Saturday, September 23, 2023

NBA Preview: Portland Trail Blazers at Philadelphia Sixers

The Philadelphia 76ers will look for their third consecutive victory when they host the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday.

The Sixers dismantled the Atlanta Hawks 122-94 on Saturday thanks in large part to Tobias Harris’ 22 points and 11 rebounds and Joel Embiid’s 19 points.

Even without Ben Simmons, who remains out for personal reasons, the Sixers ousted the Hawks primarily with some stingy defense.

“I mean that will allow us to just open up the game,” Harris said, referring to their defensive effort. “When we’re able to get out in transition while the other team isn’t set defensively, get open looks, threes. For us I think it increases our pace. Guys are out running, feeling good. Getting a stop and going with it and converting. That just helps us out all around.”

The Sixers’ bench also continued to produce at a high level in many different areas.

Especially Matisse Thybulle.

The ever-improving third-year player contributed 11 points, four steals and three blocked shots. Without Simmons, Thybulle’s defensive presence has been even more vital.

“I just don’t give up on the plays really,” Thybulle said of his ability to block shots. “I think that most of the plays that I make ultimately come from people expecting me to quit when I hit the screen or when I get out of position. So just the fact that I keep pursuing the ball, good things tend to happen. Those plays are really fun, and it leads to great energy and usually good plays on the other end.”

The Trail Blazers will aim to rebound on the second leg of a back-to-back following a 125-113 loss against the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday.

CJ McCollum led the Trail Blazers with 25 points and Damian Lillard added 14 points and 12 assists but shot 5 of 20 overall and 2 of 14 from beyond the 3-point arc. Norman Powell contributed 14 points while Jusuf Nurkic had 13 points and 14 rebounds.

The Trail Blazers were far from sharp in the 12-point road loss to the Hornets. Heading into Philadelphia, they must improve in all areas if they want to pick up a difficult road victory.

“I think the challenge is sustaining that (intensity). Being that team all the time and not just at home,” Lillard said. “When we’re on the road, we have to be able to take that same energy and mentality.”

Prior to Sunday, Portland’s defense had been solid. But the Hornets shot 52 percent from the field, including 20 of 42 on treys. Clearly, the Trail Blazers’ defense wasn’t sizzling.

“Defense is about energy, effort and being together,” Powell said. “I think guys are starting to realize that. Holding each other accountable. Talking. Guys are making the second and third efforts. Defense is not just a one-effort thing.”

Despite Lillard’s subpar game against the Hornets, he’s hardly fazed.

“I’ve never been a numbers person,” Lillard said. “I’ve never even looked at what the stats are per possession and all that stuff. I feel like I have a pretty good lens on what’s taking place. Right now, I feel like we’re defending well. We’re a different team than we have been over the last few years. We’ve just got to continue to work at that and try to stay on track like we are right now and I think it will be better.”

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