After breaking their five-game losing streak Thursday night in Denver, the 9-7 Philadelphia 76ers look to start a new winning streak tonight against Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers. Tonight is the second of this season’s home-and-home between the two clubs; the Sixers won the previous meeting in Philadelphia at the beginning of the month, 113-103. Notably, that Sixers victory came without the services of Joel Embiid, a feat Philadelphia will need to replicate tonight, as Embiid and Matisse Thybulle remain out due to health and safety protocols. Additionally, Danny Green remains day-to-day with hamstring tightness.
Philadelphians have kept a close eye on the Blazers this season, as Lillard remains the primary protagonist of Sixers fan fiction in terms of a Ben Simmons trade return. Unfortunately, the wheels haven’t quite fallen off yet for the Trail Blazers like Sixers fans might have hoped. The Blazers have won their last two games, including a 112-107 win over Chicago Wednesday night, to return to .500 at 8-8 on the season. Lillard has been dealing with a nagging abdominal injury and struggled out of the gate this season, shooting just 34.9 percent from the field across six October games. Although Dame missed Portland’s game last Sunday due to his abdominal issue, he has played more like his old self of late, averaging 24.3 points and 7.3 assists across his past six games. The matchup between Lillard and Sixers rising star Tyrese Maxey will be one to watch; Lillard only scored 20 points on 7-of-20 shooting during the previous meeting earlier in the month.
On the whole, Maxey has been the brightest spot for the Sixers during their recent shorthanded stretch. Maxey recently drew a career comp of Tony Parker from The Athletic’s John Hollinger. Lofty praise indeed. On the season, Tyrese sports averages of 17.8 points and 4.4 assists, while shooting 43.4 percent from 3 and turning the ball over just 1.3 times per game. Maxey has been particularly outstanding of late, averaging 25.2 points with a 67 percent true shooting percentage over his past five games. His evolving outside shooting, paired with his elite speed and advanced bag of tricks in the mid-range make Tyrese an extremely dangerous offensive weapon.
The newer narrative coming into this game surrounds reserve big man Charles Bassey. Given his most extensive playing time of the season in Denver, the second-round rookie stepped up in a big way, tallying 12 points, seven rebounds, and three blocks in 19 minutes. The Blazers have been shifting to using Larry Nance, Jr. more as a small-ball center in relief of starter Jusuf Nurkic, so we’ll see how much Bassey’s number gets called tonight. Rivers might opt for more small-ball minutes from a Tobias Harris-Georges Niang frontcourt. I’m sure Bassey will be ready once again if given the opportunity.
While the Sixers have struggled in the standings lately with their shorthanded roster, the team has remained competitive on the court aside from the blowout loss in Utah. The Blazers are by no means world-beaters, so let’s see if the Sixers can defy the odds again and show Dame why he’d be better served playing on the other side of this matchup.