76ers Blog: Pre-Game Notes ~ 12/14/2013 vs. Portland
12/14/2013 7:30:00 PM
The 76ers (7-17; 4th-Atlantic Division, 13th-Eastern Conference) make a quick stop at the Wells Fargo Center, playing their second-to-last home game of the calendar year before heading back out on the road for the better part of the next three weeks. The assignment won't likely be an easy one; the Western Conference's top team, the Portland Trail Blazers (19-4; 1st-Northwest Division, 1st-Western Conference), makes its lone stop of the season in South Philadelphia.
The Sixers are enduring their longest losing skid of the season, having dropped five games in a row. They return home after coming up short, 108-100, in a road defeat to the Toronto Raptors last night. Not only have the Sixers had a tough time finding success in the second games of back-to-back sets, having gone 1-4 so far in such outings, they've also run into problems against opponents from the West, just 1-8 versus non-conference teams.
Portland's success has been one of the more impressive stories that's emerged in the early-going of the NBA season. The Trailblazers went 33-49 a year ago, finishing 11th in the Western Conference and punctuating their schedule with the thud of a 13-game losing streak. Having won 19 of their first 23 games this season, the Blazers are off to their best start in nearly 25 years (they opened the 1990-1991 season with a 21-2 record).
Portland's roster combines balance and improved depth. Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge - coming off his franchise's first ever 31-point / 25-rebound effort in Thursday's victory over the Houston Rockets - ranks eighth in the NBA with 23.5 points, and fifth in the league with 10.6 rebounds. Reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard mans the point guard spot, and puts up 20.1 points per game; he's also third in the league with 64 three-point shots made. Trail Blazers shooting guard Wesley Matthews sits fifth in the NBA with 59 three's.
PG Michael Carter-Williams ~ Skin infection (out); will miss 6th straight game
G C.J. McCollumm ~ Left foot fracture (out)
The 76ers faced an uphill battle against the Toronto Raptors in last night's loss, never once holding a lead in the game. The tone for the match-up was set in the first quarter, when the Sixers were out-scored, 36-21.
The lopsided period harkened back to the first-quarter issues the Sixers ran into during their first five or so games of the season, a stretch during which opponents like Washington, Cleveland, and San Antonio really had their way with Brett Brown's team. The first-year head coach left Toronto with some observations about what conspired against the Sixers early-on versus the Raptors.
"We're just loose," said Brown in his post-game media address. "I want these guys coming out with an edge, a little bit of angry. We just come out loose at times, and it's not that desperate stage that we always need to play like. And it's hard. That's sport, in general, at any level. We just have to come out sharper and tighter and a little bit of an edge. We do that most times, but tonight, we just didn't come out that way."
On average this season, the 76ers have been out-scored in the first quarter by roughly five points; they've won the first quarter in four of their 24 games.
Trail Blazers Theme:
The current group of Portland Trail Blazers could very well be on the cusp of restoring sustained winning to a tradition-rich NBA franchise. The Blazers have missed the playoffs each of the last two years, and seven times over the past 10 years. Prior to this stretch, Portland made it to the playoffs in 21 consecutive seasons.
The Trail Blazers arrive in Philadelphia with a record that's second only to the Indiana Pacers' 20-3 mark. The Blazers and San Antonio Spurs share the NBA's best road of 9-2 in away games.
Given Portland's smaller market location, lack of bona fide mainstream star power, and infrequent national media exposure, it's easy to forget what the franchise has accomplished in its 44-year history.
The Blazers have entered the post-season 29 times, qualified for six Western Conference Finals, reached the Finals three times, and earned an NBA Championship in 1976-1977. That title came at the expense of a 76ers team highlighted by Doug Collins, Julius Erving, George McGinnis, et al.
Radio play-by-play broadcaster Brian Wheeler has been with Portland for 16 years. In an interview that's attached to this article, he spoke about the significance of the Trail Blazers' start to the season.
"I think everybody the team would be improved, but I don't know if the most optimistic of Blazer fans, or optimistic of Blazer players would have thought they'd be sitting with the second-best record in the NBA. It's been terrific. Everything's come together very, very quickly. There's some outstanding chemistry on this team, and LaMarcus Aldridge is playing - without question - the best basketball of his career."
A conversation with Brian Wheeler, long-time Portland Trail Blazers radio play-by-play broadcaster, is linked beneath the image in the upper right corner of this article.