Following a big win over Indiana Saturday night, the Sixers conclude what has so far been a successful home stand against the Portland Trailblazers. During the last week, Philadelphia defeated 2 playoff teams, nearly took down the world champions, and moved their home record to a very respectable 19-17. Portland comes to town to kick off a five-game road trip, currently sitting 3 games back of the Lakers and the 8th spot in the West.
In the teams’ first meeting in Portland back in December, Philadelphia lost a tough, defensive affair, 89-85. Jrue Holiday outplayed rookie sensation Damian Lillard, narrowly missing a triple-double with 29 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists, although he did commit 7 turnovers. Unfortunately, Holiday didn’t get much help from his teammates, especially those off the bench, who shot just 26.9% on the game.
On the season, the Blazers have displayed an above average offense but are bottom 10 in the league in defensive rating. Lillard, the presumptive rookie of the year, has played exceptionally well all season but especially during the last 10 games, where he has averaged 22.7 ppg on 50.0% shooting, and 6.6 assists to just 2.0 turnovers per game. All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge has been his consistently productive self this season, averaging 20.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. However, Aldridge does a lot of his damage with mid-range jumpers from the top of the key, rather than as the prototypical big man in the post that typically gives the Sixers so much trouble.
The Blazers’ starting unit of Lillard, Wes Matthews, Nic Batum, Aldridge, and J.J. Hickson is capable of matching up with anyone in the league. The biggest problem for the Trailblazers this season has been a lack of depth. They have needed significant rotational minutes from guys like Will Barton, Victor Claver, and Ronnie Price; these guys have more business playing in the D-league than on a playoff contender. One excellent, under-the radar move at the trade deadline involved Portland acquiring backup point guard Eric Maynor from the Thunder for nothing more than a trade exception. Maynor just providing a level of play conducive to an average NBA bench player has been a huge upgrade to what the Blazers were throwing out there before.
Keys to the Game:
- Just is he did in the first outing, Holiday needs to win his battle with Lillard. The rookie possesses a full offensive arsenal, hitting threes at a league-average rate of 35.6%, showing off a lethal drive-and-kick game, and routinely finishing at the rim over and around the league’s big men. Holiday needs to slow him down on the defensive end while continuing his great floor game offensively.
- Don’t lose sight of the Portland wings on the perimeter. Matthews and Batum shoot very well from behind the arc at 40.1% and 35.6%, respectively. Both players are capable drivers but are especially deadly in catch-and-shoot situations. The Sixers’ wing defenders cannot stray too far from their defensive assignment when offering help in pick-and-roll defense.
Philadelphia has played outstanding ball the last three games and matches up fairly well against the Blazers. On the other hand, Portland needs this game to stay in the playoff hunt and Lillard is playing some of his best ball of the year. In the end, Philadelphia pulls out the close victory as fans continue to wonder where this team has been all season.