Turns out the best cure for a three-game losing streak might just be a trip to Philadelphia to visit the Sixers, not that this is a surprise to anyone who has seen them win 37 total games since the start of the 2013-14 season. The Toronto Raptors (6-3) hope that a relatively easy 119-103 victory at the Well Fargo Center on Wednesday night can be a mouthwash to rinse the taste of the past three losses, particularly Friday’s beatdown in Miami and Sunday’s Knicks loss, out of their mouths.
After looking terrible through a first 12 minutes during which they allowed 34 first quarter points and let the Sixers shoot 56.5% (13-23), the Raptors got rolling in the second quarter and outscored Philly 67-43 over the middle two quarters to start running away with the game. However, whatever little satisfaction Toronto may have gotten out of a win over the Sixers was further diminished by injuries that left an already weak roster without Nerlens Noel (wrists) and Robert Covington (knee). Jahlil Okafor, the only reason to watch these Sixers right now, showed some rookie warts (five fouls, four turnovers), but was also a one-man wrecking crew with 26 points on 13-22 shooting along with seven rebounds and four blocks.
Philly native Kyle Lowry led the Raps with 23 points on just 12 shots thanks to 50% shooting and making 9-10 free throws, while adding eight assists in less than 29 minutes played. On a night where Lowry and DeMar DeRozan earned some rest thanks to a comfortable lead that went as high as 21 points, secondary guys like Luis Scola (21 points on 10-15 shooting) and Cory Joseph (15 points on 6-9 shooting) were able to step forward. Even second-round pick Norm Powell, whom the Raptors seem high on, produced eight points and four rebounds on 4-10 shooting.
The Raps sent Philadelphia to their 18th straight loss (eighth straight this season) thanks to a dominant performance on the boards (56-37 rebounding advantage), a 25-12 edge in fast break points and an aggressive streak that allowed them to make 28-31 free throws, compared to just 11-17 (64.7%) by the 76ers.
The point guards
Lowry’s homecoming proved a successful one. On top of his efficient 23 and eight, the Villanova product anchored a starting five that shot 54% (27-50) and included only one starter that made less than half his shots (DeRozan, who went 4-9). Joseph, meanwhile, wound up playing bigger minutes on Wednesday and echoed Lowry’s steadying presence for the second unit. He finished with a +10, best of any bench player.
Scola and the double-double guys
The international bigs on the Raptors (well, except for Brazil’s Lucas Nogueira) all stood out in Philly. Argentina’s Scola tallied 21 points in just over 18 minutes of play while finishing with a game-best +20, Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas got outplayed by Okafor but still finished with an 11-point, 12-rebound double-double and even Congo’s Bismack Biyombo recorded his first double-double of the season with a 10-point, 10-board effort.
The first quarter
If you’re the Raptors, you need to take better advantage of redemptive opportunities than what we saw from them in the early goings on Wednesday. One night after a gut-wrenching loss to the lowly Knicks, a statement was needed against the Sixers. It was eventually made, but not before Philly scored 11 points in a little over a minute during a 34-point first quarter by the third-lowest scoring offense in the league. The productive start helped the home side shoot 46% (40-87) for the game, four percent higher than their season average.
76ers owner Josh Harris was persona non grata in Philly already and that was before news reports got out about his helicopter sent to pick him up in New Jersey landing on a youth soccer field and forcing the cancellation of a Sunday night game. The chopper was waiting for Harris to arrive from the Prudential Center, where his other club, the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, had gone to overtime. Harris has since apologized and offered to host the involved teams and their parents at a Devils game, which is only a small step up from a Sixers game.
Okafor is the sliver of light emerging from the mess that is Philly, where Joel Embiid continues to be a health and a character concern without having yet played a minute of NBA ball, where Dario Saric’s NBA arrival date remains up in the air and where Noel continues to battle nagging injury issues. Then there’s Okafor, who has led an early surge of rookie big man play alongside Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns and New York’s Kristaps Porzingis. The Rookie of the Year race could be exciting this season, but don’t be surprised if Okafor simply runs away with it.
Friday brings a visit from Anthony Davis and the disappointing, banged up 1-7 Pelicans (7:30pm, TSN). Davis was the latest Pel sidelined on Wednesday in Atlanta, joining Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holliday, Norris Cole, Kendrick Perkins and Quincy Pondexter among the injured. He is questionable for Friday night.
Prediction: Pelicans 107, Raps 101 (record this season: 4-4)