There’s having a team’s number and there’s what Kawhi Leonard has done to the Sixers.
In the 13 games he’s played against the Sixers since he entered the league, he’s a spotless 13-0. It’s fair to point out that he played against a lot of awful Sixers teams while playing for a couple outstanding teams.
Before this season, his numbers were fairly modest against them. After joining the Raptors in an offseason trade, he tormented the Sixers this season, averaging 30.3 points in three games.
Toronto, as a team, has given them fits recently. Kyle Lowry and company were not kind to The Process Sixers. Scotiabank Arena has been a house of horrors. The Sixers haven't won there since Nov. 10, 2012, losing 13 straight.
But that was then and this is now.
"Sixers 3.0" moved on to the second round to face the Raptors after a dominant Game 5 performance to end the Nets’ season. The team that was on the floor Tuesday doesn’t resemble the team Toronto faced in four games this season.
The Sixers suffered a deflating loss to the Raptors on Feb. 5. Then in the wee hours of the night, GM Elton Brand struck a deal with the Clippers to acquire Tobias Harris.
They aren’t putting much stock into the matchup’s history.
“We all understand what the math says with our success in Toronto and it’s not flattering. But it’s also not directed to the team that we have,” Brett Brown said. “You can credit or you can discredit it. I’m discrediting it. I think that we have a new group, we have a new opportunity …
“It’s going to be an incredibly tough series. I think that Toronto is as good as there is in the NBA. We will be tested immediately when we get up into Toronto.”
Not only do the Sixers feature a new-look starting five with Harris, they also have a completely different bench. Boban Marjanovic, Mike Scott and James Ennis also didn’t play against the Raptors as Sixers. Brown has shrunk his rotation down to eight with those three playing the biggest roles.
Sure, those three players are not likely to swing the series, especially with the depth of Toronto, but they’re still upgrades across the board.
Marjanovic is a tough matchup against any team. He’s incredibly efficient offensively and, though slow footed, did an excellent job challenging shots at the rim against the Nets. As for Scott and Ennis, they bring a toughness and represent an upgrade defensively over anyone the Raptors saw off the Sixers’ bench this season.
But it all begins and ends with the starting five. They outscored Brooklyn 31-2 in the first half Tuesday. Of all the five-man lineups that have played at least 40 minutes together this postseason, the Sixers’ starting unit has the best defensive and net rating.
Brand was candid about his team needing more before the season and he went out and got way more. He wasn't going to sit on his hands after his team was beaten soundly in the second round last season by the Boston Celtics.
Again, that was then, this is now.
“We feel pretty good about what we can do,” Embiid said. “There is definitely a difference from last year. I feel this year’s team is better than last year’s team. Last year we had a great momentum going into the playoffs and then Boston just smacked us, but go into this series it’s different because I’ve seen it. It’s my second time being here. Last year we were kind of, I would say, overconfident, but this year it’s just about respecting everything about the game of basketball and just putting the work in.”
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