Sixers-Raptors 5 things: Another road challenge while shorthanded

Sixers-Raptors 5 things: Another road challenge while shorthanded

The Sixers (28-48) face the Toronto Raptors (46-30) at Air Canada Centre (6 p.m./CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports app).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Dust yourself off
The Sixers walked -- or limped -- right into a buzzsaw their last time on the court.

Already shorthanded, the Sixers were dominated by the hungry Cleveland Cavaliers in a 122-105 loss Friday night. They allowed the Cavs to shoot 52.6 percent from the field, 44.8 percent from three-point range, grab 53 rebounds and score 54 points in the paint.

"I think they played at a championship level," Brett Brown said. "They took their frustrations out on us."

2. The new guys
The Sixers now get to square off against another team attempting to round into postseason form in the Raptors.

Even with point guard Kyle Lowry sidelined after undergoing wrist surgery, the Raptors have managed to maintain their solid play. They are 13-6 since Lowry went down near the end of February.

That has a lot to do with the play of newcomers Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, who were acquired at the trade deadline.

Since coming over from Orlando, Ibaka has had the bigger impact numbers-wise. He's averaged 14.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks with the Raptors.

Tucker has put up 5.9 points and 5.5 rebounds since coming aboard, but his value has been primarily as a lockdown defender.

3. Walk the line
A big difference maker in the season series between the Sixers and Raptors has been the free-throw line.

The Raptors, who rank top 10 in the NBA in free throws attempted, free throws made and free-throw percentage, owned the charity stripe in the first two clashes. Toronto shot 25 of 31 from the line in the first matchup and 31 of 36 in the second.

On the other side, the Sixers were 28 for 38 combined at the line in the two games, both losses.

In the third matchup -- a 94-89 Sixers' win on Jan. 18 -- they were 24 of 32 at the stripe compared to 15 of 23 for the Raptors.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (knee), Sergio Rodriguez (hamstring), Jahlil Okafor (knee), Joel Embiid (knee), Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Lowry (wrist) is out for the Raptors.

5. This and that
• The Sixers snapped a 14-game losing skid to the Raptors with that Jan. 18 win.

• DeMar DeRozan has been right on his season scoring average with 27.6 points a night in the 19 games since Lowry went down. However, he has also reached the 40-point mark four times during that span, including in a 111-100 win over the Indiana Pacers on Friday.

• Canada native Nik Stauskas has struggled against the Raptors in 2016-17 with just 4.3 points per matchup, his second-lowest mark against any team this season.

Rookie of the Year down to 2 and Ben Simmons' lead slipping

AP Images

Rookie of the Year down to 2 and Ben Simmons' lead slipping

Donovan Mitchell continues to creep closer to Ben Simmons in the NBA Rookie of the Year race, and the gap in Bovada's odds for the two is as close as it's been all season.

Simmons is now -250 to win the award, meaning a $250 wager is required to win $100. 

Mitchell is at +170, meaning a $100 wager wins you $170.

In the most recent odds update in January, Simmons was at -650; Mitchell was +400.

It's a clear two-man race at this point.
Simmons is averaging 16.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.9 blocks this season. No player in recorded history has hit all five criteria in the same season.

Mitchell, however, has been on fire for the NBA's hottest team. The Jazz have won 11 straight games to test the Pelicans for the 8-seed, and over that span, Mitchell has averaged 21.3 points, albeit on 41 percent shooting.

For the season, Mitchell is at 19.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals. He's made 35.4 percent of his threes and 83.6 percent of his free throws.

Both are stars in the making, but it's worth noting that the Jazz are playing better than they have all season and Simmons is still the favorite. Where Utah ends up will be a determining factor in the Rookie of the Year race — if the Jazz can somehow end up the 7-seed in a loaded West, arguments for Mitchell will grow louder.

Both Simmons and Mitchell were two of five guests this week on NBA TV's Open Court: Rookies Edition. Interest talking points from the special: 

• Mitchell referenced former Sixer Jrue Holiday as an under-the-radar tough player to guard, saying he watches film of Holiday every day.

• Simmons recalled LeBron attacking him frequently in the first quarter of their first meeting, saying he wasn't surprised LeBron wanted to send a message by going right at him.

• The Morris twins were mentioned by Simmons and Jayson Tatum when asked about the most imposing players in the league. Everyone cited DeMarcus Cousins.

• Simmons downplayed the importance of his NBA redshirt season, saying you don't really know what it's like to play back to back and deal with the hectic travel schedule until you're involved in it every day.

Hinkie's old boss expected Giannis to be a Sixer

USA Today Images

Hinkie's old boss expected Giannis to be a Sixer

The 2013 NBA draft was one of the strangest in recent memory. There was no consensus first overall pick, which is how Anthony Bennett happens.

Nerlens Noel was viewed as a candidate to be the top pick before tearing his ACL late in his lone college season. The Sixers, then under Sam Hinkie, bought the upside on Noel and traded Jrue Holiday for the sixth overall pick to take him. 

Five picks later, the Sixers took another big, athletic, upside-based player in Michael Carter-Williams.

Four picks after that ... Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, Hinkie's boss before the protege left for Philly, said on The Bill Simmons Podcast this week that he was convinced the Sixers were set to take Giannis.

"I was actually really surprised Philly didn't take him," Morey said. "They ended up taking the Rookie of the Year (MCW) so they did fine. But [Giannis] was this super-high-upside guy. We had bet that [Hinkie] might take [Giannis] because we were like, 'Super-high upside, might as well go for it.'"

Could you even begin to imagine ...

Keep in mind, though, that these types of what-if conversations require more context. Had the Sixers taken Giannis then, they're probably not bad enough to pick high enough to get Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in two of the next three years. (Same concept to remember whenever someone says the Sixers should have taken Kristaps Porzingis over Jahlil Okafor. Of course they should have, but if you draft Porzingis, you probably don't get Simmons.)

Giannis was by far the best player in that draft, with Rudy Gobert (27th), C.J. McCollum (10th) and Victor Oladipo (2nd) the only other standouts. Otto Porter (3), Dennis Schroder (17) and Steven Adams (12) are good players, but that's pretty much it. Everyone else in that 2013 draft is either a fringe rotational player, a non-factor or out of the league. 

That was a rough draft for GMs to navigate, as opposed to the year before when Anthony Davis was the consensus No. 1 and Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard and Andre Drummond were all top-10 picks. The only surprise outside the top 10 that previous year was Draymond Green, a huge steal but one of the only steals of 2012.

The Giannis draft (2013) was Hinkie's first as the Sixers' GM. Though Hinkie was a swing-for-the-fences type, perhaps even he couldn't justify trading an established player in Holiday for the ultimate risk-reward player in Antetokounmpo. Not many execs had seen the Greek Freak more than a few times, and it was difficult to gauge how his work against inferior competition would translate to the best league on Earth.

Alas ...

Hinkie's final days
Morey clearly still rides for Hinkie, and he had an interesting take on how his former colleague's tenure with the Sixers ended.

Should Hinkie have been more front-facing?

"If you know it's gonna end how it's gonna end, I think he would say for sure," Morey said when Simmons referred to Hinkie as "Howard Hughes-ish." 

"He felt like he had ownership's support there to execute on the plan and part of the plan was to not be as out there, especially during the down times," Morey continued. "Sam can be more communicative, it's just he thinks it's better for the team, especially at that point when he was there, it didn't make sense to be that communicative.

"That said, if he knew he didn't have the support (from ownership) that he thought he had, I'm sure he would have been out there more.

"Hopefully, someone will give him a shot. I think he can obviously help a lot of teams."