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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Philadelphia 76ers Game Preview

A hefty Eastern Conference foe comes to town.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Los Angeles Clippers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (21-23) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (28-16)

After breaking out of a funk with back-to-back wins against the Dallas Mavericks over the weekend, the Blazers fell back to earth against the Denver Nuggets Tuesday night. Currently 11th in the Western Conference, but two games back of fifth place and half a game ahead of 13th, the Blazers have a chance to make up some ground with the next six games at home, starting with the 76ers tonight. As the season creeps closer to the February Trade Deadline and All-Star Break, this six-game home stand should be a good indicator of where this season is trending.

The 76ers continue to be one of the NBA’s best teams, sitting at third place in the East, with MVP contender Joel Embiid leading the charge. As of late, they’re getting better (and healthier), winning their last three games and seven of nine in the new year.

The Blazers are at home and playing better over the last three, but this contest will be a tall task.

Trail Blazers vs. 76ers - Thursday, January 19 - 7:00 p.m. PT

How to watch on TV: Root Sports Plus, NBA League Pass

Blazers injuries: Justise Winslow (out), Gary Payton II (probable), Jusuf Nurkic (probable)

76ers injuries: None

SBN Affiliate: Liberty Ballers

The Matchup

The healthy 76ers. It’s a rarity in the NBA these days (as Stan Van Gundy pointed out on Twitter recently), but Philadelphia has zero players listed on tonight’s injury report. This is especially rare for Philadelphia, who has had trouble staying healthy all year. Philadelphia’s best three players, Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey, have missed a combined 45 games so far this season. Despite the issues, Philadelphia has maintained a record of 12 games over .500 with role players like De’Anthony Melton, Shake Milton and Tobias Harris stepping up. Still, the 76ers haven’t been able to realize their potential. Lately, they’ve been getting the chance to figure it out. The trio of Embiid, Harden and Maxey have only shared the court 12 times this season, but five of those appearances have come in the last five games. They’ve won four of those five games, but haven’t always looked cohesive integrating their key parts back. Tonight, the Blazers won’t get any assist from the injury bug and the 76ers will get another chance to mesh their best players with their role players and see how good they can be.

Joel Embiid, of course. After getting steamrolled by two-time defending MVP center Nikola Jokic Tuesday, Jusuf Nurkic and the Blazers get the pleasure of facing another dominant center tonight. Embiid is playing like an MVP for the second straight season, averaging 33.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists in 33 games this season. He’s a load to handle in the paint and he’s also shooting 35.2 percent from deep on 3.2 attempts per game. He forms a deadly combo with Harden when the pick-and-roll maestro handles the ball. They are the highest assist combination in the NBA this season, despite only playing 23 games together (h/t Rich Hoffman for drawing attention to the numbers). The Blazers will have their hands full stopping those two tonight.

Pace and Points. After Tuesday’s track meet with the Nuggets, tonight’s matchup might take a much different rhythm. Philadelphia and Portland are two of the NBA’s slowest teams, with the 76ers playing at the NBA’s sixth-slowest pace and the Blazers showcasing the eighth-slowest. Both teams don’t tend to set fire to the scoreboard either, coming in near league-average in points per game, but Philadelphia’s defense is exceptional. The 76ers allow the third-fewest points per game in the NBA. So tonight has the looks of being a grind-it-out type game where Portland’s hot-and-cold defense must embrace the muck and the energetic bench play from Gary Payton II and Nassir Little will be needed. Against that stout defense, hot shooting from Lillard and Simons will also prove crucial.

What Others Are Saying

The Ringer’s Zach Kram writes about just how dominant Embiid has played this season.

In a season full of spectacular superstar performances, Embiid has been as dominant as any player when healthy. Although he’s missed 11 games so far, the two-time MVP runner-up’s 33.4 points per game ranks second in the league, and his 38 percent usage rate is third. More than ever before, the 7-footer is intent on attacking the basket. While he’s attempting 3-pointers at the lowest rate of his career, Embiid ranks eighth in the NBA in points in the paint, fourth in midrange points, and first in free throws made per game.

His free throw proficiency isn’t merely league-leading, but bordering on historic. With 9.9 free throw makes per game, Embiid is a hair away from becoming the seventh player in NBA history—and just the second since the 1980s—to reach double digits.

Liberty Ballers’ Jas Krang writes about how Doc Rivers’ recent decision to bring Maxey off the bench is paying off during the club’s hot stretch.

One of the knocks on Doc is that he’s too stubborn with his rotations. Although he’s not perfect, Doc has made some good decisions during this streak. Bringing a fully healthy Maxey off the bench was a risk, but it seems to be paying off. Maxey’s chemistry with Shake Milton has given the Sixers some much-needed speed on the second unit.