Raptors-76ers to be defensive affair
By RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency
|Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. (BRENT SMITH/Reuters)
Don't expect a lot of offence in Philadelphia on Tuesday night.
The Sixers like to grind out wins - the team has won five of six - using strong defence, and don't light up the scoreboard regularly (the team averages 88.9 points per game).
Meanwhile, the Raptors still don't have top player Kyle Lowry or starting small forward Landry Fields in the lineup and the team is trying to renew its focus on defence.
In claiming two wins in its past three games, Toronto has held opponents to an average of just 79 points in those two victories.
"Again, I thought we established ourselves defensively which allowed us to keep pace and run the floor," head coach Dwane Casey said after Sunday's win over Orlando.
"If we are not a defensive team (trouble will follow), we have to hang our hat on something. That is going to be our focus here on out."
Toronto has slipped from 14th in the league in defensive rating in 2011-12 (104.5 points allowed per 100 possessions) to a middling 23rd (surrendering two full points more).
There have too many lapses, too many blown rotations so far for Casey's liking.
Still, the identity Casey is looking for was apparent in stretches of the Orlando game, most notably, during one mid-third quarter stretch.
The Raptors turned the Magic away inside three times in the sequence - highlighted by a monster rejection by Dominic McGuire. That got Casey clapping and the fans out of their seats, and more of that is required.
Especially since Toronto has not figured out how to stop the Sixers in recent meetings, losing five of six to its Atlantic Division rivals.
The Sixers fell behind the Raptors early in the first meeting of the season at the ACC, then turned it on to take control. The team has been on a roll since and has Jason Richardson back to add to the attack.
The game will be the start of a back-to-back that will finish in Charlotte against a much-improved Bobcats squad. After a day off, the Raptors will also visit Detroit on Friday.
"We understand that it's going to be a long road trip ahead," said DeMar DeRozan, Toronto's best player so far this season.
Against Philly, the Raptors will need a solid game from Andrea Bargnani, who has had a brutal start to the season, but had one of his better all-around efforts against Orlando, even if his shot continues to be off.
Against Orlando, Bargnani at least did some good things defensively and grabbed a few boards. That has happened far too infrequently. Perhaps one of his favourite opponents will provide some tonic?
Bargnani tends to have big games against Philadelphia and scored 23 in the earlier matchup.
The former No. 1 overall selection is off to a horrendous opening to the season (shooting 35.8% from the field with maddening shot selection) and needs to pick things so that the Raptors can overcome the absence of Lowry.
At the moment, he is hurting the team and taking minutes away from less gifted offensive players who give a more honest effort and produce more overall.