Your first place Philadelphia 76ers will lace 'em up again tonight to defend their lead against the once-resurgent, currently-hapless Toronto Raptors at 8pm tonight. Brief preview, long game thread to follow.
The Raptors opened the season with a 3-3 record. They beat the Cavs twice and the Knicks, while losing to the Mavs, Magic and Pacers, so the 3-3 record wasn't really indicative of much. Whether or not Dwane Casey had truly changed the culture up there was still a big question. After their 7th game (a 12-point loss to the Nets last night, in Toronto), I'd say the turnaround isn't exactly on track.
Andrea Bargnani has had a very strong start, his scoring numbers are almost Dirk-like, and Jose Calderon has been unbelievable as well. Toronto can present a number of problems on the defensive end. They shoot a bunch of threes, and they shoot them well. They have two energy guys up front who can crash the offensive glass and hurt you if you don't get a body on them. One of the bigs is probably going to have to chase Bargnani out to the three-point line, which isn't exactly a strength of Brand/Hawes and Thad has a tendency to lose track of his man when he's helping. On top of those things, they've got three really strong drivers in Bayless, DeRozan and Barbosa. The Sixers are going to have to work hard on the defensive end.
Luckily, things should come much easier when the Sixers have the ball. Bargnani and Calderon are both huge defensive liabilities. Jrue and Lou should both be able to have huge games against this squad. Brand or Hawes (whoever draws Bargs) should also be able to do some work on that end. The Nets killed the Raptors with the long ball last night (15/31 overall, Stevenson and Morrow combined to shoot 11/22 from distance), so I'd look for the drive and kick game and hopefully Jodie can carry over his shooting from last night.
I know it's a lot to ask on the second night of a back-to-back, but this is an ideal matchup for Elton Brand. The only legitimate length the Raptors have is Bargnani, and if they put him on Brand, EB can use his strength. It would be great to see Brand return to some semblance of the form he showed last season. Meeks finally broke out of his funk last night, it seemed like a point of emphasis for Collins, maybe he calls EB's number early and often tonight.
One thing to look for early in the game is who guards DeRozan. He's their main iso guy in the half court, I'm hoping Collins will let Meeks cover Rasual Butler and put Iguodala on DeRozan so he doesn't get off to a hot start.
This is your game thread. The tip is at 8 pm tonight, for some reason. I'll be right here throughout. Join me if 5-2 sounds about right to you.
Prediction: PHI 107, TOR 99