Moving above .500 for the first time all season after a thrilling victory over the Philadelphia 76ers Sunday, the Toronto Raptors look to have finally turned their season around following a dismal 2-8 start.
They can’t afford to get complacent, however, and will be in for another stiff test against the Eastern Conference-leading 76ers once again Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sportsnet Ontario, Sportsnet East and Sportsnet ONE.
Toronto’s been great in these two-game series, having either won both contests or split them in each dual series its been in this season, and will come away with at least another split here against the 76ers.
The Raptors are finally playing with confidence and swagger not really seen since last season and they’ll be gunning to take two off Philly, which would help propel them potentially back to the familiar territory of the top four of the Eastern Conference.
Here’s a look at three things to watch for as you take in Tuesday evening’s game.
Clamps coming down again?
The Raptors have won four games straight and have done so on the strength of their defence.
Allowing opponents to score just 100.8 points per 100 possessions in those last four games, the Raptors have re-discovered their old defensive identity and are flourishing because of it.
Coming into Tuesday, they’ll need more of the same of what they did against Philadelphia on Sunday when they held the 76ers to just 38.8 per cent shooting and only 103 points.
In particular, Toronto played MVP candidate Joel Embiid exceptionally well, holding him to a poor 6-for-20 shooting night. He did still end up going off for 25 points and 17 rebounds, but the rarely seen dual-big combination of Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher provided enough resistance to not allow Embiid to get going from the field as the only rhythm he found was at the free-throw line.
A blueprint is there for the Raptors to put the clamps on Embiid, and while it may not go exactly the same way, following it again should lead to similar levels of success.
Just before the game tips, the NBA all-star reserves will be announced with many worthy candidates up for a small amount of remaining spots.
This is particularly the case in the Eastern Conference, where Raptors guard Fred VanVleet has a strong case but will be in tough for competition with names like Zach LaVine, Julius Randle and Domantas Sabonis, among others, also in the conversation.
VanVleet has been Toronto’s best, most consistent performer this season, averaging 20.1 points, 6.6 assists and shooting 37.6 per cent from three-point range on close to nine attempts from distance per game.
Additionally, he’s been one of Toronto’s best defenders and should be considered in the NBA’s All-Defence discussion.
He’s a worthy all-star candidate in this author’s humble opinion and whether or not the rest of the league’s coaches agree will be found out soon.
According to the latest NBA injury report, Raptors guard Kyle Lowry is listed as “questionable” as he continues to deal with that sprained left thumb.
Lowry has missed the last three games, furthering the oddity of Toronto’s strong play without him.
The Raptors are 16-0 in their last 16 games sans Lowry, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the team is better without him. Against a formidable 76ers squad, having Lowry available would only be a good thing.