Sixers to meet Raptors with focus on resting stars

The staggering Philadelphia 76ers face the unenviable task of dealing with the second half of a back-to-back when they meet the Toronto Raptors in the NBA bubble on Wednesday night.

The 76ers prioritized long-term health over potential short-term gain when they sat regulars Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Josh Richardson in a 130-117 loss to Phoenix on Tuesday afternoon.

It’s possible all four — along with Ben Simmons, already deemed out for the season following knee surgery — will sit again Wednesday, and perhaps even in Friday’s regular-season finale against Houston, virtually assuring the 76ers (42-29) will land in the sixth position in the final Eastern Conference standings.

That would create a first-round playoff pairing with third-seeded Boston.

Moving out of that matchup remains a possibility for Philadelphia, which has won three of six in Florida and begins play Wednesday two games behind fourth-seeded Miami (44-27) and one back of fifth-seeded Indiana (43-28).

Moving from sixth to fifth in the Eastern race would mean facing either the Heat or Pacers in the first round.

Miami and Indiana, who go head-to-head on Friday, also play Wednesday. The Heat will take on Oklahoma City, while the Pacers square off with Houston.

The 76ers’ biggest concern is Embiid, who suffered an ankle injury Sunday against Portland.

76ers coach Brett Brown indicated before Tuesday’s game that he was hopeful of getting Embiid back by Friday’s regular-season finale. Without flat-out saying it, Brown appeared to indicate that Tuesday and Wednesday were out of the question.

And sure enough, Embiid sat Tuesday.

“I do expect him to,” Brown told the media of a possible Friday return. “That’s just one man’s opinion. I do believe it would be good for him to play before the playoffs begin.”

The 76ers and Raptors have met three times previously with an obvious conclusion: Even a little Embiid is better than none at all.

The All-Star center was held scoreless once and sat out on a second occasion when Philadelphia lost twice at Toronto.

He had only 10 points and eight rebounds in the lone home matchup, but it was enough to help get the 76ers over the top in a 110-104 win in December.

Fred VanVleet contributed 24 and 22 points to the Toronto home wins.

The Raptors (51-19) have won five of six since the restart to lock down the No. 2 seed in the East and a first-round matchup with seventh-seeded Brooklyn.

Like the 76ers, the Raptors rested some of their key players in their most recent contest, a 114-106 win over the top team in the East, Milwaukee. Chris Boucher paced Toronto with 25 points in 29 minutes off the bench.

If Wednesday’s game turns into another duel of backups, Boucher noted he and his teammates are ready.

“Everybody on this team is doing the same thing,” he noted to reporters after Monday’s win. “Just being ready, and when the opportunity is there … play hard and show what you’re capable of doing.”

The Raptors close out bubble play Friday against Denver.

–Field Level Media


from Blogger

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