Philadelphia 76ers: Biggest threat is Toronto Raptors, not Boston Celtics

Ben Simmons | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Ben Simmons | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers are in the midst of what is the most wide-open Eastern Conference since 2010. This year, the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics will all have a bone to pick with the Sixers in their conference title quest. If the Pacers had Victor Oladipo, they would be right in the mix. With that being said, who poses the biggest threat?

The answer is a tough one and a debatable one. The Toronto Raptors would threaten the Philadelphia 76ers more than the Bucks or the Celtics.

And it comes down to a reason that so many people cannot seem to grasp when stated. The Raptors have the most playoff-seasoned roster of any team in the conference.

Some people think of the Raptors and remember nothing except LeBron James turning them into “baby dinosaurs,” as Shannon Sharpe and Skip Bayless would say. The issue with this thinking is that their roster is new and revamped, combined with LeBron James leaving for the City of Angels.

More from Sixers News

It was only two years ago that pundits around the nation were hailing Kawhi Leonard as the second greatest player on the planet. You know, the Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year.

Marc Gasol nearly brought the Memphis Grizzlies to the Finals in 2013 with a roster full of guys most of us have forgotten.

Serge Ibaka played in four Western Conference Finals series along with an NBA Finals back in 2012.

Danny Green was a key component of the 2014 Spurs team who blew the Miami Heat off the floor by a record points margin.

This is NOT the same team. It is just a group of savvy veterans who happen to wear the same uniforms.

Let us not forget that Pascal Siakam might take home the Most Improved Player Award and Kyle Lowry will not be asked to carry the same load he has carried in previous seasons.

Kawhi Leonard is still a two-way force who can defend four positions at a high level. He can guard anybody in the Sixers lineup outside of Joel Embiid. His ability to pressure shooters and force ball-handlers into poor shot selection remains elite.

His offense has grown as well. Leonard’s post game has been tremendous as people continue to overlook his natural strength. He can back down both Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris.

His biggest impact comes in the clutch, though. In clutch time, defined as gameplay in the fourth quarter or overtime with less than five minutes remaining and neither team leading by more than five, Leonard has scored 133 total points. That is tied with Mike Conley Jr. of the Grizzlies for fifth in the league. However, Leonard has played 15 fewer games than Conley and at least eight games less than the other four guys ahead of him.

The Raptors biggest advantage in a potential series would be their bench. Jeremy Lin is capable of being a second-unit spark plug. OG Anunoby is a solid defender who can matchup with Butler and Harris who are often on the floor with the Sixers’ second unit. Normal Powell is an athletic force who can knock down shots. Fred Van Vleet might be the best sixth man in the league outside of Lou Williams.

The Sixers’ bench needs to find a rhythm if they hope to beat the Raptors should they meet in the postseason. T.J. McConnell needs his elbow jumper to fall and Brett Brown must provide a well-developed scheme to hide him on defense. Mike Scott, a streaky shooter, can either be money from long range or a liability on the floor. He tends to be hit or miss. Boban Marjanovic can be a rim protector whether the Raptors play Gasol or Ibaka with their second unit.

The Raptors may be the most well-rounded team in the Eastern Conference and if the Sixers were to beat them, it would simply be a result of having more high-end talent. Their model of success is not going to come from out-scheming Nick Nurse or other coaches, it is going to come from having better players.

The reason the Milwaukee Bucks are not the biggest threat to the Sixers is their injury problems. Malcolm Brogdon suffered a plantar fascia tear in his right foot and is expected to miss at least another month. The former Rookie of the Year is their best or second-best shooter and a solid defender.

Trade deadline acquisition Nikola Mirotic is a sniper who the Bucks added to give MVP candidate Giannis Antetokuonmpo more space to operate. He may miss up to four weeks with a slight fracture in his left thumb.

The Bucks are down two key shooters and this will shrink the floor. This will keep the paint crowded and Antetokuonmpo will find difficulty dominating with his athleticism and speed. The Sixers can force him into shooting, which has been his achilles heel, despite his overall mega talent.

The Boston Celtics have been a roller coaster all season.

Their issue is mainly chemistry. They cannot seem to gel together and they seem disdainful of one another at times.

Another concern is their young bunch. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier have not lived up to their high level of play during last season’s Cinderella run to Game 7 of the Conference Finals.

Must Read. Top 20 performances in franchise history. light

Gordon Hayward has been inconsistent all season long. Despite scoring 26 points the last team the Sixers saw him, he seems to be a shell of his former self, most of which can be attributed to his gruesome injury he suffered at the beginning of last season.

The Celtics have been the fifth seed for a great portion of the season and with a small handful of games left, the NBA world keeps waiting for them to hit their stride. At some point, people must come to realize that their ceiling is much lower than expected.

The Sixers do not match up well with the Celtics, but they would not have to face them until a potential Conference Finals matchup. The Celtics would have to push through the Indiana Pacers and then what would likely be the Milwaukee Bucks barring a massive first round upset.

One could argue they should be the underdogs against Indiana and they would absolutely be the underdogs against Milwaukee.

With all that being said, the Toronto Raptors provide the biggest threat to the Sixers. They have the talent, the depth, the coaching, and the well-rounded basketball to give the Sixers problems.

Their savvy veterans know how to win in the playoffs and close out big games — an issue the Sixers have struggled with for the better part of two years. Experience is key.

Next. A potential path to the NBA championship. dark

This potential second-round matchup would be one for the ages.