April 27, 2019
TORONTO — By now, it's likely you've read thousands of words about Sixers vs. Raptors before the series has even started. If you haven't, you really should get on that, but if you have, you're just anxiously waiting for tip-off on Saturday night to see what this all looks like. I share that same feeling.
In the meantime, there are some storylines heading into tonight's game that are worth your attention but aren't necessarily worth a full-blown article. To keep you as in the loop as I can from Toronto, I'm going to share some of those anecdotes here, along with some odds and ends like betting odds to keep you informed.
And away we go...
• At a media session back in Philadelphia on Friday, Brett Brown told reporters that rookie Zhaire Smith would be "in the mix" for the Sixers with Mike Scott out, which can be interpreted in any number of ways. Saturday morning, intrigued by that possibility, reporters in Toronto asked Brown if there's anything he has seen that would lead him to believe Smith is ready for this moment.
The head coach says he has seen plenty during workouts for the Sixers' low-minute players, who often scrimmage before the Sixers practice to keep their legs fresh. That may be why you'll see him on Saturday night.
"I’ve seen a lot," Brown told reporters at shootaround. "During the low-minute workouts you have a chance to see him and he’s not afraid of the moment. He doesn’t care about a resume or 20,000 people or that it’s the NBA playoffs. As I judge him and learn his personality more that’s my assessment of him, albeit early, but that’s my assessment of him. Then you go to the physical side of it and there is an incredible athlete wrapped up in that mindset, and you see it all over the place when you watch those low-minute workouts."
That lack of fear is not always going to lead to perfect results, as we saw when Smith tried to attack Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim during their last regular season meeting with Milwaukee. But the absence of fear is ultimately a good thing, and the Sixers may need that blend of mental toughness and physical toughness if they hope to steal a game in Toronto.
• Joel Embiid's knee is still not in tip-top shape, nor will it be at any point in these playoffs. The demand is too high on him to expect him to get up to 100 percent during a postseason run, even if he's taking the best possible care of his body.
But for the first time in these playoffs, Embiid is off of the injury report altogether, and he sounds ready to ramp up his minutes in round two.
"It’s still not there," Embiid said when asked about his left knee. "It’s still trying to get better but that’s an issue that’s going to be there all playoffs until I get some time to get some rest and work on it. But we did a good job managing it. I only averaged about 24 minutes last series so this one I’m definitely going to need way more than that."
The backup center situation is a problem spot for Philly in this series — we assume, anyway — so Embiid's ability to play big minutes will be critical. Keep an eye on his fatigue levels in the second half on Saturday night.
• With due respect to Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, this series will feature the NBA's two best Cameroonian players in Joel Embiid and Pascal Siakam. The ascent of the latter has been startling this season, with Siakam taking a step forward in almost every area of his game.
The two countrymen are friendly away from the game, but Embiid made sure to note that the relationship means nothing once the games begin.
"We're both Cameroonians and we all support each other," Embid said on Saturday. "When he does something I text him and same thing when I do something too. He’s had a hell of a year. It’s amazing how far he’s come, especially considering where he was last year. It’s still a surprise. I’m so happy and so proud of him. But we’re not going to be friends in this series. I’m definitely going to try to win it."
"He’s from Douala, I’m from Yaoundé. Obviously, Yaoundé is the better city. It’s the capital of Cameroon. So I’m going to try to win it for Yaoundé.
We got to hear Embiid take a question and respond in French on Saturday, and I was reminded of how remarkable I find it that there are so many people elsewhere in the world who can move in and out between different languages like it's nothing. Embiid is out here turning himself into a social media star in his second language, and your boy can hardly get a handle on his own.
Summer goals, I suppose.
• Whether their experience ends up mattering against an elite Raptors team is up for debate, but Brown believes the playoff reps Simmons and Embiid got last year were important for their development as franchise cornerstones.
"They have money in the bank, a little bit more money than they had in the bank as it relates to playoff experience," Brown said. "We lost to Boston, we started the preseason in September with those learning points from the Boston series, and now we’ve moved them forward and it’s now towards the end of April and we’re in the second round of Eastern Conference championships. And you can see there’s just a little bit more wisdom, a little bit more polish, a little bit more recognition of what is to be expected. And there should be, that’s the evolution of somebody’s career.
"As we all sometimes forget, Ben’s 22 and Joel’s 25 and they have a lot to offer for the next decade-plus."
Philadelphia: Mike Scott is OUT for Saturday's game. He was spotted in a walking boot at Saturday's shootaround in Toronto, which could be preventative but obviously isn't a great sign.
Toronto: OG Anunoby remains OUT for Toronto as he recovers from an emergency appendectomy he underwent on April 12th.
The line for this game opened at Raptors —5.5, and it has only shifted more in Toronto's favor, settling in at Raptors —6.5 in advance of Saturday's game. That number appears to have accomplished Vegas' goal of splitting the betting, with about 52 percent of the bets coming in on Toronto, a slim majority.
The story remains the same for the series, with the Raptors settling in between —200 and —250 depending on what betting service you turn to for your odds. Philadelphia will be a comfortable underdog in this series no matter who you're asking, which will be quite a change from Round 1.
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