3) Toronto Raptors vs. Philadelphia 76ers
This scenario is more reliant upon the Raptors losing games, as the 76ers are virtually locked into either the fifth or sixth seed. Regardless, Toronto could still feasibly see Joel Embiid and crew in the first round this season.
If any one team is going to have its results affected by the move to Disney World, it might be Philadelphia. Owners of a sterling 29-2 home record (first in the league) and a paltry 10-24 road record (24th in the league), it’s safe to say the Sixers like to have their raucous home crowd behind them.
With every game at Disney slated to be completely neutral in every possible way, Philly is going to have to rely on its talent to shine through. And boy, do they have talent.
Ben Simmons and Embiid are bona fide superstars. While they’ve lost Jimmy Butler from the team that took the Raptors to seven games last season, their offseason addition of Al Horford provides a fresh wrinkle for Nick Nurse to lose sleep over.
Search the phrase “Joel Embiid vs Marc Gasol” on YouTube and you will find two conflicting videos. The top result will likely be a clip from the Eastern Conference Semifinals, in which Gasol holds Embiid scoreless en route to a Raptors victory.
The second video will likely be a clip of Paul Pierce stating that “Gasol cannot guard this man,” in reference to Embiid. As anybody who follows basketball media knows, the man known as “The Truth” in his playing days (mostly) spews anything but. Either way, Gasol’s ability to quell Embiid’s unique offensive approach will have a major say in how this series plays out.
Another key matcup to keep an eye on is how Pascal Siakam handles Simmons. The Australian PG was kept in check for the majority of last season’s series, but will Siakam be able to devote as much energy as he did last year guarding Simmons when his responsibilities on the offensive end have increased?
Also, with Simmons’ size demanding Siakam to defend him, will Kyle Lowry be able to hold his own guarding a larger player? All signs point to yes as the answer to the latter question, but these factors will make this series a very intriguing one, whether it comes to fruition in the first or second round.