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Sixers vs. Raptors: Battle of the Resurgent Center Busts

Jan 7, 2012, 6:32 PM EDT

The Philadelphia 76ers face the Toronto Raptors in their first Atlantic Division matchup of the year.

Andrea Bargnani is a highly-touted seven-footer taken high in the draft
about a half-decade ago. His first few years, he struggled greatly
adjusting to the pro game, and he had to endure a lot of losing and a
lot of bust-type accusations. But this year, it seems like he’s finally
starting to put it together—he’s scoring inside and connecting from
range, he’s rebounding better, and he’s become more reliable on defense,
largely thanks to some strong coaching. As a result, his team has
started off the season stronger than many have expected.

Sound familiar? It should—it’s almost the exact same story as that of
our own project big man, Spencer Hawes. There are some major
differences, of course—Hawes was only taken with the #10 pick while
Bargnani was #1 overall in 2006, Bargnani has already had his first big
payday, signing for $50 million / 5 years three off-seasons ago, and his
production had already started to approach his hype, as he averaged
over 21 points a game last year (albeit with mediocre shooting numbers,
lackluster rebounding and poor defense). But there’s no doubt that both
Bargs and the Unibrow are having career years so far in ’11-12, with
Bargnani scoring 23 a game on 54% shooting for the 3-4 Raptors, and
Hawes averaging a near 14/12 for the Sixers on inconceivable (and
unsustainable) 65% shooting.

The Barganni-Hawes matchup will undoubtedly be the one most worth
watching in tonight’s home game against the Raptors, though the Sixers’
entire starting lineup is littered with questions right now. Will Jrue
Holiday start attacking the basket again? Will Jodie Meeks retain his
stroke from last night’s hot streak? Will Andre Iguodala rediscover the
touch he flashed earlier this season? Will Elton Brand find a way to get
involved with the offense after being their most consistent producer
last season? Thaddeus Young, Lou Williams and (for the most part) Evan
Turner have all been solid as expected coming off the pine, but our
starting unit still leaves a lot to be desired across the board, and we
can’t expect our bench to bail us out every time, as they’ve been doing
so far this season.

8:00 tip from the WFC. The Sixers go into their first Atlantic matchup
one game above the Celtics and one-and-a-half above the Raps, their
first division lead of any size in recent memory. With upcoming games
against Toronto, Indiana, Sacramento, New York and the Wizards (twice),
there’s no reason why the Sixers can’t expand that lead further over the
next week, before the schedule starts getting a little more
challenging. Let’s keep this momentum—legitimate momentum, this early in
the season!—going as long as we can.