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Portland Trail Blazers vs Philadelphia 76ers Game Preview

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After coming off a streak of winning streaks against the Dallas Mavericks over the weekend, the Blazers came back down to earth against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night. Currently ranked 11th in the Western Conference, but two games behind fifth and a half game ahead of 13th, the Blazers have a chance to regain some ground with their next six games at home, starting with the 76ers tonight. As the season approaches the February trade deadline and the All-Star Break, that six-game home position should be a good indicator of where this season’s trend is.

The 76ers remain one of the best teams in the NBA, ranked third in the East, with MVP candidate Joel Embiid leading the charge. Lately, they’ve been improving (and healthier), winning their last three games and seven out of nine into the new year.

The Blazers are playing at home and playing better in the last three, but this contest will be a tough one.

Trail Blazers x 76ers – Thursday, January 19 – 7pm PT

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

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

76ers injuries: None

SBN Affiliate: Liberty Ballers

The clash

The wholesome 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 in tonight’s injury report. That’s especially rare in Philadelphia, which has had trouble staying healthy year-round. Philadelphia’s top three players, Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey, have lost a total of 45 games this season. Despite the troubles, Philadelphia maintained a record 12 games over . 500 with the likes of De’Anthony Melton, Shake Milton and Tobias Harris stepping up. Still, the 76ers failed to fulfill their potential. Lately, they’ve had a chance to find that 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 as they integrate their key pieces back together. Tonight, the Blazers will not get any help from the injury bug and the 76ers will have another chance to match their best players with their players and see how good they can be.

Joel Embiid, of course. After being beaten by two-time MVP center Nikola Jokic on Tuesday, Jusuf Nurkic and the Blazers were pleased to face another dominant center tonight. Embiid is playing like an MVP for the second consecutive season, averaging 33.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists in 33 games this season. He is a burden to deal with painting and is also shooting 35.2 percent from deep on 3.2 attempts per game. He forms a deadly combination with Harden when the pick-and-roll master secures the ball. They are the biggest assist combination in the NBA this season, despite only playing 23 games together (h/t Rich Hoffman for pointing out the numbers). The Blazers will have their work cut out to stop the two tonight.

Rhythm and Points. After Tuesday’s clash with the Nuggets, tonight’s duel could have a very different pace. Philadelphia and Portland are two of the slowest teams in the NBA, with the 76ers playing at the sixth slowest pace in the NBA and the Blazers posting the eighth slowest. Both teams also don’t usually burn the scoreboard, coming close to the 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 looks to be a grind-it-out game where Portland’s hot and cold defense must embrace the dirt and energetic bench play from Gary Payton II and Nassir Little will be required. Against this strong defense, Lillard’s clear shot and Simons will also be crucial.

what others are saying

Zach Kram of The Ringer writes about how dominant Embiid has played this season.

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

His free-throw proficiency is not only league-leading, it borders on historic. With 9.9 free throws per game, Embiid is on the cusp of becoming the seventh player in NBA history – and only the second since the 1980s – to reach double figures.

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

One of the criticisms of Doc is that he is too stubborn with his rotations. While not perfect, Doc made some good decisions during this phase. Taking a fully healthy Maxey off the bench was a risk, but it seems to be paying off. Maxey’s chemistry with Shake Milton gave the Sixers some much-needed speed in the second unit.