Game Time: 4:00 p.m. Pacific TV: Comcast
Three weeks ago, in the midst of an otherwise rosy stretch of play, the Portland Trail Blazers came up against their arch-nemesis, the Philadelphia 76'ers. Elton Brand rose like a zombie from the graveyard of mediocrity, clubbing the Blazers over the head with 25 points and 9 rebounds, leading the Sixers to a double-digit win on the Blazers' home court. This marked the latest in a string of Philadelphia victories which respect neither arena nor record nor personnel. So you will pardon me for thinking that if the Blazers couldn't handle the 7-22 76'ers at home in the middle of their hottest streak of the season they're going to have to work extra hard to conquer the 13-27 76'ers on the road coming off of a lackluster game.
The Sixers work off of a couple basic themes: get physical on offense, beat down your door, and score as close to the hoop as they can. They enjoy contact. They enjoy free throws. Andre Iguodala, Allen Iverson, Elton Brand, Marreese Speights...all of these guys will bowl right into you without a care. Iguodala and backcourt mate Lou Williams will shoot the three often enough, but for the most part Philly wants it rough and ugly with a few sweet buckets by forward Thaddeus Young interspersed throughout.
In the last game between these two team the Sixers' defense also shone. They appeared to read the Blazers' plays right out of the book, beating Portland to the spot and smothering the Blazers whenever they touched the ball in the paint. Portland's outside shooting couldn't compensate for the destruction Philadelphia wrought inside, and that was the ballgame.
Philadelphia loves to create chaos with the turnover and the blocked shot. They're slow-paced but opportunistic, depending on quick-hitting defense to get them easy buckets. They surround center Samuel Delambert with a bunch of guys willing to work on the boards. Portland will have to fight to make a dent there tonight.
Keys to the Game
1. The best way to win would be to make this game pretty. One thing the Sixers do rather poorly is recover to the perimeter. Stroke those jumpers. Also work your cutters. They're more physical on defense than adept and committed. If you make them move too much they tend to give up. Under no circumstances should Portland let them set and then go one-on-one. That's your recipe for trouble (and blocked shots).
2. The Blazers have to find a way to deny the paint to their offense. This is the thing that killed the Blazers last time. It can be done but Portland may have to commit extra men to make it happen. If so, do so. You'd rather take your chance with the Sixers bombing than grinding.
3. Take care of the ball. Don't give the opportunists opportunity.
4. This feels like a game for LaMarcus Aldridge and Andre Miller on offense. Miller should have a strength/size/experience mismatch against Williams. LaMarcus gives up those same areas against Brand but he's far more mobile and Brand won't stop his turn-around. Maybe we won't see LMA in the lane but seeing him stroke from between 10-12 feet would be nice.
5. If Bayless starts again he needs to make Iguodala defend him. If the Sixers switch and put Williams on Bayless then Jerryd should go to town (and to the hoop).
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