Joel Embiid will be out of action for an indefinite period of time after a stray Pascal Siakam elbow fractured the Philadelphia 76ers center's orbital bone.

As well as the fracture, Embiid also suffered a mild concussion, meaning he will miss a minimum of five days as he works his way through the NBA's concussion protocol.

Embiid suffered a similar injury in 2018, which was diagnosed as a facial fracture. In that instance, the team opted to get him into surgery straight away, leading to a three-week absence.

It is reportedly undecided whether the MVP candidate will get surgery, with specialists trying to determine the severity of the injury and the different courses of action that can be taken.

Embiid has also been playing through a torn ligament in his right thumb, which he plans to have surgery on once the 76ers' season finishes.

A source of frustration for 76ers fans is the fact that the injury was sustained with less than four minutes to go, as they led by 29 points, with pundits such as Jalen Rose calling it a coaching failure by Doc Rivers to still have his stars in that game.

Philadelphia's Eastern Conference semi-final series against the Miami Heat begins on Monday night in South Beach, with Embiid almost guaranteed to be unavailable for Game 1.

The Phoenix Suns booked their spot in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, securing the series with a 115-109 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Devin Booker's return from injury gave Chris Paul more room to attack, and Paul obliged with the best shooting night in NBA playoff history.

He went a perfect 14-of-14 from the floor on the way to a game-high 33 points, making the most field goals without a miss in a single playoff game.

The Suns did not have it easy though, with Booker's three-pointer putting the Suns ahead at 106-104 with 1:42 remaining. A CJ McCollum turnover on the next possession effectively secured the Suns the series.

The Pels were up 10 at the half, but foul trouble for McCollum, Herbert Jones and Jose Alvarado made lineups and finding consequent balance complicated for first-year head coach Willie Green.

Sixers snap up Raptors

The Philadelphia 76ers will face the Miami Heat in the second round after they defeated the Toronto Raptors 132-97 in Game 6 of their series.

Joel Embiid and James Harden ultimately stepped up when required, combining for 55 points off 19-of-30 shooting. Embiid added 10 rebounds, three blocks and two steals while Harden masterfully distributed the ball with 15 assists and committed just three turnovers.

The Raptors had a brutal third quarter with their season on the line, going five-of-19 from the floor for 17 points, before Pascal Siakam eventually fouled out with 24 points.

Jazz miss chance to extend season

The Utah Jazz were eliminated from the playoffs, with the Dallas Mavericks winning Game 6 98-96 and progressing to the second round.

With 4.3 seconds remaining on the clock, Bojan Bogdanovic got the ideal look to win the game from a drawn-up play off an inbound. Spencer Dinwiddie scrambled and bought the initial pump-fake, but Bogdanovic could not convert the open look, ending the Jazz's season.

Luka Doncic was everywhere for the Mavs however, coming up with 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, as well as two steals and blocks.

The Boston Celtics have emerged as the favourites to make it through the Eastern Conference after a 116-112 win against the Brooklyn Nets confirmed a 4-0 series sweep.

In what was billed as arguably the most competitive first round series in recent memory, the Celtics were simply too good on the defensive end to let the frightening Nets offense find any rhythm or flow.

Boston's Jayson Tatum scored a team-high 29 points on nine-of-16 shooting (four-of-six from distance) before getting fouled out late in the fourth quarter, while Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart showed his offensive skills with 20 points and 11 assists.

Grant Williams did a superb job for the Celtics, coming off the bench to hit four of his six three point attempts, while also playing smothering defense on Kevin Durant and swatting away three shots.

Despite Williams' best efforts, Durant was still a force offensively, scoring a game-high 39 points on 13-of-31 shooting while adding nine assists and seven rebounds in 47 minutes.

Kyrie Irving played 45 minutes, and finished with a respectable line of 20 points, five rebounds and five assists, but he went missing for long stretches of the must-win game. Irving attempted just 13 shots, which was the same number as Seth Curry, who outscored him with 23 points.

An early storyline in the game, and ultimately one of the deciding factors, was Brooklyn's reserve center Nic Claxton missing the first 10 free throws he attempted, finishing the game one-for-11.

