Saturday, March 26
Moda Center | 7:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNW; 620 AM
Portland injury report: Meyers Leonard (Out - shoulder) | Philadelphia injury report: Jahlil Okafor (Out - MCL), Nerlens Noel (Questionable - Right Knee Contusion)
SBN Affiliate: Liberty Ballers
The Blazers have played 10 games against potential playoff teams in their last 12, including 6 games against the teams with the top 7 records in the NBA. The Blazers are 4-8 over that stretch with a couple of overtime games and some pretty tough losses. The worst may have been Thursday night's loss on a JJ Redick game-winner after losing a 7-point lead with 3 minutes left. The Blazers could really use a break, and luckily, the NBA schedule has granted them the next closest thing: A date with the historically inept Philadelphia 76ers.
The Sixers are the face of NBA tanking. The term 'tanking' is used for teams that assemble NBA rosters without much chance to succeed in order to earn a chance at a better draft pick (Clearly not the best system). No team has blatantly tanked like the 76ers have. For three years now, the Sixers' transaction log has been filled with deals to sacrifice talent for draft picks and potential assets. Philadelphia GM Sam Hinkie has stayed the tanking course, refusing to sign NBA-ready players and instead sacrificing any cap space or talent he does have for future gain. This is clearly not the best way to win games and consequently, the Sixers have not.
Philly won just 19 games over the course of the 2013-14 season, 18 games in 2014-15 and, thanks to Emmanuel Mudiay and his halfcourt buzzer beater on Wednesday, the Sixers have only won 9 games this season with just 10 games left to play. That is a combined total of 46-190 and a winning percentage of .195. The worst record ever for an NBA franchise over a three-year span is that of the Dallas Mavericks from the 1991-92 season through the 1993-94 season, when they managed a combined record of 46-200 and a .187 winning percentage. That means that if Philadelphia manages to lose their last 10 games, they will have tied the record for the worst winning percentage over a three-year span of any NBA team ever. Even worse than any Clippers or Grizzlies teams, and for you NBA history buffs, even worse than the Providence Steamrollers. If that is not enough reason to be glued to your television set on Saturday evening, I don't know what is.
The statistics only help tell the sad story of the 2015-16 Sixers. They are last in rebounds per game, last in points scored per game, second to last in field goal percentage, and second to last in free throw percentage (Even trailing a team that has this guy on it). They are tied for second with the most personal fouls per game, they are fourth to last in 3-point percentage, they have the sixth-worst defensive rating, and they lead the league in turnovers per game. Numbers rarely tell the whole story, but those numbers speak very loud.
The 76ers signed 37-year-old Elton Brand to a contract in January as a mentor to some of the young players. Even after signing him, the they are still tied with the Blazers as the second-youngest team in the NBA (trailing only the Jazz) at an average age of just over 24. Every player on the roster is 25 years old or younger other than Brand, power forward Carl Landry (32), point guard Ish Smith (27) and newly signed shooting guard Sonny Weems (29).
Surprisingly, for a team that treasures draft picks and young talent as much as these 76ers do, they only have four former first-round draft picks on their eligible roster. One of those players, Kendall Marshall, has already been waived three times in his four-year career and another of those four players is Brand. This is the least amount of former first-round picks on any current NBA roster. To be fair some of that is bad luck; The 76ers' 2014 pick, Joel Embiid, is yet to play a game in his career due to broken navicular bone in his right foot and the Sixers' 2015 first-round pick, Jahlil Okafor, played 53 games this season before partially tearing his MCL and has been shut down for the season. The 76ers also hold the draft rights to Croatian big man Dario Saric, who has been playing overseas and is yet to join them.
The accusations of tanking towards the 76ers franchise extend only to the front office and not to the court. The players have everything to gain by playing well and winning games. They've all but guaranteed themselves the worst record in the NBA this season, but their terrible record is not a reflection of effort by the players or the coaching staff, who have tried to win as many games as possible.
The Blazers may be especially wary of underestimating this Philadelphia squad. On Jan. 18, in the only other meeting between these two teams this year, the 76ers gave Portland a 25-point beatdown. Portland is one of just seven teams to have lost to Philadelphia this season, and the Blazers are also the only NBA team that has not beaten the 76ers.
Keys to the Blazers Winning
Handle Pressure; The Blazers struggled with the pressure from the 76ers earlier in the year. The Sixers guards pressured Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in both the fullcourt and the halfcourt all game long. The defensive pressure caused the two Blazer guards to shoot 10-36 from the field combined in the previous meeting. The Sixers are young and play a deep rotation. They may not be the most organized or discipline defense, but they are athletic and play with high energy.
Take what the defense gives you: The Sixers' defense can be generous if permitted. Against a team like Philly that is not going to be able to lock it down defensively for 48 minutes, Portland needs to be able to exploit the opponent's mistakes. Making the simple plays and allowing the ball to pick up speed will generate offense in itself. There is no reason to force contested shots early in the shot clock against a defense that may just give you something better. If the Blazer offense is selfless and patient, good shots will come.
Transition Defense: The 76ers' offense relies heavily on the blinding speed of point guard Ish Smith. He is their leading scorer, aside from the injured Okafor, at 14.7 points per game and he leads the team in assists with seven a night. He is a shaky shooter at best but he is quick and fast and he has full control of the reigns. It will be important to stop Smith in transition and not allow him to get easy looks for the rest of the team.
Dominate the boards: Rebounding makes a big difference in every game but this game could be even more important than usual. The Blazers are a top-3 offensive rebounding team and the Sixers are the worst rebounding team in the NBA. Philly is now without Okafor and maybe leading rebounder Nerlens Noel for the game as well, so the Blazers need to take advantage. If Portland happens to have an off shooting night, it should not be a reason to lose a game. Misses need to turn into extra possessions and even better shots.
As bad collectively as the 76ers have been, they are still a team of NBA quality level players. They are aware of how poorly their season has played out. None of those players want their names or team associated with those records. The Sixers' roster is filled with undrafted players and second-round picks with very little security in their contracts. These are players fighting and scraping to stay in this league and guys who will not willingly give up or concede anything. The Blazers need to come in as the more talented team, take the game seriously as professionals, and take care of business on their home floor.