Sixers vs Blazers: Slowing Down Damian Lillard Key For Sixers
The Sixers finish off their six game homestand tonight at the Wells Fargo Center, where they’ll take on the surprising Portland Trailblazers.
After losing LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Arron Afflalo, Robin Lopez, and Wesley Matthews from last year’s 51-win team, most predicted the Blazers would finish with one of the worst records in the league.
While the Blazers are clearly in a rebuilding mode, they’ve been one of the NBA’s surprising teams this year. The Blazers are 18-24 on the season and only a half-game out of the Western Conference Playoffs. They’ve also been playing better of late, going 6-4 in their last 10 games and riding a three game winning streak.
The Sixers are currently on a four game losing streak, but have done so against some of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, having lost to the Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Chicago Bulls over that span. They are, without question, playing better basketball of late, and they’ll need to carry that over to tonight’s game to have a chance to end the homestand on a positive note.
What: Sixers (4-37) vs Blazers (18-24)
Where: Wells Fargo Center
When: 7:30 PM
Watch: Comcast SportsNet
Projected Starting Lineups:
Sixers: Ish Smith, Isaiah Canaan(?), JaKarr Sampson, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor
Blazers: Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Al-Farouq Aminu, Noah Vonleh, Mason Plumlee
Joel Embiid (out, right foot), Jerami Grant (doubtful, calf strain), Nik Stauskas (doubtful, shoulder contusion).
About The Opponent:
The Blazers were expected to take a pretty substantial step back this season, but they’ve been far more competitive than most people expected, with an 18-24 record and a net rating of -1.7 that reinforces how competitive they’ve been.
At the forefront of the Blazers better-than-expected play has been the continued progression of some of their young players, the most notable of which is third year guard C.J. McCollum. McCollum, who averaged just 6.3 points per game over the first two years of his NBA career, is scoring 20.6 points per game on a relatively efficient 52.7 percent true shooting percentage, despite his increased role.
While McCollum will be a front-runner for the league’s Most Improved Player award, he’s not the only young kid making a big jump for this Portland squad. Allen Crabbe (11.4 points per game and 38.8 percent shooting from three), Meyers Leonard (career-high in points and rebounds), and Mason Plumlee (9.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game) have all made jumps of varying degrees.
With that being said, stopping the Blazers still comes down to slowing down Damian Lillard, who is averaging a career-high 25 points and 7.2 assists per game, while shooting 38.3 percent from three on 8.3 attempts per game. Lillard has been on fire of late, averaging 31.3 points and 9.8 assists per game over his last four games, while shooting 50.6 percent from the field and connecting on an unbelievable 50 percent of his 11.5 three point attempts per game during that span. This will be a huge task for all of the Sixers’ point guards, but especially Ish Smith.
What To Look For:
Defending The Blazers back court of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum will obviously be front and center to any hope the Sixers have of winning this game. While Ish Smith’s defense will be crucial, it will have to be a team attack, and the Sixers’ bigs are going to be key in effectively defending the pick and roll, something they haven’t been, outside of Nerlens Noel, all that great at doing this year.
There’s a little bit more optimism around the Sixers being able to execute offensively, as the Blazers have the 23rd ranked defense, in terms of points per possession. Their perimeter defense in particular is a point of weakness, as Lillard and McCollum struggle to pressure the ball, and the Blazers rank 28th in the league in forcing turnovers and allow opponents to shoot 36.2 percent from three point range. While the Sixers have little hope of containing Lillard, Ish Smith has to make him pay on the other end of the court by getting into the paint and forcing the Blazers to rotate defensively to cover up for Lillard’s weaknesses.
The Sixers will likely be without Nik Stauskas and Jerami Grant, and it will be interesting who head coach Brett Brown starts, and how he hands out playing time. JaKarr Sampson is likely to start at one of the wing positions, but Brown could decide to go with either Isaiah Caanan (who did not play in regulation against the Chicago Bulls) or Robert Covington in the starting lineup. Covington’s strong performance against the Bulls (25 points on 8-16 shooting, including made three-pointers) could earn him the start, but both are likely to see extending playing time regardless.