Raptors make things interesting

The Toronto Raptors refuse to lay down against the Philadelphia 76ers, winning Game 5 103-88 on the road to pull the series back to 3-2, with Game 6 heading back to Canada.

Toronto trailed 3-0 after three games, but have won back-to-back fixtures with their season on the line to put the pressure back on Philadelphia.

Game 5 was won on the defensive end, as the Raptors took control of the contest with a 25-14 second quarter.

Toronto forced 16 Philadelphia turnovers while only committing nine themselves, and they held the home side to 38 per cent shooting (31-of-81), with the visitors shooting 51 per cent (42-of-82).

With Fred VanVleet out of action, Pascal Siakam assumed point guard duties for Toronto, finishing with 23 points (10-of-17 shooting) with 10 rebounds and seven assists, while Precious Achiuwa added 17 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in 27 minutes off the bench.

Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes showed his talent in his return to the starting line up, scoring 12 points, grabbing eight rebounds, dishing four assists and snatching a game-high three steals.

For the 76ers, Joel Embiid was kept quiet by his standards with 20 points and 11 rebounds from just 15 field goal attempts as the Raptors consistently double-teamed him and forced Philadelphia's role players to hit shots.

James Harden was disappointing, with just 15 points and seven assists to go with five turnovers.

No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit.

 

Dallas' defense hits new heights

The last game of the night was also the least competitive, as the Dallas Mavericks flashed some unbelievable defensive upside in a 102-77 win against the Utah Jazz.

Prior to the game, Utah's lowest score of the season was a 124-90 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans in March, with the 77-point figure being their lowest score since November 2018 – in a 118-68 loss to the Mavericks.

Dallas now leads the series 3-2, with Game 6 to be played in Utah, and while the Mavs' defense stole the show, Luka Doncic was the best player on the floor.

Doncic had 33 points (11-of-22 shooting) in 33 minutes, with 13 rebounds and five assists, while partner-in-crime Jalen Brunson chipped in with 24 points on nine-of-20 shooting with four assists and just one turnover.

Utah only scored more than 19 points in one quarter – the last, when the game was sealed – as the Mavericks won the first three frames by margins of 24-18, 28-18 and 29-19.

It was the lowest-scoring game of Donovan Mitchell's playoff career, finishing with just nine points on four-of-15 shooting. Of Mitchell's four career playoff games with 12 points or fewer, this was the first since April 2019.

The Boston Celtics inched closer to sweeping the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday, claiming a 3-0 series lead with a 109-103 victory at the Barclays Center.

Jayson Tatum notched up 39 points on 13-of-29 shooting, six assists, five rebounds and six steals in the win for the Celtics, who continued to lock down Kevin Durant.

Though Durant shot 54.5 per cent from the floor, moving him to 17-of-52 for the series, he did it on 11 shots on Saturday as the flexible and intense Celtics defensive scheme continued to force the ball out of his hands. Kyrie Irving also went six-of-17 from the floor.

Bruce Brown was the highest scorer for the Nets with 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting, but he and Durant contributed to 10 of the team's 20 turnovers, from which Boston scored 25 points.

The Celtics led for the whole of the second half and whenever the Nets would threaten with a scoring run, managed to make timely buckets and secure a big road win.

Gobert gets up for Jazz win

Luka Doncic's return from injury was not enough for the Dallas Mavericks as the Utah Jazz evened up their series at 2-2, earning a 100-99 win.

Rudy Gobert gave Utah the lead with an alley-oop dunk with 11 seconds remaining in Game 4, before Spencer Dinwiddie missed a three-ball at the buzzer for the Mavs.

While Doncic had 30 points in his first game back from a strained calf, Dallas were kept to just 18 points in the fourth quarter, shooting six-of-18 from the floor.  

Siakam sizzles as Raptors avoid sweep

Pascal Siakam scored 15 of his of 34 points in the fourth quarter as the Toronto Raptors avoided a series sweep, defeating the Philadelphia 76ers 110-102.

