Rejoice and be glad, east coasters (and most overseas fans, I think), the Sixers are about to play their final 10:30pm game of the entire season against the Trailblazers tonight.
The Sixers are on game three of a six-game road stretch, ending New Year's Eve, that will fulfill their west coast obligations for the ENTIRE SEASON. That's right, in 2018 they play a schedule with 22 road games (including a "home" game in London), but none are on the west coast. Aside from that small bit of transatlanticism, the Sixers never travel past San Antonio, and spend a good chink of their time on the road in the Eastern time zone. That, along with the extremely hard beginning of the season - by strength of schedule - should make the second half of the season a much smoother road for the Sixers, literally if not figuratively.
Also due to that home game 3,539 miles away, the Sixers only play 12 games in January (they will have played 15 in December), five of which are actually at home. Due to the packed-in schedule (to allow for 8 days off around the London game) the team does have 8 more back-to-backs on the season, which will presumably mean 8 more games without Joel Embiid at the very least (likely more, because duh).
Brett Brown told people that he’d hoped the Christmas Day game would be a chance to turn-around, reset, or whatever, and then Sixers came away with the win on the largest stage many of these players have sniffed in their careers. But now is the chance to make sure the losses before that were flukes, not the win itself.
The 17-16 Trailblazers are nearly the perfect opponent to test out your newfound reset-ness on. They’re just barely above .500, and will have Damian Lillard returning from a multi-game absence (hopefully the Sixers will have a questionable Joel Embiid). But these Sixers have beaten these Blazers. Not beaten, actually: Whooped. When they last met, Portland struggled all over the place, scoring a season-low 81 points (also the lowest total scored against the Sixers this season). It was the Sixers’ 2nd-largest margin of victory on the year (by 1 point). Ben Simmons had 16/9/8. Embiid had 28 and 12. CJ McCollum shot 1 for 14 from the floor. All three of those things are not going to happen again, and the last one may be the least likely.
The Trailblazers are much better than they played in these teams’ least meeting. The Sixers are probably worse. This isn’t an easy game by any stretch, but it’s a good test.
Fun fact: Tonight’s referee Mike Callahan (who is from here), just officiated Sixers/Raptors and also called the first Sixers/Blazers meetup this year. The Sixers were out FTA’d in both games not because of Callahan, but because sweet Lord they foul so much.