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Blazers Begin Tough Trip With Holiday in Philly

Point guards Jrue Holiday and Damian Lillard get set for battle as the Portland Trail Blazers visit the Philadelphia 76'ers in the first outing of a long, five-game road trip for Portland. Which point guard will prevail? Will the Blazers continue their winning streak or begin a slide into lottery infamy?

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When talking disappointments for the 2012-13 season no team has gotten more ink than the Los Angeles Lakers. For all their faults, though, the Lakers still play credibly most nights and have a good shot at making the playoffs. The Philadelphia 76'ers also started the season with a new center, a veteran lineup, and deep playoff aspirations. Unfortunately Andrew Bynum hasn't played a minute for them and their other vets have stunk up the joint. They've barely kept their heads above water at home while dying a season-long death on the road, resulting in a 25-40 record, 12 losses in their last 15 games, and a one-way ticket to lottery-land. Now they face the Portland Trail Blazers in a game televised at 4:00 p.m. Pacific on CSNNW.

Philly's star is fourth-year point guard Jrue Holiday, the forgotten man when the NBA's good, young point guards are mentioned. For the sake of comparison, Holiday averages as many points per game as Damian Lillard with more assists and better shooting percentages from the field and arc. He's prone to turnovers and doesn't draw enough foul shots but his performance was good enough to make the All-Star team this year.

Unfortunately Holiday is surrounded by up-and-down (or down-and-down) players. Thaddeus Young averages 15 and 8 on 53% shooting but he's too slight to play the power forward position he's manning. He's a stretch forward without any stretch, his jumper falling well short of three-point range. Evan Turner mans the starting small forward position but his offense is questionable and his defense has gone to heck this year. Veteran Damien Wilkins provides defense at shooting guard but, despite having a week-long decent run, really doesn't bring much on the offensive end. Center Spencer Hawes follows the general pattern. He's versatile in the sense that he can occasionally do different things well but he's not dominant inside or outside and usually ends up in the mushy middle. It's a shell of a starting lineup, biding time until they get Bynum re-signed or start over.

Philly's bench is nothing to crow about either. Forward Dorrell Wright, guard Nick Young, and center Lavoy Allen anchor the reserves but they lack punch as a unit. Their big advantage over the horrible Trail Blazers bench squad is experience, but the value of experience in playing poorly is questionable.

The Sixers don't score in the paint much and while they're just above average shooting threes as a group, their best shooters don't play much and don't do much else. That means on most possessions they're working hard for an inefficient shot. Their jumpers don't draw foul shots. Their offensive rebounding is poor. The only thing to recommend this offense is that they don't commit many turnovers...keeping the pace deliberate to maximize their opportunities. Then again, they don't do much with the rock when they have it.

The Sixers fare better on the defensive end where they range from average to almost-good. They eliminate easy points on the break and in the paint while defending fairly well beyond the arc. They want to force you into the same mid-range offensive style they get stuck in themselves. The problem is, they're so powerless scoring that even when their defense succeeds, you're still better at that style than they are.

Despite a couple of wins in a row and a better overall record, the Blazers are also deeply flawed. Portland's 9-23 road record is the worst among teams with their winning percentage or better. Portland's offense goes just as far south as the that of the Sixers and the Blazers' defense is worse. If this game were played in the Rose Garden you'd expect the Blazers to win. On the road it's a different story. Portland will need to match Holiday's production with Lillard and hope that the Hickson-Aldridge frontcourt can outplay Hawes and Young.

This game holds special interest for a couple reasons. It's both the first and the easiest game of a 5-game road trip which could determine Portland's fate for the rest of the season. If the Blazers don't win tonight they could be looking at a serious dip before the week is out. Second, as an under-performing team the Sixers seem ripe for the picking when summer dismantling time comes. Hawes has been mentioned in numerous trade scenarios and almost everybody else on the roster will be available soon. If the Blazers are in acquisition mode this summer, the Sixers are a team they could dance with. This is your chance to see their players up close and personal.

Liberty Ballers covers the Sixers for you.

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--Dave (