Despite a 19-point deficit in points off turnovers, Toronto continually managed to penetrate and get on the break, holding a combined 25-point advantage for points in the paint and fast-break points.

Nursing an injured thumb, Joel Embiid shot seven-of-16 from the floor for his 21 points to go with eight rebounds, but also coughed up five turnovers.

Timberwolves level series with Grizzlies

Karl-Anthony Towns bounced back from a disappointing Game 3 to help the Minnesota Timberwolves even their playoff series with the Memphis Grizzlies, winning 119-118.

After going missing in Game 3, taking only four shots as the Grizzlies overcame a 26-point deficit, Towns was more assertive from the outset, adding 13 rebounds to 33 points.

Anthony Edwards' fingerprints were all over the game however, coming up with 24 points on seven-of-14 shooting, four rebounds, four assists, two steals and three blocks.

The Brooklyn Nets showed how they plan to approach their playoff rotation in a 118-107 home win against the Cleveland Cavaliers to leapfrog into the seven seed with one more game to play. 

In a game considered a must-win for the Nets to avoid the much more difficult Play-In Tournament setup for teams who finish ninth and 10th, Brooklyn cut their rotation down to eight players while Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Bruce Brown all played at least 39 minutes.

Seth Curry and Andre Drummond filled out the starting five, while Kessler Edwards, Patty Mills and Nic Claxton came off the bench, with LaMarcus Aldrige, Blake Griffin and rookie Cam Thomas out of the mix.

Durant went on to finish with a game-high 36 points on 11-of-20 shooting (four-of-six from long range, 10-of-10 from the free throw line) to go with five assists, five rebounds, two steals and a block, while Brown had 10 rebounds, eight assists and four blocks to go with his 18 points (six-of-12 shooting).

With the win, Brooklyn is now in position to host their first Play-In Tournament game – likely against the Cavaliers – with the winner entering the playoffs as the seven seed, while the loser gets another chance to play for the eight seed.

Most Improved Player contender Darius Garland was spectacular for the Cavs, scoring 31 points on 12-of-24 shooting, but the loss means his side has now lost eight of their past 10, and have been sputtering without injured center Jarrett Allen.

Overall, the Cavaliers are 43-38 this season, but just 8-17 in games Allen has missed.

No stoppin' Obi Toppin

It was a career night for New York Knicks cult figure Obi Toppin as he scored a career-high 35 points in his side's 114-92 away win against the Washington Wizards.

In only his eighth start of the season, the former first-round pick shot 14-of-22 from the field, including six-of-nine from deep, while fellow fan-favorite Immanuel Quickley was terrific off the bench, scoring 23 points (nine-of-18 shooting) with 10 assists.

 

Siakam shines, Heat hang on

Pascal Siakam seems destined to receive All-NBA honors this season after another great performance lifted his Toronto Raptors to a 117-115 win against the Houston Rockets.

In his past 10 games, Siakam is averaging 27 points, nine rebounds and six assists while shooting 53 per cent from the field, and improved those numbers with 29 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists against the Rockets.

Meanwhile, the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks played their shortened playoff rotations, and Trae Young's 35 points and eight assists was not enough as the top-seeded Heat prevailed 113-109 at home.

The Miami Heat clinched the first seed in the Eastern Conference, as the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Boston Celtics 127-121 on Thursday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday each scored 29 points in the win, while the former also added 11 rebounds and five assists. Khris Middleton was close to a triple-double with 22 points on nine-of-18 shooting, along with eight rebounds and nine assists.

On the second night of a back-to-back after their win in Chicago, the Celtics rested Jayson Tatum and Al Horford, and only just lost on the road against a fellow contender in the East.

Marcus Smart shot seven-of-12 from beyond the arc and was the Celtics' leading scorer with a season-high 29 points. Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown came up with a triple-double of 22 points, a career-high 11 assists, along with 10 rebounds.

With the win, however, the Bucks moved past the Celtics into second spot in the East, effectively clinching home court for Miami in the playoffs.

