A Look at the Sixers
No matter what the respective records, games against the Sixers are tough for the Blazers. One need look no further than the dead-legged 100-79 loss Portland suffered in Philadelphia a couple months ago for confirmation. The Sixers are athletic, onery, and seem to delight in suffocating Portland at every opportunity.
The Blazers usually have trouble solving the Philly defense, which consists of forcing turnovers, blocking shots, and worrying drivers. The Sixers sport strong and nimble players. These aren't technicians. These are guys who explode at you.
The same goes for offense. Philly lacks inside scoring and shooting both, but they make up for it by coming at you hard from multiple directions and offensive rebounding when they miss. They are particularly good on the offensive boards...one of the few teams in the Blazers' realm in that department. They draw fouls too, as one might expect.
While the two familiar Andres--Iguodala and Miller--remain the heart of the Philadelphia attack in the absence of forward Elton Brand, they do parcel their shots throughout the rotation. Iguodala is scoring 18 a game and Miller 16 but hyper-athletic Thaddeus Young has taken over at power forward and is averaging 15 himself with a current string of three straight 20+ point efforts. Center Samuel Delambert has also picked up his game. He's still blocking shots (1.8 per game) and he's added just over 9 boards this year. Undersized scoring guard Lou Williams is on a tear of his own, having posted 18, 21, 20, and 18 in his last four games off the bench. Backup foward Marreese Speights notched 15 and 6 in 20 minutes of play in the Sixers victory against the Kings Sunday night. It's not a headline-grabbing lineup, but collectively they can be a handful.
The Sixers currently stand at 35-33, 2nd in their division and 6th in the Eastern Conference overall. They've won 6 of their last 8 and they possess a 14-14 record against the West and a 15-19 overall road record.
Keys to the Game
1. First of all, just realize this game could be important to the final standings. Most of the games from here on out either substantially favor the Blazers or their opponent. Extraordinary things will have to happen to swing those the opposite of the way they should go. Tonight is one of the swing games remaining--the kind that could make the difference between a high and low playoff seed. The Blazers are coming off of a long road trip and hasn't had much recovery time but they do get a couple days after this. There's no reason to hold back.
2. With the exceptions of Thaddeus Young and Donyell Marshall none of the Kings are great from distance. They take and make few threes and they're just not comfortable out there. Anything outside of 18 feet is a crap shoot for most of these guys. The Blazers need to stay in front of their men and keep the shots coming over the top.
3. It's tempting to say the Blazers should bull over Philly's interior guys as both Delambert and Young trade on speed and leaping ability more than size. But those big guys can be tricky. Portland sometimes gets outrun by quicker centers. Przybilla and Oden will have to be careful not to cede offensive boards. Basically the Blazer bigs need to get a body into their counterparts and bang them around. Blazer drivers should also take it right into these guys' bodies.
4. Iguodala alone probably won't win this game for the Sixers but Andre Miller causes Portland problems when he goes off alongside Iggy. Despite the earlier assertion about encouraging Philadelphia to shoot jumpers you do have to keep a hand in Miller's face because he does have a mid-range game. Keep him down and the Sixers probably don't win.
5. The Blazer bench players have a choice: defend their Philly counterparts or match their scoring. Either way is good for Portland. Letting their reserves run free while ours are constipated offensively gives the Sixers the extra points they need to pull this out.
6. Put them down early and make them feel like they have to rush the offense. They'll revert to more one-on-one play and leave teammates out of position. Plus if they get discouraged their defense falls apart. They don't give up a lot of games over 100 points but when they do the opponent tends to go way over.
I might not see this game until late, as I'm typing this from the road, but Ben will have an extra-special recap for you. Normally against a team of this caliber you'd predict a home win for the Blazers, but Philadelphia has some frustrating voodoo. My heart will rest easier after this one is in the win column.
Check out the Philly story at LibertyBallers.
Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.