Portland Trail Blazers (18-26) at Philadelphia 76ers (14-26)
Jan. 20, 2017, 4:00 PST
Watch: CSN NW; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Ed Davis (Update: Upgraded to probable), Festus Ezeli (out)
76ers injuries: Jerryd Bayless (out), Jahlil Okafor (questionable), Ben Simmons (out)
SBN Affiliate: Liberty Ballers
After another blowout loss, this time at the hands of the Charlotte Hornets, the Portland Trail Blazers continue their East Coast road trip against the surging Philadelphia 76ers.
Yes, you read that right - surging. After a 7-24 start to the season, the 76ers have rattled off seven wins in their last nine games, including victories over Charlotte, Milwaukie, and Toronto in the last week.
Everything Philadelphia does revolves around rookie center Joel Embiid who, after two years waiting to make his NBA debut, has been a revelation. Despite playing with a minutes restriction to protect against further injury to his foot, Embiid is running away with the NBA Rookie of the Year race and helping to revolutionize the center position while doing so.
Embiid is putting up 20 points, eight rebounds, two assists, and nearly two-and-a-half blocks per game despite averaging only 25 minutes a night. He shoot 35 percent from the 3-point line and, on the defensive end, boasts a stellar 98.8 DRtg.
The 76ers have put various lineups around Embiid, but lately they’ve been running T.J. McConnell and Nik Stauskas in the backcourt - after spending much of the season with former Blazers Sergio Rodriguez and Gerald Henderson as the starting guards. McConnell has struggled from the floor this season, but does boast a 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Stauskas is a fine spot-up shooter, averaging nearly 37 percent from the arc en route to just under nine points per game.
Power forward Ersan Ilyasova, traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder for Jerami Grant at the beginning of the season, has blossomed as a stretch four in Philadelphia - averaging 15 points and six rebounds, with 37 percent shooting from the the 3-point line. Small forward Robert Covington, the only current starter to have started every 76ers game this season, is a decent defender and rebounder who is struggling mightily from the field, despite taking nearly six 3-pointers a night. On the season, Covington is shooting 36 percent from the floor, and less than 30 percent from the arc.
Off the bench, coach Brett Brown has alternated Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel at center/power forward. Both have had alternating periods of earning DNP-CDs, with Okafor only appearing in three games during Philadelphia’s nine-game hot streak, despite averaging 11 points and five rebounds on the year. Noel has had a turbulent season, missing time due to injury and then being benched while trade rumors swirled. Over the last 10 games, Noel has only sat one time and has contributed nine points, five rebounds, a steal, and a block per game.
In addition to Rodriguez, Henderson, and the aforementioned big man tandem, rookie combo forward Dario Saric also comes off the bench to put up nearly 10 points a night in 24 minutes.
It’s amazing to realize that the Blazers have equaled the 76ers in the loss column at this point in the season. These are teams going in opposite directions at the moment and, while Philadelphia can’t quite be considered a good team yet, they are learning how to win and seem to be having fun doing it - Noel and Okafor possibly excluded. Though it’s not relevant to tonight’s matchup, it’s fun to imagine what this team will look like when Ben Simmons joins them after the All-Star Break.
Portland, again, needs to avoid coming out flat-footed and not let Philadelphia’s supporting cast beat them. Embiid is going to be a very difficult matchup for Mason Plumlee, but if they can hold down the likes of Ilyasova and not let someone like Covington get some confidence, they stand a chance.
Blazer’s Edge Kids Night 2017
Help us send 2,000+ underprivileged Portland-area kids to a Trail Blazers game this spring! Read about Blazer’s Edge Kids Night 2017 for information on how to get involved, and help spread the word!