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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Philadelphia 76ers Preview

The 76ers beat the Blazers by 20 points last matchup, and it wasn’t even that close.

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Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Portland Trail Blazers (17-16) at Philadelphia 76ers (15-18)

Thursday, December 28th - 7:30 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Damian Lillard (questionable) Noah Vonleh (questionable)
76ers injuries: Robert Covington (questionable), Joel Embiid (questionable), Markelle Fultz (out)
How to watch on TV: TNT
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Liberty Ballers

After a four-day break, the Portland Trail Blazers are back in action, taking on Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers. The layoff came at just the right time for the Blazers, as star point guard Damian Lillard has been battling a strained hamstring that kept him out of the last two games.

But it may not have just been Lillard who needed the break. The Blazers have lost eight of their last 12, several in dispirited fashion, and many fans are starting to question the current makeup of the team.

A win against a difficult-to-matchup-against 76ers team that trounced Portland during their first East Coast trip of the season could go a long way toward easing the discontent among the Portland faithful.

What to Watch For

  • Is Joel Embiid going to play? Embiid is questionable for Thursday’s game as he deals with lower back pain. If he is able to go, the Blazers are going to need Jusuf Nurkic to bring his A-game—and then some. Embiid is able to score inside and out, is a monster rebounder, and averages two blocks a night. Think DeAndre Jordan with a jump shot. If he can’t go, that’s a huge plus for the Blazers.
  • Who guards Ben Simmons? Simmons is the ultimate example of the new “positionless” NBA: A 6-foot-10 point guard who can see the floor over nearly anyone who defends him. The No. 1 overall pick in the summer of 2016, Simmons is having a stellar rookie year, averaging nearly 17 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists. Having that kind of size makes it virtually impossible to stick a guard on him. Look for Evan Turner or Al-Farouq Aminu to get the call and for Lillard or CJ McCollum to be tasked with guarding one of the forwards who doesn’t pose as big a threat.

What They’re Saying

Jake Fisher from SI’s The Crossover talks about the checklist that Joel Embiid must go through to stay active:

The pure uncertainty is remarkable. Perhaps the premier center in the entire league, Embiid is truly questionable every night. “We all step back and you say, ‘Who is he?’” Brown said. “Is he Sabonis, is he Olajuwon, is he Duncan; he can shoot a three, is he Dirk?” Yet on a daily basis, the Sixers simply must ask if Embiid will be ready to play. J.J. Redick had missed Philly’s two previous games before Christmas Day with a hamstring issue. And although he too was deemed questionable for the matinee, there was hardly any doubt that the Sixers sharpshooter would be firing under the Madison Square Garden lights. Embiid meanwhile has to progress through a meticulous series of benchmarks in order to be activated.

“There is a checklist,” Brown said, and it’s far grander than the coaching staff and Embiid collaborating to determine his status. “There’s physiotherapists involved, Joel has a significant say in all this, there are doctors, there are people that are looking at sort of pre-loading stuff that has gone on and patterns and trends,” Brown explained.

SI’s Lee Jenkins writes about what makes Ben Simmons so special:

In September, the 76ers gathered at their headquarters for pickup games. Many players admit they were scouting Simmons: point guard or power forward, phenom or phantom. It had been a year since they’d seen him do anything but shoot on a side basket. Justin Anderson, Philly’s 6'6", 230‑pound third-year wing, matched up against Simmons. “The strength, the pace, the patience, it was shocking,” Anderson says. “He could post you up and move you out, but he could also jump over you, and he was throwing lobs from half-court. I told him afterwards, ‘There’s only one other guard who makes me feel small, and that’s LeBron.’”

Much ink has been spilled, and time wasted, identifying the heir to Michael Jordan. The search for James’s successor will be just as tiresome and fruitless. Ben Simmons is not the next LeBron James. But he may be the first star to fill the lane LeBron opened.

On the first extended road trip of his career, Simmons sits in the back booth of a restaurant in downtown Sacramento, sipping his second hot chocolate. A fly buzzes by his head and he catches it with a wave of his right hand. Simmons leads all rookies in points (18.7), rebounds (9.5), assists (7.2) and steals (2.1)—phenom, to be sure—his grab-and-go fast breaks already a signature. He glides with a grace that belies his height, firing crosscourt with either hand and from any angle, the ball sometimes appearing to jet out of his hip. His Australian accent is evident only when he says certain words. Pass is one of them.