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Raptors and 76ers made changes this season, and now face off

By TIM REYNOLDSApril 26, 2019
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Toronto Raptors center Marc Gasol (33) celebrates his 3-point basket against the Orlando Magic during the second half in Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series in Toronto, Saturday, April 13, 2019. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Toronto Raptors center Marc Gasol (33) celebrates his 3-point basket against the Orlando Magic during the second half in Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series in Toronto, Saturday, April 13, 2019. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

The last time Toronto and Philadelphia played was on February 5, a night where the Raptors went into the 76ers’ home building and had absolutely no trouble on the way to an easy win.

Later that night, the 76ers struck a deal to get Tobias Harris.

And about a day later, the Raptors went out and got Marc Gasol.

The roster-remodeling that the 76ers and Raptors were involved in at the trade deadline was done with postseason goals in mind — so it seems fitting that the teams are about to square off for a berth in the Eastern Conference finals. The second round of the NBA playoffs starts on Saturday when Philadelphia goes to Toronto for Game 1.

“Both have had a lot of changes throughout the year,” Toronto forward Pascal Siakam said. “It will definitely feel different. It kind of feels like the first time we’re meeting them.”

Toronto has won 21 of the last 24 meetings between the teams and went 3-1 against the 76ers this season, numbers that both sides agree are largely irrelevant.

“We’ve never played them with the team we have,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “The context needs to be somewhat considered.”

That goes back to what happened almost immediately following the last Raptors-76ers matchup.

Toronto’s 119-107, wasn’t-as-close-as-that-looks victory hadn’t been in the books for an hour before news broke that the 76ers were sending three players and four draft picks to the Los Angeles Clippers for Harris, Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott. It’s already paid off for Philly in many ways; Marjanovic has been a solid backup for Joel Embiid and Scott made perhaps the biggest shot of the 76ers’ first-round win over Brooklyn.

Scott is now ailing and seems likely to miss Game 1, if not more, with a heel injury. The speed the Raptors play with may affect how Philly plans to use Marjanovic in this series. But Harris fits in perfectly with the 76ers’ needs on both ends — just as Gasol, who will be primarily tasked with slowing Embiid, has done since joining the Raptors.

“Everybody loaded up,” Brown said. “They really loaded up. It was an arms race for the Eastern Conference championship.”

Embiid averaged 26.3 points against the Raptors and Ben Simmons shot 63 percent in the four games, but was also forced into 6.3 turnovers per game in the season series. For Toronto, Kyle Lowry averaged 16.8 points, while Siakam averaged 16.3 on 52% shooting. And Kawhi Leonard averaged 30.3 points in three meetings against Philadelphia — with the game he sat out in the series being the only one where the 76ers prevailed.

It wasn’t just the trade deadline where teams were thinking about these 2019 playoffs. The Raptors swung the deal for Leonard last summer precisely for these moments, and the 76ers offered him the highest praise.

“He’s pretty damn good,” 76ers guard J.J. Redick said.

Here are some other things to know going into the series:

HISTORY

Saturday’s loser likely won’t be that worried. Both teams lost Game 1 of Round 1, Toronto falling to Orlando and Philadelphia losing to Brooklyn. Toronto is 2-14 all-time in Game 1s. This is the second series between the Raptors and 76ers; Philly beat Toronto in six games in the 2001 East semifinals, the year that Allen Iverson took the 76ers to the NBA Finals.

PERFECT KAWHI

Leonard has played against the 76ers 13 times. His Toronto and San Antonio teams are 13-0 in those games. Philadelphia was in its tanking process for the majority of those meetings, but it also should be noted that Leonard was one of four players to face the 76ers at least three times and average more than 30 points against them this season.

DOUALA VS. YAOUNDE

For the first time, a pair of players born in Cameroon — Embiid and Siakam — will face off in a playoff series. Embiid is from Yaounde, Siakam from Douala, and those are Cameroon’s two biggest cities. “People on Twitter were like, ‘Oh, it’s Douala against Yaounde ... and at the end of the day, Cameroon wins,’” Siakam said. “And I’m like, ‘Nah, at the end of the day, Douala wins.’”

EMBIID VS. GASOL

Embiid was held under 20 points only 10 times this season. But in five career head-to-head meetings with Gasol, he’s never scored more than 15 points and never shot better than 40 percent.

STREAKING

Saturday’s winner will have a five-game postseason winning streak. If it’s Philadelphia, it would be the franchise’s longest since 1985. If it’s Toronto, it would be a first.

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Associated Press Writer Ian Harrison in Toronto contributed.

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