After jogging leisurely out to a 1-4 record to start the season, Philadelphia has turned the tides ever so slightly in their favor. They’ve won two straight, righting the ship so to speak and reinstalling some optimism around the fanbase. Joel Embiid looks more like his old self, Tyrese Maxey is transparently a star, and James Harden looks much more comfortable than he did last season.
That said, the Sixers are still only 3-4 with more than one sizable issue facing the franchise. Transition defense is still the bane of Philadelphia’s existence, as is the simple fact that Doc Rivers probably shouldn’t be coaching a contending NBA team right now. The Sixers’ halfcourt offense still feels half-baked, and it’s fair to express concern over the bench’s general lack of firepower beyond De’Anthony Melton and Georges Niang.
To make matters worse, the Sixers are in the Eastern Conference — a conference loaded with presumed contenders vying for one precious spot in the NBA Finals. If Philly wants to deliver on its championship aspirations, it will face a murderers’ row of worthy opponents. Here are five teams in particular that should scare the Sixers.
Why the Toronto Raptors should scare the Sixers
The Sixers beat Toronto 4-2 in the first round of the 2022 playoffs. It should have ended sooner than that. Philadelphia has presumably gotten better (even if their current record doesn’t suggest it), while the Raptors’ roster is mostly the same. So, common logic would suggest that Philly is the heavy favorite in this hypothetical matchup.
True. The Sixers would be heavy favorites. But let’s not discount the Raptors, who are one of the most unique contenders in the NBA right now. Fred VanVleet is healthy. That wasn’t the case in April. The Raptors have also bolstered the roster with a couple useful rotation pieces, such as rookie Christian Koloko.
Toronto is basically engineered to give the Sixers problems. They’re extremely long and possess the capacity to switch 1-5. That makes life harder for James Harden, who is at his best attacking downhill when he gets an advantage. Those advantages are hard to come by against the Raptors’ stalwart coverage. Toronto has also given Embiid problems over the years. He can struggle under pressure and the Raptors provide more pressure than just about any team in basketball. The double teams are constant and there are times where essentially every player on the floor is 6-foot-8.
Also of note is the Raptors’ penchant for transition offense. They’re one of the deadliest transition offenses in the NBA and the Sixers are currently one of the worst transition defenses in modern history. Toronto has a bad tendency to stall in the halfcourt setting (thus swinging the advantage in Philly’s favor), but it’s not like the Raptors are incapable of giving the Sixers significant problems.