Game Time 7:00 p.m. TV: CSNNW
During the forty point win the Trail Blazers pasted on the Cleveland Cavaliers Thursday night a good time was had by all. Well, except the Cavaliers that is. It was a fun night but ultimately meaningless if the Blazers do not win this game as well. And the 76'ers are no Cavaliers. They're bigger, better, and have given Portland all kinds of fits over the years. The Sixers are also on a run (considering where they came from anyway). On January 20th they were 18-25 following a loss to the Charlotte Bobcats. They now stand at 36-33. That's 18-8 in their last 26 for those who are counting. They've picked up wins against the pre-trade Jazz, pre-trade Nuggets, Hawks, Spurs, and Celtics during that time. also losing close games to the Magic and Thunder. Andre Iguodala remains their best all-around threat but knee tendinitis has robbed him of crucial mobility and his contributions are intermittent. Fortunately for Philly two of their former main cogs--Elton Brand and Jrue Holiday--have been stepping up, albeit also in intermittent fashion. Brand now leads the team in scoring at 15.1 per game. Iguodala and Holiday are next at 14.3 and 13.7 with Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young, and Jodie Meeks also notching double figures. Philadelphia depends heavily on the fast break and on passing in the halfcourt. Without a dominant scorer they need to put the ball in the hoop unexpectedly. Brand and Iggy can mow you down but they won't do it for a whole game. So it's either quick or sneaky for the Sixers. Other than Meeks they stay away from the three-point shot. (Meeks shoots 41.6% and attempts almost 1/3 of their threes.) They'll post, they'll screen, they'll pull up but everything is in between for them. Not much at the rim, not much distance shooting. As is typical with that kind of offense it's hot some nights, cold others. If you can frustrate them even a little they'll not have a sound back-up plan. Let them get the bit in their mouth, though, and they'll ride the wave until they hit the beach. It's all they can do.
The Sixers have mobile wings with size, making them quite good at defending the perimeter shot. They'll let you get by them off the dribble but they can close and get a hand in your face. This is not the team to shoot jumpers against. They're good defensive rebounders to make you pay for your long misses. They have no shot blocking, however, and are slightly permissive in the paint, especially on their bad nights.
If the Blazers want to win this game the key words are "smart" and "hard". Philly usually wins by outworking you, perhaps with a little muscling around thrown in. The Blazers need to give them the Gerald Wallace-nasty LaMarcus Aldridge treatment. Rebounding, hard drives to the hole, and being the first to loose balls will go a long way towards victory. Portland absolutely has to get back in transition defense. The Sixers live and die by their free points. Take them away and they can't score enough to beat you. Portland has to run tight screens and sharp cuts as well. They'll not be able to depend on the bail out jumper. The better, closer-in options have to work tonight. Getting in the passing lanes and taking away some of Philly's halfcourt assists would be a huge bonus. Jumping on them early would also be a great idea, even if the margin can't reach Cadavalier-esque proportions.
A huge wildcard: the Blazers will have to find a way to run their offense without Andre Miller for an entire game. Portland's offense has mostly suffered in Miller's absence this year but lately we've seen sparks of competence, even excitement, from the guys who replace him. Portland's offense doesn't have to function flawlessly as long as the defense prevents the Sixers from playing on autopilot. But the Blazers will need to run plays and make passes. When you say "play smart and hard" Miller is one of the first guys you think of. We'll see how Brandon Roy, Rudy Fernandez, Patty Mills, and the gang manage to fill in.
Update: Jason Quick of The Oregonian reports that Andre Miller "left the team on Friday to attend to a family matter. He is expected to land at Portland International Airport around 5 p.m." Rudy Fernandez will start if Miller doesn't make it in time.
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