The wait is finally over, and the Philadelphia 76ers are set to square off with the Toronto Raptors in the opening round of the 2022 playoffs. While the addition of James Harden at the trade deadline has increased the Sixers’ postseason chances, the Raptors are a brutal matchup for Philadelphia. With the Raptors’ strengths matching up with the 76ers’ weaknesses, we should all brace for a difficult first-round matchup. Heading into the first round, here are four predictions for what to expect.
Deandre Jordan (And Doc Rivers) Will Lose the 76ers a Game
It is quite clear who the best option at the backup center position is, but quite unclear who will actually fill the role. Doc Rivers has stubbornly rolled out DeAndre Jordan for 16 games since he joined the team, and the 214 minutes sample size should be more than enough to prove he does not have enough left in the tank.
Despite being on the roster for the entire season and with a major need at the backup center position following the loss of Andre Drummond, Paul Reed has played a total of 302 minutes on the season. It took a near-riot from 76ers fans for Rivers to begrudgingly give him a real chance in the final three games of the regular season, in which he played extremely well.
The Raptors are loaded with lengthy, athletic bodies as 11 of their 17 rostered players are between 6’7 and 6’9. Toronto has abandoned a traditional big man role in favor of the modernized switchability and versatility on the defensive end. This is exactly what Paul Reed does best and also one of the biggest reasons Rivers has been unwilling to work him into the rotation.
If Rivers does roll out DeAndre Jordan for even a small amount of time, it could have disastrous results for the Sixers. The quickness and athleticism from this Raptors team will be far too much for Jordan to keep up with, and 76ers fans should not need a reminder of how important surviving the non-Embiid minutes is. It was just three years ago that the Philadelphia 76ers were knocked from the playoffs against this same Toronto franchise largely due to the inability of Greg Monroe and Boban Marjanovic to provide productive bench minutes.
While going from fully out of the rotation to playing playoff minutes is a major leap, it is one that is necessary for Paul Reed. There will be growing pains with Reed on the court, but this is more of a criticism to Doc Rivers for not allowing him to work these out earlier on in the season. The Raptors finished the regular season 2nd in the NBA in offensive rebounding, and this will be put on full display if DeAndre Jordan gets the nod when Joel Embiid is off the court.
Tyrese Maxey Will Average More Points Than James Harden
There has been a large amount of talk about if James Harden is ready to step up this postseason. After a dazzling first couple of performances with the Sixers, Harden’s level of play dropped a great deal to end the season. The natural fit in the offense began to disappear the deeper the examination into the offense went about Harden’s role as a scorer vs. being a facilitator.
James Harden absolutely has to play better than has been the case in recent games, but the 76ers do not need him to return to the 36.1 points per game scorer he once was with the Rockets. Even the version of Harden that the Sixers currently have demands an enormous amount of defensive respect.
The Raptors put a massive focus on doubling both Embiid and Harden during the regular season, and this is likely to continue in the postseason. The heavy focus on the two stars will open things up for the supporting cast, and Tyrese Maxey should be the first guy to take advantage of this.
If Tyrese Maxey does end up averaging more points in the series than James Harden, it should not be looked at as a failure on Harden’s part. It should be noted that his most important role in the Sixers offense is as a facilitator, and if he creates shots for Maxey, this is a credit to him. The hope should be for a newfound burst in Harden’s step and some life back in his legs after the week off, but he can make an incredibly positive impact even if this is not the case.
A Game Will Be Lost in the Transition Game
The Philadelphia 76ers’ inability to get back on defense has been an issue all season. They rank 28th in the NBA in opponents’ fast-break points, and it has been costly to the team throughout the season. There is no real tactical adjustment other than guys simply having to get back, but this is a change that will dictate the Sixers’ success in a major way.
IIn contrast, the Toronto Raptors excel in transition. They finished the regular season ranked 3rd in the NBA in transition points with 15.8 per game. They also get out often as Toronto finished 2nd in the league in forced turnovers as opponents average 15.8 TOs per game against them.
If the Sixers do not make this a focus, it absolutely could cost them a game. Similar to how a football game can be won or lost in the trenches, the Sixers must make sure to make the transition game a priority, or they will not stand a chance.
The Series Will Not Go Less Than 6 Games
Anyone who expects the Philadelphia 76ers to breeze through this series is in for a rude awakening. The Raptors are incredibly well-coached, and their strengths match up with the Sixers’ weaknesses in an unfavorable way for Philly. Their roster is loaded with long and athletic players whom the Sixers will struggle to match up with. There is no key star to focus on, as five players on the Raptors roster average over 15 points per game.
It should be noted how important stars often become in the postseason. As well-rounded as the Raptors are, Joel Embiid is the biggest superstar in the season by a pretty large margin. There is still a real argument that James Harden is the second-best player in the series, which should give Sixers fans hope as well.
When looking ahead to the odds for the series, the 76ers are still favored at around -180. The series handicap has been set at 1.5, with the Sixers to win by over 1.5 games set +115. The series over/under for games played is set at 5.5, with the over listed at -200. The bottom line this that this series is going to be a battle. There is still plenty of reason for optimism for the Sixers to come out on top, but do not expect it to be easy.
76ers/Pistons Game One Betting Lines
Per Draft Kings, the Philadelphia 76ers are the favorite to win tonight’s matchup.
- Spread: Philadephia -4.5
- 76ers Moneyline: -190
- Pistons Moneyline: +160
- O/U: 216