The Philadelphia 76ers are set to face off against the revamped Portland Trail Blazers for the first time this season. This squad looks vastly different from even a season ago, so it’ll be a fresh test for the Sixers as they look to remain undefeated on their five-game road trip.
As many know, Damian Lillard is indeed loyal and still a Portland Trail Blazer. Individually, he’s put together an excellent season averaging 29.3 points and 7.1 assists per game. The Blazers as a whole, however, have been trending downwards since their hot start to the season.
The Blazers started off the year with a 10-4 record, even capturing the top spot in the West briefly. Since then, they’ve spiraled down to a 21-23 record, which would place them outside of the NBA’s play-in tournament.
So, why are the Blazers on the outside looking in? There’s a few issues, but most notably it’s the same issue that has plagued them during the Lillard era — their defense. As of right now, it sits at 22nd in the league. Teams such as the Lakers, Pacers, Wizards, and Bulls all have higher defensive ratings.
Their offense is better (11th in the league), but it’s not quite enough firepower to outweigh the lackluster defense. The whole point of making blockbuster moves with C.J. McCollum and Norman Powell was to provide more defensive support around Dame, and it just hasn’t quite solidified their D long-term.
Still, the Blazers are starving for a W and have plenty of talent to win this game. Our old friend Jerami Grant has been an excellent second/third option offensively, averaging nearly 22 points per game and hitting a career-high 43 percent of his threes. Anfernee Simons is capable of scoring in bunches. He jacks nearly 10 threes a game, and hits them at a 37 percent clip (sheesh). Villanova fans know that Josh Hart is a scrappy player that’s capable of doing positive things on both ends of the floor.
The numbers don’t support Portland’s defense, but they do have plenty of lengthy, athletic guys that they can throw at James Harden or Tyrese Maxey.
The Sixers are coming off their third straight win against a very capable Clippers team. James Harden struggled, but the likes of Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey carried them to a W.
It’s easy to take Embiid’s season for granted, as he has yet to score under 30 points at any point in 2023. While his defense and playmaking has taken a dip, we’ve seen his best scoring season yet.
Doc Rivers alluded to a rotating starting five, depending on the matchup. Portland’s abundance of scorers likely means we’ll see the same starting five as we did with the Clippers — the usual four, along with De’Anthony Melton starting and Tyrese Maxey coming off the bench.
The Maxey-off-the-bench move was questionable to some (and still is), but it did pay off in the Clippers game. The Clippers temporarily took the lead heading into the fourth, and Maxey’s early fourth-quarter scoring burst arguably won them the game. They didn’t just stay afloat in the non-Embiid/Harden minutes, they won them.
Most would say elite teams rank in the top-10 for both offense and defense, and the Sixers have done so thus far. They’re pretty close to top-five in both categories. The Sixers’ offense has steadily crept up to seventh in the league with their defense ranking fourth.
As of right now, the Sixers have no players listed on their injury report aside from G League assignments. For the Blazers, both Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Payton II are probable, while Justise Winslow is out.
Even if the Sixers lose their next two road games, they’ll come away with a winning record on their five-game road trip. Winning this game ensures a 4-1 record, which would be a pretty massive win in their pursuit of a top seed. It’s only January, but the standings are looking as crowded as ever.
Let’s see if the Sixers can take advantage of a struggling Blazers team.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Portland Trail Blazers
When: 10:00 pm ET
Where: Moda Center, Portland, OR
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic