It’s assumed that the 76ers will use Ben Simmons to guard Raptors star Kawhi Leonard when the teams play their Eastern Conference semifinal series beginning Saturday in Toronto.
Thursday before practice, Sixers coach Brett Brown hinted that Simmons alone won’t have the task of trying to stop Leonard, who averaged 27.8 points in Toronto’s first-round series victory over Orlando.
“We have the ability to have multiple people guard Kawhi,” Brown said. “So it will be wrong to assume that is [Simmons’] matchup for the series.”
Of course, Brown said Simmons will see his share of Leonard.
“For sure, he will be on him,” Brown said. “I think we have different candidates. We hope to show Kawhi some different looks.”
One of those looks might include 6-foot-7 James Ennis, who is among the Sixers’ key reserves. Ennis also has postseason experience guarding Leonard. He did so in 2017, when Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs beat Ennis’ Memphis Grizzlies team in six games during an opening-round Western Conference series.
“He averaged 30 in the series, and I did the best I could,” said Ennis, who started four of the six games and averaged 26.5 minutes per game.
Actually, Leonard averaged 31.2 points, shooting .548 from the field and .483 from three-point range.
“I know he scored a lot on pick-and-rolls, so that will be the key,” Ennis said. “So defending pick-and-rolls and also being physical with him, making his shots tough. It is going to be a challenge, and I am excited for the challenge and ready to guard him.”
Jimmy Butler had many roles in the five-game, opening-round series against the Brooklyn Nets. In Game 1, he scored a playoff career-high 36 points. After that, he became more of a facilitator. During the Sixers’ 112-108 win in Game 4, he was an enforcer, sort of. Butler was ejected from the game after shoving Jared Dudley to the floor during a melee.
In the Brooklyn series, Butler averaged 15.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.0 steals and played his usual tough defensive game.
“I do whatever it takes for my team to win,” Butler said. “I know what I am capable of.”
He said whether he is needed to score, defend, dish, or do all of that, he’ll be ready.