TORONTO — Now comes the tough part.
The 76ers are fresh off much-needed consecutive road victories over New York and Brooklyn. But they were against undermanned and struggling squads.
Monday’s 117-111 victory was over the Nets minus All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and losers of four straight games. Two nights before, the Sixers escaped with a 90-87 win over a New York Knicks without guards R.J. Barrett (right ankle sprain), Dennis Smith Jr. (oblique strain), and Wayne Ellington (illness). It was New York’s third straight loss.
The Knicks (12-32) and Nets (18-24) are a combined 30-56.
Now, the Sixers are north of the border ready to face the Toronto Raptors, winners of four straight games and seven of their last 10. The Raptors (29-14) have the Eastern Conference’s third-best record and have won the last 14 regular-season meetings against Philly at Scotiabank Arena.
So Wednesday’s 7 p.m. ESPN game between Atlantic Division rivals will be the true test.
The Sixers (29-16, 8-14 on the road) had lost six consecutive road games before winning the two games in New York. The Raptors are 15-7 at home.
The game will mark the third meeting between the two teams of the season with the home team winning both games. Toronto beat the Sixers, 101-96, in Canada on Nov. 25, a night when the Sixers’ Joel Embiid went scoreless, missing all 11 of his shots and going 0-for-3 from the foul line.
This time, the two-time All-Star will be sidelined after having surgery on Jan. 6 to repair a torn ligament in his left ring finger.
Wednesday’s game could be one step further in determining a possible tiebreaker in the playoffs. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Sixers were in fifth place and one game behind the Raptors in the East standings.
“And you are in Toronto, which wasn’t such a fond memory not so long ago for us," head coach Brett Brown said. "So to dismiss it like it’s another game like you are playing the Knicks, for us it isn’t ... "
In regards to the not-so-fond memory, Brown was asked to clarify. Did he mean the November game or last season’s heartbreaking Game 7 loss in Eastern Conference semifinal series?
The Sixers’ postseason concluded thanks to Kawhi Leonard’s fadeaway jumper just inside the three-point line at the buzzer. His high-arcing shot hit the rim four times before dropping into the basket for a 92-90 outcome.
“I’m talking about everything,” Brown said. “Like there’s a history. I mean, mostly, the most stinging thing still remains the playoffs. I’ve said honestly you move on. But you can’t help, but like have it hang around.”
Brown said that out of respect for the defending NBA champions.
Now he wants the Sixers to keep their road winning streak intact while understanding that “pretty good” defense contributed to the streak.
The Sixers aren’t going to discount their victories over the Knicks and Nets, though.
Ben Simmons said the Raptors will be a good test, but every game is a test.
“For us, getting those wins in New York and Brooklyn were wins that we needed,” Al Horford said. “This is just another opportunity. But I feel like we are a proven team already.
"At this point, it’s just a road game and we’re trying to win.”