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Playoffs 2019

NBA Playoffs 2019: What to watch for in the Raptors-76ers series

#Raps 76ers

The Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers both wrapped up the 1st Round on Tuesday night and will now look ahead to what's expected to be a war between the two Atlantic Division foes.

Our NBA.com experts take a look at one thing to keep an eye on in the first series between the two teams since the epic 2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals that went the distance to seven games.

Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): How important will Serge Ibaka be off the bench?

My one thing to watch in the Raptors-76ers series is Serge Ibaka. Ibaka has been coming off the bench primarily for the Raptors since Nick Nurse decided to throw Marc Gasol in the starting lineup. That won't change against the 76ers as Gasol will mostly play Joel Embiid the toughest.

Ibaka, however, can hold his own against arguably the best big in the league and he's also a nice change a pace to throw at him defensively. This isn't about Ibaka's defence though, he'll bring it on that end we know that. Offensively, he'll be the biggest advantage Toronto's bench has going up against Philadelphia's second-unit.

If Embiid is on the floor guarding Ibaka, he'll be reluctant to go out and defend him on the perimeter. If Serge is matched up against Boban Marjanovic, he'll not only have the advantage out on the perimeter, but he'll able to take him off the dribble - and can terrorize him in screen and roll situations.

In three games this season, Ibaka averaged 18.0 points, 8.7 rebounds shooting 59% from the field. He had a 126 offensive rating and was a plus-20.7 in 27.4 minutes. To say he enjoyed playing the 76ers this season is an understatement - and that was when he was starting. Going up against their second-unit, a unit that will be overmatched in this series can only motivate Ibaka to do more damage in their semi-final series.

Expect Ibaka to be a different maker, and one of the reasons why the Raptors end up winning this series.

Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): Will Tobias Harris or Marc Gasol prove to be the difference?

The 76ers and Raptors played four times during the regular season. All four of them came prior to the blockbuster trades by both teams which makes weighing the regular season somewhat tricky.

While in Memphis, Gasol played against the 76ers twice and held up very well against Joel Embiid. In over 100 possessions matched up against Gasol, Embiid actually had more turnovers (7) than made field goals (6) while shooting just 6-18 from the floor. If Gasol comes anywhere close to matching that defensive production against Philly's star centre, that will prove to be a major advantage for the Raptors.

Harris meanwhile presents a different type of challenge for Toronto which we talked about back in February when the trade was originally made. His presence enables the 76ers to play huge which means Kyle Lowry could for large stretches be the only traditional point guard on the floor. Will the 33-year old Lowry chase around JJ Redick? Will be guard the 6'8" Jimmy Butler? Will Lowry be pushed into the post?

MORE: Is Kyle Lowry an elite post defender?

Given the domino effects that both Gasol and Harris present with the matchups in this series, you could make an argument that this series could ultimately prove to be a referendum on which team made the better deadline deal.

Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): Will Pascal Siakam continue to shine as the spotlight gets brighter?

Pascal Siakam has had a major breakout season and is widely considered to be the Most Improved Player of the Year.

With the significant increase in his role, he's had higher expectations this year to exceed his performance in the playoffs a season ago. He's lived up to those expectations in a big way, averaging 22.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game while shooting extremely efficiently from the field so far. He's even topped his former playoff career-high in scoring twice.

But last season when the Raptors advanced to the Conference Semifinals and stage got slightly bigger, Siakam disappeared. The young forward averaged just 7.0 points and 3.0 rebounds, taking a total of 16 shots over the Cleveland Cavaliers' four game sweep of Toronto. He scored in single digits in three of the four games and only played more than 25 minutes in a game once.

Siakam is a completely different player than a season ago, there is no denying that. He's risen to the occasion on multiple instances this season and I fully expect him to continue to be the player he has been for Toronto all year long.

I don't believe the bigger stage will change anything but let's see Siakam go out and prove it, putting the world on notice of the player he has become.

Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): Can the 76ers reserves consistently contribute?

The late-season acquisition of Tobias Harris moved the needle to where it was no debate that Philadelphia had one of the most talented starting units in the NBA.

Not many teams can roll out a lineup of four All-Star calibre players like the Sixers can. To round the group out, they roll with JJ Redick, one of the league's most tireless shooters who is a heady veteran with plenty of postseason experience.

For the most part, you know what you're going to get from Philly's starters, but the bench is where the question marks arise.

After their starters, the Sixers largely rely on the contributions of Mike Scott, James Ennis and Boban Marjanovic, but what will they bring to this series?

In the first round, Mike Scott scored 15 points in Game 2 and finished with eight points in Game 4. In Games 1, 3 and 5? Scott scored a total of five points. Can Boban keep up with Raptors big man Serge Ibaka in transition? Can Ennis make his presence felt on both ends of the floor?

While it awaits the return of OG Anunoby, Toronto also has an eight-man rotation with Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell and Ibaka coming off of the bench, but can Philly's aforementioned three match their contributions?

That could swing this series.

James McKern (@jLmcKern): Can Ben Simmons limit his turnover numbers?

It might sound crazy, but Ben Simmons' turnover numbers directly correlated to how the season series between these two teams unfolded and it's going to be a major focus for the young Aussie star if the Sixers are to make their way through to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Through the four-game regular season series, which the Raptors won 3-1, Simmons amassed a staggering 25 turnovers thanks in large part to the smothering defence of Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam and Danny Green.

But a closer look at the numbers reveals when Simmons can limit his TO numbers, the Sixers are far more likely to get the job done. In the three losses he had an average of eight turnovers a game while in the sole win he only turned the ball over once.

His efforts on the defensive end will huge for the Sixers, but if he can't keep his turnover numbers down the Sixers will once again fall in the second round of the NBA Playoffs.

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