In a season that seemed like it'd never come, the 2011-12 NBA season is officially upon us. It kicked off Christmas Day with five marquee match-ups and continues tonight with a full slate of games. The Sixers season begins on the West Coast, with five consecutive road games – the first being in the Rose Garden against the Blazers, notoriously one of the most difficult places to play for opposing teams. The Sixers however, have faired well against Portland, in Portland over the last three years; they own a 4-2 overall record, winning two of three in Portland.
Though they have seemingly been left for dead by many, because of they're bad luck with injuries (Brandon Roy's knees falling off, Greg Oden's knees falling off and LaMarcus Aldridge's heart problem) the Blazers are still a dangerous team with plenty of talented players. Much like the Sixers, they lack a true superstar, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a seven man rotation with less holes than the Blazers.
Player-for-player the Blazers are a tough match-up, because the Sixers own no significant advantages. Iguodala and Wallace cancel each other out. Aldridge and Camby are much better than Brand and Hawes. Neither Felton or Matthews are soft enough defensively for Jrue and/or Turner to exploit easily. And the normally advantageous bench play of Lou Williams and Thad Young is countered with an equally potent combo of Jamal Crawford and Nic Batum.
Continuity: another advantage the Sixers will have during the abbreviated 2011-12 season, will be once again canceled out by the Blazers, who have similar continuity, with the exceptions of Ray Felton and Jamal Crawford.
None of this sounds good for a Sixers win to open the season. No match-up advantages, a small continuity advantage, and the treacherous task of playing in the Rose Garden. However; the fine folks at Blazer's Edge describe three ways the Sixers can beat the Blazers tonight, one of which being the following:
This game could fall prey to intangibles...effort, hustle, taking care of the ball. Portland has historically experienced highs and lows in this department. Philadelphia will get overmatched on a given night but they won't usually lose for lack of effort, at least not under Collins. You know what kind of game they're going to come with. You don't always know about the Blazers. That's a Philly advantage.
The Sixers can beat the Blazers by out-hustling them, out-athleticising them and playing lockdown halfcourt defense. All things are possible, but not probable. In my mind the Sixers basically have to play a perfect game to beat the Blazers in the Rose Garden, on opening night – that place is going to be hostile. But over the years the Sixers have found ways to beat the Blazers, even in Portland. They've also found ways to win games they have no business winning. That's what hustle, heart and youth will do for a team.
The line in Vegas is Blazers -4 – sounds about right. I'd take the Blazers with the points. I hope I'm wrong. Check out Blazer's Edge for awesome Blazers insight, and read this incredible Brandon Roy story by Ben Golliver.
Game thread will be up later. You know the drill. Go Sixers!