Two of the Eastern Conference's top teams collide on Wednesday with the Philadelphia 76ers hosting the Toronto Raptors in their final meeting of the regular season.
Philly will look to square the season series at 2-2 on their home floor, perhaps a good omen for the 76ers as the home team won each of the first three meetings. Their one victory at home did come against a short-handed Raptors team missing Kawhi Leonard and Jonas Valanciunas (dislocated thumb), with the big man also doubtful for today's contest, as is Kyle Lowry (lower back).
The Raptors currently sit second in the Eastern Conference at 38-16, while the 76ers sit fourth at 34-19.
While the battle of the big men inside is sure to entertain with Joel Embiid locking horns with Serge Ibaka, it will be the matchup of Kawhi Leonard and Ben Simmons that will hold the keys to victory.
Can Ben Simmons take care of the ball?
Turnovers have plagued both Simmons and the 76ers, who currently rank 27th in the league at 15.6 per game.
Against Toronto those numbers are amplified, especially for Simmons, who in two losses against the Kawhi-led Raptors turned the ball over 11 and 7 times respectively, with the Raptors' All-Star guarding the Aussie for long stretches....something we can expect a lot of tomorrow. Leonard has spent nearly twice as much time guarding Simmons as any other Raptors player this season.
|Raptors Defender||Poss Per Game|
In the one game Kawhi missed against the 76ers in Philly, Simmons got to his spots A LOT easier, recording 26 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, turning the ball over just once without the constant pressure from the two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
Simmons has the ball in his hands a ton, driving the 76ers offence, but against the Raptors he must look to make quick decisions and beat the defence up the floor. The 22-year-old thrives in the open court, getting out in transition, but he will have his hands full escaping the clutches of the Klaw.
Can the 76ers keep the ball out of Kawhi's hands?
As difficult as Leonard can make life for Simmons on defence, the Aussie is no slouch on that end either, emerging as one of the best defenders at his position, utilising his length and athleticism to interrupt passing lanes, clog up driving lanes and force the ball out of his opponent's hands.
He will have to do a combo of all three to slow down Leonard in tandem with teammate Jimmy Butler on the defensive end, but taking a look at the clip below highlights how disruptive Simmons can be in the pick and roll. The 76ers will live with other Raptors getting buckets, if it means limiting Leonard's involvement on the offensive end. Let the other guys beat you.
I'm writing about Ben Simmons' defense at the moment and came across this again.- Tom West (@TomWestNBA) January 25, 2019
He helps on Ibaka's roll to encourage a pass, prevents a shot or drive from Kawhi, then breaks up a second dive from Ibaka with a steal. Perfect defense. pic.twitter.com/5Z4ewEqrBl
Can the Raptors keep Simmons out of the paint?
In their last meeting, Simmons took advantage of the short-handed Raptors who were missing Ibaka, Valanciunis and Leonard, with the Aussie finding plenty of room in the paint to operate, posting 26 points on 11-for-13 shooting, adding 12 rebounds and eight assists in 34 minutes of action.
With the newly-minted All-Star playing the best basketball of his young career, a matchup against Leonard will prove to be the ultimate litmus test.