The Blazers kick off a relatively soft five-game stretch of their schedule tonight at home against the Philadelphia 76ers, an 11-21 team that's won three straight games.
The Sixers appear to be a decent offensive team at face value -- they score over 103 points a night, are a top-three team on the fast break and score a ton of points in the paint. Unfortunately for Philadelphia coach Brett Brown, his team is not very efficient with the ball.
Philly is terrible at free-throw and three-point shooting, mediocre at shooting overall and they turn the ball over more than any team in the league. The inflated raw offensive numbers are due to the Sixers pushing the ball consistently and getting up a ton of shots.
The best shooters right now for the 76ers are center Spencer Hawes and forward Thaddeus Young, both hitting over half their overall attempts and converting on about 52 and 45 percent of their outside shots, respectively. Lately, Young has doubled his three-point tries and is much more willing to launch from deep than earlier in the season. The rest of his shots come at the rim, where's he's good at converting. Young has been on a tear the last several games, leading his team with 26 points a contest.
Hawes is not only a capable scorer inside but also the Sixers' biggest threat from deep, contributing 15 points a game.
Philadelphia small forward Evan Turner shoots more than any of his teammates, mainly from inside the arc. He's a threat from the mid-range and is decent at scoring near the rim, but lately his shot's been a little off and his efficiency has dipped. Turner is especially harmless from deep, attempting almost three outside shots a night lately but only converting on about 9 percent of them. He's a pretty good distributor from the wing, but has struggled with his own shot this year and needs a high-volume of shots to get his points.
Point guard Michael Carter-Williams is back from injury, but backup guard Tony Wroten is still logging about two-dozen minutes a night. Both shoot most of their shots at the basket but are willing outside shooters. Wroten hardly shoots from the mid-range, while Carter-Williams will occasionally take a jumper. Both are struggling with their shots from all over the court, particularly from outside.
The rest of Brown's rotation isn't very threatening with the ball, but guard James Anderson is a solid three-point shooter.
Philadelphia is not good defensively, giving up more points than any team in the entire NBA. They don't get back on defense quickly, they're barely average at stopping teams in the paint and teams can move the ball against them with ease. The Sixers' defense of the three-point line is bad, and they're overall defense is even worse.
The Blazers should be able to get to the line against Philly, because they foul opponents more than all but a few other teams in the NBA. Portland is the best foul-shooting team in the league, so getting points at the line should be key tonight.
A couple nights ago against the Bobcats, the Blazers tied their season-high for three-point conversions with 21. The record was originally set against the Sixers less than a month ago. In the last five games, Portland has attempted 32 triples a night, and Philadelphia likely won't be able to stop the perimeter barrage from the Blazers, as they allow more attempts and makes than any team in the league.
Right now, Portland point guard Damian Lillard is on fire from downtown, connecting on almost 60 percent of his deep-shots lately. Guards Wesley Matthews and Mo Williams have both been solid from outside recently. Small forwards Nicolas Batum and Dorell Wright are still struggling with their three-point shots, but tonight presents a solid opportunity to hike up their averages against a defense that will allow open looks consistently.
Philly does not feature any frontcourt players that should be able to handle Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who has been attempting over 20 shots a night lately. He's been hitting less than half of his attempts, though, so Aldridge might be able to get his efficiency back on track tonight against the Sixers, considering he hit 10 of his 15 shots last time the teams met. Center Robin Lopez has continued shooting well over the last several weeks, and he should be able to continue scoring opportunistically.
The Sixers lead the NBA in total rebounds a game, but that's because they shoot a huge amount of shots, missing a lot of them and leading to rebounding opportunities. They also allow opponents to shoot a lot, thus having the same effect on the opposite end of the court, as well. In terms of rebounding efficiency, Philadelphia is mediocre on both ends.
By percentage, Sixers big man Lavoy Allen is their best rebounder, but he plays fewer than 15 minutes a game. Hawes and Young are their next best individual rebounders, but Portland's frontcourt should be able to out-produce them on the boards. Lopez and backup big Joel Freeland will likely play large roles on the glass tonight, because Philly struggles to grab defensive rebounds at times and the Blazers' center duo does work on the offensive boards, leading to second-chance opportunities. Last time the two teams met, Portland out-rebounded the Sixers 46-33, and it wouldn't be surprising to see a similar outcome tonight.
Realistically, Philadelphia would have a really difficult time pulling off the upset, even though they've won three straight and they've scored 109 points per game recently. The Blazers have averaged over 112 points a night in the same timespan, and that's been against much tougher defenses than that of the Sixers. In the last meeting between the two teams, none of the Portland starters played over 29 minutes. If the Blazers execute as efficiently as they have been recently -- and if Philly struggles defensively as much as usual -- don't be surprised to see Portland coach Terry Stotts finding some playing time tonight for the end of his bench.
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter