for the Sixers to advance into the next round. 

Buckle up. This will be stressful. 

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