The Portland Trail Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers don’t interact often: The two cities are 2,864 miles apart and the teams play in different conferences, so they only play twice a year. That didn’t stop Jusuf Nurkic from yelling “Hell no!” after every Ben Simmons shot or free throw in their second matchup of the 2018-19 season, or Simmons from responding with “You talk a lot of s--- for being a--.”
The two players continued their quarrel after the Blazers won 130-115 on the road on Feb. 23.
“I think I’m better shooter than him,” Nurkic said to reporters. “I mean, I’m for sure [a better shooter]. The way he’s able to shoot, or not able to shoot, is ridiculous.”
The big man also posted a photo of himself blocking Simmons at the rim on Instagram that night.
Portland plays Philadelphia for the first of two times this season on Nov. 2 at the Moda Center at 7:00 p.m. PT. With Nurkic out until at least February, fans don’t get to witness the two players back on the floor with one another since the “fight.” Instead, Nurkic’s replacement, Hassan Whiteside, brings new bad blood with the 76ers.
In the final preseason game prior to the 2017-18 season, Whiteside picked up his third foul in fewer than three minutes while guarding Joel Embiid. Embiid waved to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to take Whiteside out, a disrespectful move that trumps any amount of trash talking.
Whiteside defended himself on Twitter after the game by pointing out Embiid was 1/7 against him and that the 76ers big man flopped on two of the fouls. Embiid, a Twitter star among NBA players, wasted no time responding.
The two centers will play with extra tenacity for pride’s sake, but both teams will be giving a little extra effort despite the matchup coming in the first three weeks of the season. Portland and Philadelphia advanced deep into last year’s playoffs, but they ultimately fell short of the title. For teams trying to secure a high playoff seed, every regular season game matters.
In 2018-19, the Blazers dominated both matchups; they won by an average margin of 24.5 points. Embiid didn’t play in either game, which enabled Nurkic to average 19 points and 8.5 rebounds on 66.7% shooting in just 22.5 minutes.
Both teams endured major roster changes during the offseason.
Philadelphia lost crunch-time hero Jimmy Butler and sharpshooter JJ Redick to free agency but retained Tobias Harris and added Josh Richardson and Al Horford in response. No player in the starting lineup measures shorter than 6-foot-6 and the Embiid-Horford combination frightens opposing front courts.
Whiteside and Anthony Tolliver, who is replacing a recently injured and much-needed Zach Collins, will have their hands full with the two All-Star big men. On the other end, the 76ers struggle to defend guards and the Blazers have the best back court in the league right now.
To watch the front court versus back court battle on Nov. 2 live and in person, you can buy tickets from StubHub here. It is Portland’s only home game between Oct. 25 and Nov. 8.
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