The Blazers travel to the City of Brotherly Love tonight, kicking off a four-game road trip against the Philadelphia 76ers in a matchup of two teams on opposite trajectories so far this season.
The Sixers have lost their last five games, dropping a contest last night against the Toronto Raptors in a pairing of two of the league's worst teams. Liberty Ballers, SB Nation's 76ers affiliate, has been all about tanking since the season began. The subject still dominates their headlines.
Philadelphia's front office is definitely dreaming about ping-pong balls in next Spring's NBA Draft Lottery, and coach Brett Brown has only secured seven wins on the season with a lineup that features serious rotational minutes for guys like Lorenzo Brown, Lavoy Allen and Hollis Thompson.
The Sixers' raw numbers on the offensive end aren't all bad -- they score on the fast break often, are near the top of the NBA in points in the paint and they pull down rebounds in bulk.
The main issue for coach Brown's offense? They're hardly efficient.
Philly launches more shots per game than every team in the league but the Timberwolves and they make more shots than all but the Spurs. The Sixers are decent close to the hoop and in the mid-range, but they're terrible at getting to the line and shooting from outside.
Philadelphia center Spencer Hawes is the team's only legitimate threat to score consistently from beyond the arc and the only player on the Sixers' roster to average over 40 percent from deep. Wing Evan Turner has been horrible from outside on the season, but recently he's been more of a threat to hit three-pointers. Thompson and point guard Tony Wroten have shown streaks of decent outside shooting recently, but neither would be considered much of a threat.
In the absence of rookie guard Michael Carter-Williams -- who led the Sixers in steals, assists and was behind only Turner in scoring before succumbing to a knee injury that has kept him out of the last several games and likely tonight's contest -- the bulk of the offensive production has come from Wroten, Turner, Hawes and forward Thaddeus Young. Hawes, Young and Wroten -- assuming you'd want to make the argument for him -- have been the most efficient 76ers in their recent stretch of games without Carter-Williams, and none has been particularly impressive from that standpoint, though Wroten has stepped up admirably to lead his team in scoring without their prized rookie.
Lorenzo Brown and Wroten prefer to take their shots off the dribble, with Wroten being particularly aggressive at driving and attempting shots near the rim. Thompson, wing James Anderson and Hawes attempt a lot of threes, Allen and Turner operate a lot in the mid-range and half the roster loves to get out on the fast break. Still, they're not shooting particularly well from anywhere, and thus you see why a team that is among the league-leaders in field-goals made and attempted, points in the paint and rebounds is sitting at 7-17.
The Sixers also get their shots blocked consistently, lose the ball to steals and generally turn the ball over a lot. The Blazers should try to be opportunistic with the errors committed by Philly, because the transition defense of the Sixers is the worst in the entire league.
In fact, the defensive output from Philadelphia, as a whole, is pretty abysmal. They give up 109 points a game, bundles of baskets near the hoop, three-pointers in droves and assists by the dozen. Seriously -- the Sixers' best defensive ranking is opponents' free-throw shooting percentage, something their team has little-to-no input on. That's how bad Philly is this year at defense.
On paper, this should be a pretty routine game for Portland's offense, similar to recent wins against the Utah Jazz in which the Blazers coasted to victory relatively effortlessly after the first few quarters.
The Sixers allow teams to pass the ball around as much as desired, leading to open shots all over the court. Blazers center Robin Lopez, wing Nicolas Batum and forward LaMarcus Aldridge have all been shooting the ball well the last several games. That same efficiency should continue against Philadelphia, especially if they bring the double against Aldridge, likely leaving Lopez or Batum open. If Aldridge is passing well out of the double tonight, open shots will be plentiful for the Blazers. If the Sixers decide to play Aldridge one-on-one, there really is no intimidating matchup for him.
Guard Wesley Matthews and backup-wing Dorell Wright have been in a shooting slump recently. The porous defense of Philadelphia would provide a solid opportunity to shoot themselves back into a groove. Batum and point guard Damian Lillard have both been scorching from outside lately, and there's no reason why they shouldn't see plenty of open outside looks tonight if Portland's offense is running as efficiently as usual. The Sixers also don't defend well at the basket and have no great individual rim-protectors. Hawes gets the occasional block, but he allows a lot of shots to go through. Young is even worse at stopping scores.
How about rebounds? Well, Philadelphia does gather a nice total of boards. That is mostly due, however, to the amount of shots they attempt and miss and similarly to the amount of shots they allow opponents to attempt. With more shots going up, more field-goals are also missed and rebounding opportunities are created. In terms of grabbing available rebounds -- even though they pull down a huge sum -- the Sixers are remarkably mediocre on the glass on both sides of the court, percentage-wise.
As you probably know by now, Portland cleans up the offensive boards at a pretty high rate. Defensively, they're less impressive but the recent rebounding output of Lopez and Aldridge has been nothing short of impressive. In limited minutes off the bench, forward Thomas Robinson has also been a force on the glass. Batum, Lillard and Matthews all rebound well at their positions, and the boards should be there for the taking tonight.
Philadelphia definitely shouldn't be overlooked -- they do have NBA talent, after all. Turner, Hawes and Young all have the potential to go off for a big night, and Wroten will likely cause matchup issues against Portland as a penetrating point guard. Still, the Sixers aren't likely to string together enough solid individual performances to take out an efficient and balanced Blazers roster, led by Aldridge's recent stretch of play that has him considered a dark-horse candidate for the league's MVP award by some early in the year.
If the Blazers' play so far this season is any indication -- 19 wins in 23 games is probably enough of a sample-size to start drawing some conclusions -- they should take care of business against Philadelphia tonight, running their offensive sets as usual and capitalizing on Aldridge and Lillard's individual heroics while the supporting cast of Matthews, Batum, Lopez and the bench unit fills in the gaps with open shots.
Even if the Sixers make the game competitive or the Blazers struggle early, Portland has shown an ability to come out of half-time making the necessary adjustments to improve their chances of winning; they lead the league in third-quarter scoring and are among the league's best at stopping opposing teams in the third quarter.
With Philly on a five-game losing streak and the Blazers atop the Western Conference, this is truly a convergence of two teams on vastly different paths. If Portland doesn't slip up and the Sixers don't have their best game in recent memory, Blazers coach Terry Stotts should be able to get his starters some extended rest tonight, kicking off a road trip that includes two back-to-back sets of games in the next five nights.
-- Chris Lucia | Twitter
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