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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Philadelphia 76ers Preview

The 76ers visit the Moda Center as Portland looks for its first home win of the season.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (3-2) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (4-0)

Saturday, November 2 - 7:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Zach Collins (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out), Paul Gasol (out), Hassan Whiteside (out)
76ers injuries: Joel Embiid (suspended), Shake Milton (out)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA TV
How to stream: Blazer’s Edge Streaming Guide
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Liberty Ballers

Afternoon update: The Blazers have announced that Hassan Whiteside is out tonight due to his bone bruise.

The Portland Trail Blazers look for their first home win of the season as they face off against the Philadelphia 76ers. The Blazers wrapped up a successful four-game road trip with a 102-99 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday.

The undefeated 76ers have looked like one of the best teams in the league so far this season. They are coming off a 117-95 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves—a victory that was marred by a heated altercation between Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns. The league handed both players two-game suspensions which means Blazer fans won’t get a chance to see one of the best centers in the league, but Blazer players won’t have to deal with Philadelphia’s leading scorer and rebounder.

What to watch for

  • Dealing with the 76ers’ size. With Joel Embiid out, the 76ers will likely go “small” and start two players under 6’8” instead of just one: Josh Richardson and Matisse Thybulle (both listed at 6’5”). Philadelphia's size is a problem for most teams. They are the best rebounding team in the league in terms of total rebounds (51.3 per game) and rebounding percentage (56.1 percent). Their size doesn’t mean they play slow; the 76ers play with the third-fastest pace in the NBA. They play elite defense too. Philadelphia has the second-best defensive rating (94.1), lead the league in steals per game (11.5), and are third in blocks (6.8). Even with Embiid out, scoring and rebounding will be a challenge for Portland in this one.
  • Points in the paint. Not surprising given their size, Philadelphia scores a lot of their points inside. They lead the league in points in the paint with 53.5 per game. Thankfully, limiting points in the paint has been a strength for Portland so far this season. They allow opponents only 39.2 paint points per game, the second-best mark in the league. Limiting Ben Simmons will be key in this area. The 76ers’ 6’10” point guard has yet to attempt a shot from more than 14 ft.
  • Scoring off the bench. I noted on Thursday that the Blazers have not been able to generate much scoring off the bench. At 26.2 points per game Portland has the fourth-lowest bench scoring in the NBA. Philadelphia’s 31.5 bench points per game—the eighth lowest—isn’t much better. The 76ers’ leading bench scorer (Mike Scott) is only averaging 6.8 points per game, while Portland has two players—Kent Bazemore and Anfernee Simons—averaging eight or more bench points. With their leading scorer suspended, Philadelphia will need someone to step up. Whichever team gets more contribution from their reserves could go a long way in determining the outcome.

What they’re saying

Kevin F. Love of Liberty Ballers explored how Philadelphia creates open threes by packing the paint instead of spreading the floor:

Having spot up shooters with 3PT gravity around the arc is one way to create space. Packing three players who are at least 6’10” (in shoes) and convert at a high rate at the rim is another way to do it — at least, for now. It’s early in the season and teams may catch on to this and figure out a way to combat the strategy. It’s not as if the Sixers are getting all of their 3PT looks from post passes. But so far, Ben Simmons has been aggressive in getting to and converting at the rim. If Ben continues to draw the attention of multiple defenders and if Embiid consistently finds the right man when he draws a double team, the Sixers could generate a lot of open looks from behind the arc by inverting how most of the NBA has created space over last half decade.

Tim Bontemps of ESPN expects the 76ers to win a lot of ugly games (and this was written before the Embiid-Towns fight):

The 76ers are going to win a lot of games in very ugly fashion. Philadelphia’s size across the board gives the team a chance to end this season with the NBA’s best defense, which will likely need to be the case given that Philly can’t shoot. The Sixers have gone 31-for-104 from deep so far, but with their size and defense, it isn’t going to matter most nights.

Sopan Deb of The New York Times wrote about how the size of 76ers connects with the identity of Philadelphia:

“Defensively, I give it a high mark,” Brown said in an early assessment of the tall approach. “It’s where I see the world most clearly. It’s a reflection of how we wanted to grow this program. It mirrors the spirit of the city, without getting too dramatic. But I think this is a hard city.”

That identity is something those around the franchise often speak about. Mike Scott, a 6-foot-7 fan favorite who comes off the bench, spoke during an interview about a team that was bigger, stronger and more physical. He said the Sixers play “that bully ball — Philly,” as if the two were inextricably linked.