Raps edge past short-handed Sixers

Pascal Siakam put up a triple-double in the Toronto Raptors' 119-114 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.

Matisse Thybulle missed the game, raising speculation over whether he is vaccinated against coronavirus, with unvaccinated foreign nationals prohibited from entering Canada.

Siakam's consequent ability to get into the paint counteracted his one-of-seven from the perimeter, putting up 37 points on 14-of-28 shooting, along with 12 assists and 11 rebounds.

Warriors win builds pre-playoff confidence

The Golden State Warriors continued to build momentum without the injured Stephen Curry, securing a 128-112 victory at home to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Having already been eliminated from play-in contention, the Lakers were without LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook. Talen Horton-Tucker scored a career-high 40 points on 15-of-28 shooting.

It was the Dubs' third consecutive win and their last game in the Bay Area before the playoffs, heading on the road to San Antonio and New Orleans to close out the regular season.

The Miami Heat are now just one win away from securing the Eastern Conference's top seed after they smashed the Charlotte Hornets 144-114 on Tuesday.

Having tied their franchise record for three-pointers in a game on three separate occasions this season, the Heat broke that record against the Hornets, connecting on 23 of 42 total attempts.

Tyler Herro contributed eight of those buckets beyond the arc from 14 attempts and in doing so, also tied the single-game franchise record for points off the bench with 35, previously held by Dwyane Wade.

On any other night, it would have been a satisfactory performance from the Hornets, but Heat were automatic, with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo only combining for 49 of the team's points with Kyle Lowry out.

The 49-30 Boston Celtics momentarily remain within touching distance, having played a game less than the 52-28 Heat.

Meanwhile, the Hornets have already wrapped up the Eastern Conference's last play-in spot.

Raptors secure playoffs in East

Pascal Siakam put up 31 points and 13 rebounds as the Toronto Raptors clinched a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, defeating the Atlanta Hawks 118-108.

This victory, coupled with the Cleveland Cavaliers' loss to the Orlando Magic, ensured the Raps will finish no lower than sixth in the East. They also rose to fifth after the Chicago Bulls lost to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Five other Raptors finished on double digit points as Scottie Barnes and Chris Boucher scored 19 and 18 points respectively, Gary Trent Jr. had 14, Fred VanVleet 12 and Precious Achiuwa 11.

Lakers knocked out of West's play-in race

The Los Angeles Lakers have been eliminated from Western Conference play-in calculations, losing 121-110 to the Phoenix Suns, whose 63rd win this season made for a new franchise record.

The desperate Lakers needed a win to stay in touching distance with the New Orleans Pelicans but had a mountain to climb against the Suns, who had won all three games head-to-head this season.

Devin Booker showed characteristic smoothness and composure, putting up 32 points on 12-of-22 shooting as well as four of five three-pointers when his team broke the game open.

With the league MVP seemingly down to a two-horse race between Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic, the Denver Nuggets big man dominated yet again as his side beat the Charlotte Hornets 113-109.

Jokic, who is following up his MVP win last season with the greatest playmaking season of any centre in the 21st century, finished the contest with 26 points (nine-of-17 shooting), 19 rebounds and 11 assists.

All five Nuggets starters scored at least 14 points, with Jokic and Aaron Gordon both finishing with a plus-minus of at least plus 20, indicating that it was Denver's mediocre bench unit that struggled enough to keep things close.

Reigning Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball was terrific for the Hornets, scoring 22 points (eight-of-21 shooting) with 11 assists and six rebounds.


Boston sits stars, lose one seed

Playing without star duo Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Boston Celtics pushed fellow Eastern Conference contenders Toronto Raptors all the way before ultimately losing 115-112 in overtime.

The star of the show was Raptor Pascal Siakam, who hit two clutch free throws to send the game to overtime on his way to final tallies of 40 points (17-of-29 shooting) and 13 rebounds to go with three steals and two blocks.

Despite the loss, which sent the Celtics from the one seed toppling down to the four seed, they are now 22-4 in their past 26 games dating back to the end of January.

