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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Philadelphia 76ers Preview

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The Blazers continue their brief East Coast road trip against the basement-dwelling Philadelphia 76ers. Can Portland take care of business on the second night of a back-to-back?

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (18-24) vs Philadelphia 76ers (4-37)
Saturday, January 16
The Wells Fargo Center | 4:30 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSN; 620 AM
Portland Injury Report
: None | Philadelphia Injury Report: Nik Stauskas (Questionable, Shoulder), Jerami Grant (Questionable, Calf), Joel Embiid (Out - Foot)
SBN Affiliate: Liberty Ballers | Blazer's Edge Night 2016

After managing a single victory over the hapless Los Angeles Lakers in their first 31 games, the 76ers have been (comparatively) red hot of late, going 3-7 over their last 10 games since picking up point guard Ish Smith from the New Orleans Pelicans.

Regardless of the team's recent progress, the 76ers continue to be dreadful on both sides of the ball, shooting below 43 percent from the floor as a team (No. 29 in the NBA), hitting 68 percent from the free throw line (No. 29), turning the ball over more than 18 times per game (No. 30), allowing 105.2 points per game (No. 30), and putting up an ORtg of 95.7 (No. 30). Essentially, this is barely an NBA team.

That being said, Philadelphia does have some nice pieces. Rookie center Jahlil Okafor has shown promise on the offensive end, displaying nice footwork and a soft touch around the rim on his way to 17.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Okafor has not been as successful on defense, struggling to guard the pick-and-roll and occasionally not putting in full effort.

Philadelphia power forward Nerlens Noel does everything he can to offset Okafor's defensive shortcomings. An excellent low-post defender with quick hands and solid shot blocking ability, Noel averages 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. Noel scoops up more than two offensive rebounds a night and despite a lack of polished offensive moves, averages over 10 points per game. Though he will occasionally put up a mid-range jumper, Noel struggles to connect from anywhere outside of three feet.

Newly acquired point guard Ish Smith has excelled since joining the 76ers, putting up 17 points and nearly eight assists per contest while shooting over 45 percent from beyond the arc in limited attempts. Smith is an excellent jump shooter and connects at 49 percent from 16 feet out to the 3-point line, however he struggles to finish in close and has difficulties hitting from the "in-between" range out to 10 feet.

The rest of the team is in a state of flux, to put it mildly. With Nik Stauskas and Jerami Grant questionable with minor injuries, look for some variation of JaKarr Sampson, Robert Covington, Isaiah Canaan, and Hollis Thompson to get significant minutes against the Blazers. None of the above players excels at getting to the rim, with Sampson the closest to being effective at driving. In fact, Thompson, Canaan, Stauskas, and Covington all take more than 58 percent of their shots from the 3-point line.

What this all shakes out to is a mishmash of marginally effective 3-point shooters coupled with a single offensively talented low post player. Think about those old Orlando Magic teams that would surround Dwight Howard with great shooters. Let's make that system less effective. Now make the shooters worse. Now make Dwight Howard way less dominant. In fact, let's not have Dwight play any defense at all. That's a pretty fair assessment of this 76er team.

The Portland Trail Blazers, challenging the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot as we enter the second half of the season, has entered what will likely be its softest stretch of the year, having faced the Brooklyn Nets last night, and matching up with the 76ers, Washington Wizards, Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings, and Minnesota Timberwolves, among others, over the next two weeks.

Matchups

Nerlens Noel vs Noah Vonleh/Meyers Leonard: Much has been written about each player's ups and downs on the offensive end this season. With Noel as Philadelphia's only superior big man defender/shot challenger, Vonleh and Leonard have a great opportunity to pull Noel out of the lane with a couple timely jump shots. If it feels like I repeat this ad nauseam, it's because I do; so much of the Blazer's success is predicated on these two being able to connect on the pick-and-pop. That being said, with no one else really able to defend the interior for the 76ers, they have an opportunity to neutralize Noel on defense and open up the lane for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to do their thing.

Mason Plumlee vs Jahlil Okafor: While Plumlee has only put up double figures in scoring three times and rebounding once over his last nine games, he has continued to be active on defense, with varying results. Plumlee needs to focus on not buying Okafor's array of ball fakes, while still being engaged on defense. Plumlee can be overaggressive, and Okafor already features excellent footwork and a bevy of crafty moves for such a young player.

Keys to the game

Defend the 3-point line: Philadelphia takes 25 3-pointers per contest, ninth in the NBA.  They only connect at a 32 percent clip, but if allowed to take wide open shots, they will start falling. Portland's perimeter players need to pressure Philadelphia's wings that are in love with the 3-point shot, as well as Ish Smith, who takes fewer than two per game but hits at a very high rate.

Take it to the rim: Okafor struggles at defending the pick-and-roll. Look for Lillard and McCollum to take every opportunity to beat their man off the screen and take the ball right at him.

Let Philadelphia beat itself: The 76ers are a young team that is composed of mostly marginal NBA talent. They turn the ball over, they allow unimpeded ball movement, and they struggle to shoot from everywhere on the court. This is a game that Portland should win as long as they do the things that they are supposed to.

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Help us send 2000 underprivileged kids to see the Blazers play the Sacramento Kings on March 28th! It makes a huge difference and it's easy. You can donate tickets to the cause through this link:

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Ticket Costs range from $7-13 (There is a $5 processing fee per order.)

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PLEASE consider sending a child or two! Donations have been strong but we've had a LOT of requests and we're not to 2000 yet. Help if you can.