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Trail Blazers Centers, Wings Smash the Sixers

The early East Coast start was no problem for the Blazers, who are now 2-0 on the longest road trip of the year.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

An early morning on the road didn’t phase the Portland Trail Blazers as they defeated the Philadelphia 76ers by double digits today, completing the season series sweep. In a repeat of last night’s contest versus the Brooklyn Nets, Jusuf Nurkic and Enes Kanter showed out; they combined for 40 points, 18 rebounds and eight assists.

The activity of the big men, along with great wing play from Al-Farouq Aminu, Moe Harkless and Jake Layman, allowed CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard to assume a lesser offensive responsibility. The guards recorded 15 and 17 points, respectively, as the entire starting unit reached double-digit scoring for the third consecutive game.

Portland waited until the third quarter to break open a lead. Spurred by a series of dunks from Aminu and Harkless, the Blazers earned a 10-point edge. They held on to the lead for the remaining quarter-and-a-half for the 130-115 victory.

Early Morning Hustle

A one o’clock Eastern Time game doesn’t favor Western Conference squads, but the Blazers were awake at tipoff. They out-hustled the 76ers in every facet of the game: winning the rebound battle by 20, collecting every loose ball, and chasing players around screens endlessly.

JJ Redick shot 1-10 as Seth Curry and Layman face-guarded him and stepped over every screen. The other wings displayed their “switchability” when defending Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler; the two scored 20 and 15 points, respectively.

Kanter and Nurkic were awake as well, trash talking Ben Simmons throughout all 48 minutes. Their activity in the paint aggravated Simmons and other 76ers but benefitted Portland immensely.

Crashing the Glass

In Joel Embiid’s absence, the Blazers dominated the glass. They grabbed 53 rebounds compared to the 76ers’ 33, including 19 offensive. Kanter snagged three offensive boards, but Layman led the team with six.

Portland’s effort on the glass generated a seven-point advantage in second chance points. It played a big factor in the first half when shots weren’t falling, keeping the game tight when it might’ve slipped away.

Kanter’s presence plays a big factor in the rebounding success. Portland already led the league in number of games with a rebounding advantage, but his ability to box out bigger bodies and collect any ball in the air prevents opposing teams from getting extra attempts.

Scoring without Making Threes

The Trail Blazers finished the game 5-23 from beyond the arc but recorded 130 points against a respectable defense anyway. Their success around the rim stemmed from off-ball movement by Aminu, Harkless and Layman. Philadelphia’s defenders stayed tight on Lillard and McCollum, opening the lane for the wings to cut into.

Nurkic recovered his passing abilities from the assist streak before All-Star break. He found Aminu on backdoor slashes, plus Aminu found Harkless in transition and Harkless found Nurkic down low. The triangle of passing from Portland’s starters kick-started an offense that generally stagnates when three-pointers don’t fall.

As a result, Portland ran less pick-and-rolls than normal. Early on, Boban Marjanovic camped in the paint on the roll, causing Lillard to shoot threes or midrange jumpers. Those didn’t fall, so the offense adapted. When playoffs roll around, this ability to score in a multitude of ways can prevent opposing teams from stifling the Blazers’ sets.

Transition and Mismatch Defense

Philadelphia fields a big lineup; JJ Redick is the smallest player by a significant margin. With Lillard and McCollum on the floor for a majority of the game, one had to guard a bigger player. Lillard, the better defender of the two, matched up against Jimmy Butler, who subsequently got off to a quick start. He made a few adjustments after the first quarter ended, like poking at the ball more on post-ups, and prevented Butler from scoring much after that.

The Blazers transition defense didn’t adjust like Lillard did. Because of their inability to switch effectively, guards often found themselves guarding forwards like Harris, a crafty shot creator with size. Conversely, Nurkic or Kanter wound up on Butler or Simmons, who used their speed to get to the paint.

Additionally, on Philadelphia fast breaks, Portland defenders would simply slap at the ball and concede a foul or open lane to the basket.

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The Blazers will face the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday at 4:00, Pacific.