 

Miami regain top spot, Barrett beats Bulls

With Boston falling out of the Eastern Conference's top seed, the Miami Heat have reclaimed it, beating the Sacramento Kings 123-100 after a recent rough stretch.

Jimmy Butler (27 points on 10-of-14 shooting) and Bam Adebayo (22 points on 10-of-16 shooting) starred for Miami, while Sixth Man of the Year lock Tyler Herro chipped in with 20 points off the bench.

Meanwhile, the flailing Chicago Bulls have now lost six of their past eight after another disappointing defeat at the hands of the New York Knicks 109-104.

R.J. Barrett continued his ascension, scoring 28 points on 10-of-24 shooting in 43 minutes.

Devin Booker put on a show with 49 points as Chris Paul returned from a broken wrist as the Phoenix Suns clinched top spot in the Western Conference with a 140-130 win over the Denver Nuggets.

Booker's 49 points was a season-high, while 36-year-old Paul returned for the first time since February 20 with 17 points, including 15 in the first half, and 13 assists as the Suns secured their sixth straight win.

Three-time All-Star Booker shot 16-of-25 from the field and also had 10 assists, with Mikal Bridges contributing 22 points from eight-of-nine shooting.

The win means the Suns have secured the NBA's best record for the third time in franchise history, following on from 1992-93 and 2004-05.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic had 28 points with six rebounds and six assists for the Nuggets, who are 43-31 and holding on to sixth spot in the Western Conference.

 

Grizzlies and Bucks win without stars

The Memphis Grizzlies won again without Ja Morant with a 133-103 victory over the Indiana Pacers. Desmond Bane scored 30 points with five assists and five rebounds as the Grizzlies improved to 16-2 without Morant.

The Milwaukee Bucks triumphed without Khris Middleton (wrist) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (knee) with Jrue Holiday starring with 24 points and 10 assists in a 114-102 win over the Washington Wizards.

Pascal Siakam equalled his season-high 35 points as the Toronto Raptors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 117-104 in a crucial game in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

 

DeRozan out as Bulls slide continues

The Chicago Bulls slipped to their fifth defeat from their past six games, going down 126-109 to the New Orleans Pelicans. The Bulls are fifth in the east with a 42-31 record, just ahead of the Cavs and Raptors (both 41-32).

The Bulls, who were without DeMar DeRozan due to a left groin issue, were dominated 40-24 by the Pels in the fourth quarter, led by Devonte' Graham (30 points including five three-pointers) and Jonas Valanciunas (16 points and 19 rebounds).

Zach LaVine was Chicago's best with 39 points in DeRozan's absence, going 12-of-23 from the field, while Coby White added 23 points off the bench including five triples.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic recorded another triple-double as the Los Angeles Lakers slumped below .500 again following a 133-96 humiliation at the hands of the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

Nuggets center Jokic finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds and 13 assists and brought up his triple-double in the third quarter, as Denver piled on 73 first-half points before restricting the Lakers to only 36 points in the second half.

LeBron James scored 25 points with nine rebounds and two blocks for the Lakers, while Russell Westbrook had 19 points, five rebounds and three assists.

The defeat means the Lakers, who are still without Anthony Davis due to injury, move to a 21-22 record after losing three games in a row.

Bones Hyland was brilliant off the bench for Denver, who improve to 22-19, with a career-high 27 points including six triples and 10 rebounds.

 

Durant injured as Nets win

Kevin Durant limped out with a knee sprain as James Harden had 27 points, eight rebounds and 15 assists while Patty Mills scored 21 points as the Brooklyn Nets won 120-105 over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Pascal Siakam over-shadowed Giannis Antetokounmpo with a triple-double with 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists as the Toronto Raptors won 103-96 over the Milwaukee Bucks. Antetokounmpo scored 30 points with six rebounds and four assists.

Jayson Tatum had 23 points with 12 rebounds as the Boston Celtics won 114-112 to condemn the Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Bulls to three straight losses, while Darius Garland had 27 points and a career-high 18 assists in the Cleveland Cavaliers' comeback 107-102 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

 

Butler struggles as Heat go cold

Jimmy Butler struggled from the field, making one of 11 for his eight points as the Miami Heat's four-game winning streak was ended by the in-form Philadelphia 76ers 109-98. Joel Embiid had 32 points with 12 rebounds for the 76ers.

