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Friday, April 26, 2019

Toronto Versus Philadelphia Preview

Eastern Conference Second Round

#2 Toronto (58-24) vs. #3 Philadelphia (51-31)

Season series: Toronto, 3-1

Philadelphia can win if…the 76ers' star-studded starting lineup lives up to the hype. The 76ers have been touted--and tout themselves--as a championship contender but, despite adding Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris to a roster that advanced to the second round last year, the 76ers finished just fourth in the East, which means that they will have to win at least one road game to survive this series; they probably will need to win two road games, as the Raptors will likely win at least one game in Philadelphia.

Supporters of the so-called "Process" have been screaming "Mission Accomplished" for a while but the point of all of that tanking was to win a title, not lose in the second round of the playoffs. The reality is that Tanking Does Not Work, in addition to being bad for the sport in terms of not providing authentic competition and not providing full value to paying customers/sponsors.

The crown jewel of Sam Hinkie's Philadelphia tanking is Joel Embiid, who is talented, mercurial and injury-prone. Embiid has averaged 24.3 ppg, 11.4 rpg and 2.0 bpg in the regular season during his three year career but he has appeared in just 158 out of 246 possible games. Perhaps the most important "ability" is availability, but the 76ers rarely know for sure if, when, or for how long Embiid will be available; even when he plays, he often operates on a minutes restriction and he has barely averaged 30 mpg during his career.

Large basketball players who are injury-prone early in their careers rarely are able to have long, productive, injury-free careers; the likelihood is that Embiid's career will be short compared to other top level big men, and that he will not be able to lead a team to a title.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia's other young showcase player, had a reputation in college for not being a high energy player, and that reputation has held true for the most part in the NBA as well. Simmons is touted by some as the next Magic Johnson or a poor man's Magic Johnson, but Johnson was a better all-around individual player who also had a much greater tangible impact on team success.

Jimmy Butler is the only Philadelphia player who is consistently reliable in clutch situations but he will never be the main guy as long as Embiid is around. Butler knows this and does not like it, which could impact his decision to stay or leave after the season.

In short, the 76ers have assembled a lot of individual talent but it does not appear that they have assembled a legitimate championship caliber team.

Toronto will win because…Kawhi Leonard provides leadership, stability and production at both ends of the court that the Raptors have lacked during their recent playoff runs. He posted career-highs this season in scoring (26.6 ppg) and rebounding (7.3 rpg). Leonard won the 2014 NBA Finals MVP and he is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year (2015, 2016). His playoff scoring average has increased each year that he appeared in the playoffs, starting at 8.6 ppg in 2012 and peaking at 27.8 ppg so far in 2019 (just a tick above the 27.7 ppg he averaged in the 2017 playoffs; he missed the 2018 playoffs due to injury).

Only Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs know what caused the complete breakdown in the player-organization relationship and since both player and organization have long held to a strict omerta code the rest of us may never find out the real story. Whatever happened in San Antonio has not hindered Leonard's performance with his new team.

The only negative with Leonard in Toronto thus far has been "load management." Leonard missed 22 games--more than a fourth of the schedule--primarily, if not exclusively, to rest. "Load management" is not as bad as tanking but it is bad for the league. Perhaps there is some legitimate science behind the concept but if that is the case then--in the interest of player health and safety--the owners and players should collectively agree to shorten the season, which of course would also mean adjusting the salaries downward accordingly on a proportional basis to offset the lost ticket and media revenue.

Kyle Lowry is a very good regular season player whose playoff impact is highly questionable; he just flat out disappears at times. Anyone can have a bad half or even a bad game but Lowry has too many of them in the playoffs for a player of his ability. He did not make a field goal in Toronto's game one upset loss to Orlando in the first round but he bounced back the rest of the way as the Raptors won four games in a row. Lowry averaged 11.4 ppg and 8.6 apg in the first round.

Pascal Siakam ranked second on the team in scoring during the regular season (16.9 ppg) and he increased that number to 22.6 ppg versus Orlando while also leading the Raptors in rebounding (8.4 rpg) during that series. He, not Lowry, is the team's second best player, but the Raptors will not go very far unless Lowry brings something to the table to supplement the efforts of Leonard and Siakam.

Other things to consider: The 76ers built their team by tanking and then stockpiling draft picks. Many people believe that the 76ers have the best starting lineup in the NBA; they narrowly missed becoming the first team in league history to feature five players who each averaged at least 17 ppg during the regular season (Joel Embiid 27.5 ppg, Tobias Harris 18.2 ppg, Jimmy Butler 18.2 ppg, J.J. Redick 18.1 ppg and Ben Simmons 16.9 ppg). Golden State has the best starting five in the NBA until further notice; let's see the 76ers advance to the NBA Finals at least once before throwing so many flower petals in their direction.

In recent years, the Toronto Raptors have been an outstanding regular season team that just not figure out how to get past LeBron James in the playoffs. With James out of the picture, the path is clear for the Raptors to at least advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for just the second time in franchise history.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:08 AM



At Friday, April 26, 2019 2:57:00 AM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

I had the Raptors in 5 over the Magic and the Sixers finished off the Nets earlier than I predicted (6 games).

Another tough pick, but I also have the Raptors in a long series. The Raptors likely have the best player and coaching advantage. The Raptors are deeper, but the Sixers have bigger names. I honestly would not be surprised if the series went either way. Whomever wins this series will likely lose in the conference finals.

At Friday, April 26, 2019 9:28:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

The 76ers have more talent but it doesn't always fit together very well, and I think the Raptors are much better coached.

It's always dangerous to bet on the Raptors in the playoffs, but they seem like the pick here (especially since Marc Gasol is one of the very few big men in the league who can credibly single-cover Embiid).

I think that Raptors win in 5 or 6, but if it goes to 7 I might pick Philly as Kyle Lowry tends to disappear when they need him most and Butler is especially dangerous when he smells blood in the water.

Likewise, if Philly can come out of Game 3 with a 2-1 series lead, I like their chances. I don't want to call them frontrunners but they're not far off.

At Friday, April 26, 2019 10:50:00 PM, Blogger wavenstein said...

Are you on any social media apps? I would like to direct some friends of mine to your excellent work sir

At Saturday, April 27, 2019 1:41:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you for your kind words.

I always post links to my 20 Second Timeout articles on Facebook. Other than that, I don't do much on social media.

At Friday, May 03, 2019 12:55:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Playoff Lowry 2019: And You Thought He Was Bad Before!

Jokes aside, I said before the series that I liked Philly's chances if they could get out to a 2-1 series lead. They have that lead now, so I guess I like their chances, though I still have some skepticism they can play the way they've been playing with much consistency.


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