Series Preview: East heavyweights battle to move on

Three things to watch

1. How do the Raptors defend Embiid?All four regular-season meetings between these two teams took place before the trade deadline, when the Raptors acquired Gasol. But Toronto’s new starting center played two games against Embiid before the trade, and Gasol’s Grizzlies had some defensive success when the two matched up. In fact, the 8-for-28 (29 percent) that Embiid shot against Memphis was the worst he shot against any opponent that he faced more than once this season. Toronto will likely try to defend Embiid one-on-one so as to stay out of rotation. They’ll also play him soft and invite him to shoot from the outside. On the other end of the floor, Gasol will need to make some shots to pull Embiid (and Boban Marjanovic) away from the basket and allow the Raptors’ ball-handlers to attack the rim.

2. How do the Sixers defend Leonard? After the Sixers acquired Jimmy Butler, it was Butler who defended Leonard more than Ben Simmons, and the Sixers held Toronto to just a point per possession when Leonard-Butler was the matchup. Toronto will likely target J.J. Redick (via screens from Danny Green) in pick-and-roll, and it will be important for Leonard’s primary defender (whether its Butler or Simmons) to get through those screens and in back in front of Leonard, who is probably the best one-on-one scorer outside of Houston. Leonard isn’t the most willing playmaker, so Philly can be somewhat aggressive with help.

3. How big of an advantage is Toronto’s bench? The Raptors have better reserves than the Sixers, especially if the bruised heel that Mike Scott suffered in Game 5 against Brooklyn is an issue going forward. But the Sixers will always have at least two starters in the game, and they’ve been starting the second and fourth quarters will all five on the floor, something not seen anywhere else. That could force Toronto head coach Nick Nurse to change his rotation, which usually has (and hasn’t played well with) four reserves on the floor at the start of the second and fourth periods. The Raptors outscored the Magic by 72 points over their five-game series, but Toronto was a minus-13 in 25 minutes with Pascal Siakam on the floor without either Lowry or Leonard.

The number to know

62.2, 46.3 — In the first round, the Sixers’ starting lineup — Simmons, Redick, Butler, Harris and Embiid — outscored the Nets by 62.2 points per 100 possessions in its 49 minutes together. With those five guys on the floor, the score was Sixers 141, Nets 70, with Brooklyn shooting just 28 percent from the field.

The plus-62.2 is the best mark among lineups that have played at least 25 minutes together in the postseason by a pretty big margin. But the second best mark belongs to the Raptors’ starting lineup (Lowry, Green, Leonard, Siakam and Gasol), which outscored the Magic by 46.3 points per 100 possession in its 96 minutes together. Toronto outscored Orlando in every first quarter and won the third quarter by at least eight points in four of the five games.

Going back to the regular season, the Philadelphia starters have outscored their opponents by 27.9 points per 100 possessions in 210 total minutes, while the Toronto starters have outscored their opponents by 24.5 points per 100 possessions in 257 total minutes. Those kind of numbers don’t come without strong play on both ends of the floor, but the Toronto group has been slightly better offensively, while the Philly group has been better defensively. These two teams substitute very differently (Philly typically goes to its bench earlier in the first and third quarters), but it will be a battle of super lineups in the first five or six minutes of each half, and something has got to give.

The Pick

This should be one heck of a series between two teams that really need to win, given how much they’ve invested in this season by trading for players that will have the opportunity to leave via free agency this summer. Joel Embiid is a matchup advantage for the Sixers and looked more mobile in the last two games against Brooklyn than he did earlier in the series. But with Gasol, along with length and athleticism at the wings and at power forward, the Raptors match up well with Philly. Toronto also has home-court advantage, superior depth, and no concerns about the health of its best player. Raptors in 7.

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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https://www.nba.com/playoffs/2019/eastseries6/preview

Author: InGame Sports

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