The Los Angeles Lakers slumped to their sixth loss in seven games with LeBron James finishing their 121-114 defeat to the Toronto Raptors injured in the locker room on Sunday.

James left the court in the fourth quarter due to a sore right ankle, the same ankle which sidelined the Lakers superstar for 20 games until his return against the Sacramento Kings on Friday.

The four-time MVP played 28 minutes, scoring 19 points with seven rebounds and six assists but he could not inspire reigning NBA champions the Lakers to reverse their worrying form ahead of the playoffs.

Toronto forward Pascal Siakam was exceptional with a season-high 39 points, 13 rebounds and four assists, while veteran guard Kyle Lowry also had a double-double with 37 points, including three three-pointers, and 11 assists.

The result means the Lakers slip to 36-28 and sixth spot in the Western Conference, while the Raptors are 27-38.

 

Giannis comes out on top against KD

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 49 points as the Milwaukee Bucks overcame the star-studded Brooklyn Nets 117-114 in their heavyweight Eastern Conference meeting. Making his return after a minor ankle issue, two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo also had eight rebounds and four assists, while Khris Middleton contributed 26 points and 11 rebounds in a key supporting role. Durant did his best to lift the Nets with 42 points and 10 rebounds.

Joel Embiid had his 14th game with 30 or more points and 10 rebounds, with only Antetokounmpo having more this season, as the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers won 113-111 in overtime against the San Antonio Spurs. MVP hopeful Embiid finished with 34 points and 12 rebounds after OT, with Seth Curry adding 22 points.

Devin Booker had 32 points to lead the high-flying Phoenix Suns to a 123-120 victory over the lowly Oklahoma City Thunder.

The New York Knicks kept up their hot run with 122-97 win against the Houston Rockets, fuelled by All-Star Julius Randle's 31 points in three quarters.

C.J. McCollum (33 points), Damian Lillard (26 points and 13 assists) and Jusuf Nurkic (14 points and 11 rebounds) combined to lead the Portland Trail Blazers past the Boston Celtics 129-119. Jayson Tatum's 33 points were not enough for the Celtics. Per Stats Perform, the Trail Blazers are the first team in NBA history to have four consecutive home losses immediately followed by four straight road victories.

 

From hero to zero

Dorian Finney-Smith nailed the game-winner for the Dallas Mavericks against the Washington Wizards on Saturday. But he was struggled in the 111-99 loss to the Sacramento Kings. Finney-Smith was one-for-seven shooting in 35 minutes, missing all five of his three-point attempts for just three points.

 

Timely tip from Simmons

Ben Simmons tipped home in the nick of time after Embiid's attempted buzzer-beating shot missed in the 76ers' win over the Spurs.

 

Sunday's results

Milwaukee Bucks 117-114 Brooklyn Nets
Portland Trail Blazers 129-119 Boston Celtics
New York Knicks 122-97 Houston Rockets
Philadelphia 76ers 113-111 San Antonio Spurs (OT)
Phoenix Suns 123-120 Oklahoma City Thunder
Sacramento Kings 111-99 Dallas Mavericks
Miami Heat 121-111 Charlotte Hornets
Toronto Raptors 121-114 Los Angeles Lakers

 

Nuggets at Lakers

The Lakers (36-28) have a big test to get back on track in the Western Conference against Nikola Jokic's Denver Nuggets (43-21) with playoffs seedings up for grabs.

Sergio Scariolo made sure it was business as usual for the Toronto Raptors despite the absence of six coaches – and one key player – for the victory over the Houston Rockets.

Head coach Nick Nurse and five of his assistants were unable to be involved with the team for Friday's game due to health and safety protocols amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Raptors also recently lost assistant Chris Finch – who has taken over as head coach at the Minnesota Timberwolves – from their staff, yet Scariolo smoothly stepped up to take on the lead role, despite receiving little notice about his unexpected promotion.

