The Portland Trail Blazers are peeking around the corner of the Rose Garden as they face the 14-16 Philadelphia 76'ers in a 7:00 game televised on CSNNW. "Dwight Howard's gone, right?"
You can stop flinching. The Sixers field Spencer Hawes and Kwame Brown at center, throwing in converted power forward Lavoy Allen when the need arises. That's a motley crew. J.J. Hickson and Meyers Leonard should be safe.
The dangerous part of the Philadelphia comes at the other end. Jrue Holiday is playing quite well, averaging 18 points and 9 assists while shooting 45% from the floor. He hasn't turned into the star that his rookie year promised and his defense is hit and miss but he'll do. Holiday has been dealing with a foot injury but is still playing.
Holiday has a banquet of potentially-explosive wings for dishing. They're not consistent but any of them could paste 20 on you. Springy small forward Thaddeus Young is shooting 53.5% from the field on a variety of moves. Ancient shooting guard Jason Richardson is dealing with a bad back but Blazer fans will remember him smacking around this team on multiple occasions. Former Wizard Nick Young can drop 2 or 30 on a given night. Small forward Evan Turner has been the most reliable of the group, turning in double-digit scoring efforts nearly every night. You don't bank on anyone here. You ask who has the matchup advantage and who has the hot hand, then you ride them. Some nights it works, some it doesn't. Thus 14-16.
Despite flashing the universal sign of desperate mediocrity in adding Brown to the roster, the Sixers do have pretensions of being good. They're hampered by an inability to score in the paint outside of offensive rebounding and the occasional wing cut. They don't have a solid interior core. They don't have any way to bend the defense to one side or the other. It's straight up set offense vs. set defense generating mid-range shots and they just don't have powerful enough offensive players to overcome the inherent disadvantage of shooting deeper. They're decent at shooting the three-pointer but they take them selectively so they're not even spreading the floor that much. They need another offensive piece around which to build and he hasn't arrived yet.
The Sixers play the percentages better on defense. They're good in transition and guard the paint well. They want you to engage in the same lower-percentage jump-shooting style that they're forced to play. Unfortunately their defenders aren't committed or mobile enough to get out to those jump-shooters after having clogged the lane. Opponents shoot a good percentage from the field against them and an even better percentage from the arc. The most distinctive part of Philly's perimeter defense might be the occasional ability to force turnovers. But if you can take care of the ball and hit jumpers against them, they'll have a hard time stopping you.
The opportunity for Portland is obvious. The Blazers excel in the type of game the Sixers try to force opponents into. If Portland can limit turnovers they could frustrate the Sixers big-time tonight. The counter-balance is that Portland has comparatively little inside scoring punch, meaning Philly might be free to roam the floor instead of doubling down defensively.
The Blazers have good wing defenders, which should give them an advantage against a team that needs its inconsistent wings to get hot. The Blazers also have enough rebounding power to keep the Philly bigs off of the offensive glass, the biggest threat those centers pose. Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, and LaMarcus Aldridge can all score, either balancing or over-matching their Sixer counterparts.
In short, this looks like a good matchup for the Blazers, particularly at home. The Sixers will need to get hot, display plenty of energy on defense, and control the boards in order to succeed. If the Blazers let them do all three, shame on Portland. Otherwise this will be an interesting game but one the Blazers have a good chance of winning.
Liberty Ballers is our fine Philadelphia affiliate. (Say those last couple words six times fast.)
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