Nurse had a video call with his temporary replacement prior to the game, with Toronto going on to triumph 122-111 to move to 17-17 for the season.

"It was different, because everything happened so fast. We had to re-adjust tasks, timing, schedule, so we had to go a little bit on the fly," Scariolo explained to the media after the game.

"But the players did a great job, and the remaining coaches – the few guys left – were great. The guys who were not with us tonight did a great job also, in terms of the game preparation.

"Coach Nurse was always there – we had a Zoom call before the game. This is teamwork, basically. There is a guy who stays on the sidelines who makes so decisions, but within coach Nurse's philosophy this has always been about teamwork, about a group, so I felt pretty comfortable."

The Raptors - who are playing their home games this season in Florida due to travel restrictions in place during the global pandemic, were also without Pascal Siakam due to NBA protocols.

However, 30 points from Norm Powell and 25 and 20 respectively from backcourt duo Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry saw them overcome the Rockets.

It helped that Scariolo knows all about the responsibilities of taking charge, too. As well as working for the Raptors, the Italian is also the head coach of the Spanish national team, leading them to a silver medal at the London Olympics in 2012, followed four years later by bronze in Rio.

Having only just returned from international duty with Spain, the 59-year-old went through a period of quarantine before joining up again with the Raptors - a unique set of circumstances that allowed him to be available to cover for absent colleagues.

"I think this is a subject for a book, rather than an answer!" Scariolo told the media.

"I came back on Monday and was tested immediately after the trip from Poland, we had played there, played two games. Fortunately we won both, so it was worth the effort to go back and forth.

"I quarantined and got tested every day, then travelled to Miami by car by myself. I stayed totally separated from the coaches and the players. Then yesterday we had this situation coming out.

"I was working on preparing for this game as normal, then suddenly at night I got a few texts and realised things were going to change."

It was never going to be easy for the Toronto Raptors, not when you are living out of hotels and temporary residences more than 2,000 miles from your home city. Not when you dwell in by far the most top-heavy division in the Eastern Conference.

Still, the way the 2018-19 NBA champions have performed more like a bottom-feeding also-ran than a presumed title contender during the nascent stages of a challenging 2020-21 season is at least a cause for concern. And the difficult circumstances the Raptors find themselves under, playing their home games in Tampa, Florida, after being forced southward by travel restrictions by the Canadian government, does not reasonably explain all their early problems. 

It is not the sole reason Toronto has been among the league's most inept scoring teams thus far, ranking 26th in offensive rating and dead last in field goal percentage. It is not why the Raptors have been routinely steamrolled in the second half of games during their 1-6 start (their sixth loss of last season did not come until their 21st game, by the way).

No, there's a bit more to it than that. And while it is certainly not time to press the panic button just yet, there are a few areas the Raptors clearly need to improve on if they are to at least extend their current seven-year streak of playoff appearances. 

THE SHOTS ARE NOT FALLING, ESPECIALLY FROM LONG DISTANCE 

The 3-point shot has always been a big part of the Raptors' game since Nick Nurse took over as head coach, as they ranked sixth in the NBA in 3-point rate (the ratio of 3-pointers attempted to total field goal attempts) last season and 10th during their 2018-19 championship campaign. So far in 2020-21, nearly half (49.2 per cent) of Toronto's shots have come from behind the arc – the highest total in the league. 

The difference is this Raptors are not hitting those shots at nearly the same proficiency as before. Toronto's 34.2 success rate ranks 24th in the league. The Raptors finished no lower than sixth in either of the past two seasons. 

In 2019-20, the Raptors had six players with at least three 3-point attempts per game shoot 38 percent or better from long range, tied with Detroit for the most in the NBA. Only three current players (Fred VanVleet, Chris Boucher, Matt Thomas) can make that claim so far this season. 

Two players who accomplished that feat in 2019-20, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, have moved on. Aron Baynes, a 35 percent 3-point shooter over the past two seasons, was signed with the intent to fill the void, but he is 3-of-16 on triple attempts thus far. Holdover OG Anunoby, just weeks removed from signing a four-year, $72million extension, is 12-of-41 (29.3 percent) after hitting at a 39 percent clip in 2019-20. 

WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, PASCAL SIAKAM? 

Siakam's well-documented struggles in Toronto's seven-game loss to Boston in last season's Eastern Conference semi-finals may not have been a blip on the radar.

The Celtics masterfully neutralised the forward by deploying the smaller Jaylen Brown as his primary defender, and teams have been successfully following that blueprint during the early stages of this season. 

The plan is working so far, too. Often drawing defenders with the length and athleticism to give him problems (Philadelphia's Ben Simmons and San Antonio's Rudy Gay were particularly effective), Siakam is simply not getting to the rim with the same frequency as past years, and (see below) has been among the least efficient players of his size when doing so.

LOWEST FG PERCENTAGE AT THE RIM – PLAYERS 6'9" OR TALLER - IN 2020-21 SEASON (minimum 100 minutes played) 

Isaiah Stewart, Det .478 
Pascal Siakam, Tor .488 
LaMarcus Aldridge, SA .500 
Brook Lopez, Mil .500 
Jusuf Nurkic, Por .500 
Dwight Powell, Dal .500 

The Raptors have been outscored by an astonishing 63 points with Siakam on the court, an average of 10.5 per game that is eclipsed only by a pair of players from the likely lottery bound Timberwolves (D'Angelo Russell, Ed Davis) for the worst mark in the league. 

It has been a humbling start for the 2018-19 NBA Most Improved Player, and that frustration was no more evident than when he bolted straight to the locker room after fouling out late in a loss to the 76ers. Nurse benched him for the next game, which happens to be the only one the Raptors have won so far.

Siakam did look more like his old self in Wednesday's outing at Phoenix, when he put up 32 points and shot over 50 percent from the field for the first time this season. It goes without saying the Raptors need him to return to his All-Star form, as they were 19-1 when he scored 25 or more points in a game in 2019-20. 

LEADS ARE SLIPPING AWAY 

Six teams have lost multiple times when holding a double-digit lead in a game so far. The Rockets, Hawks, Wizards and Pistons have done so twice, the Grizzlies three times. The Raptors have five such losses through their first seven outings.

Starting well hasn't been a problem - Toronto is outscoring opponents by an average of 4.3 points in the first quarter, the second-best mark in the NBA behind only Milwaukee. Starting the second half well has been a real issue, however. The Raptors have been outscored by an average of 5.4 points in the third quarter, with only the Timberwolves and Cavaliers having been worse.

In contrast, the Raptors outscored foes by 4.3 points per game in the third quarter (fourth-best in the NBA) while going 53-19 last season. They ranked second in the league during their 2018-19 title run.  

So what's the reason for the dramatic drop-off? Is it because Toronto fields one of the league's older rosters? The Raptors are one of only three teams with two starters (Baynes and Kyle Lowry) aged 34 or older. One of the others is the Lakers, however, so there goes that theory. 

A lack of depth is the more plausible answer. The Raptors rank 27th in the NBA in bench scoring, though they also had one of the league's least productive second units last season. That was less of an issue in 2019-20 because the starting five was often so good. With Siakam, Anunoby and Baynes all underperforming thus far, it has quickly become a more pressing concern. 

THE BOTTOM LINE 

There's no cause for alarm yet for Toronto fans just yet regarding their snowbird team. If not for a few bad stretches, the Raptors could just as easily be 5-2 instead of 1-6, and a defense that is still among the NBA's better units has kept them in every game in spite of their inefficiencies on the other end. 

There is enough of a track record throughout the roster to suggest that the offense will come around. It needs to as well for a team that has been built on the premise of winning now and whose window may be closing soon.

Lowry, the Raptors' unquestioned heart and soul, is in the final year of his contract and turns 35 in March. Does team president Masai Ujiri consider moving him at the trade deadline if Toronto finds itself fighting for merely a playoff spot instead of a division title? 

The next two months should be very intriguing in Toronto. And Tampa as well.  

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