Short-handed Blazers look to slow surging Sixers

NBA

If the 76ers have their regular starting five on the floor Thursday when they host the Portland Trail Blazers, Philadelphia figures to have a strong chance of winning.

After a 118-111 victory over the host Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday, the Sixers are 12-0 this season when Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Seth Curry and Danny Green all start.

Philadelphia built a 26-point lead at Charlotte, then held on for its fourth consecutive win overall behind Joel Embiid’s 34 points and 11 rebounds.

Harris added 26 points for the Sixers, who own the best record in the Eastern Conference.

“Just getting downhill and making good decisions when I’m there,” said Harris, who continues to make a strong case for his first career All-Star berth. “The next thing is drawing more contact and fouls when I’m down there. And I have been looking for ways to do that.”

Simmons provided another solid all-around performance while passing effectively out of double teams down low. Simmons had 15 points and nine assists.

“You have to pick your poison,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said. “If you’re doubling Ben, you’re asking for trouble with his passing ability.”

Key reserve Shake Milton sustained an apparent knee injury in the first half, which looked bad initially. However, Milton was able to return, and he is expected to play against the Trail Blazers.

“Yeah, he’s good,” Rivers said of Milton postgame. “I was scared, I’ll tell you that I thought it was his knee when he did.”

The depleted Trail Blazers have managed to win 11 of their first 20 games despite an array of injuries.

The Trail Blazers continue to play without key players such as Jusuf Nurkic (broken wrist), CJ McCollum (broken foot) and Derrick Jones Jr. (sprained foot), among others.

Portland’s marquee talent, Damian Lillard, is competing at a high level even with an abdominal issue. Lillard had 32 points and eight assists in the Blazers’ 132-121 road victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday.

“We’ve been having guys dropping left and right, dealing with a lot,” Lillard said postgame Tuesday. “And I’ve been dealing with some nagging things myself, where coming into tonight, I felt like I could barely move out there to start the game. And I was even thinking, ‘Should I have sat last night? Or sat tonight?’

“I was pushing and fighting that the whole game, because I knew how important this one was for our season.”

Portland’s Gary Trent Jr. provided a huge lift with 26 points, hitting seven 3-pointers. And Robert Covington, a former Sixer, snapped out of a maddening shooting slump to knock down 6 of 10 shots for 19 points to go along with nine rebounds.

“I like the way he shot the ball with confidence,” Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts said of Covington.

Covington added, “We needed everybody tonight, and so many guys stepped up. That was an overall great team win.”

Team defense has been the biggest issue for the Trail Blazers all season. But to be fair, the team is so short-handed that consistency has been difficult to find.

“I feel really pleased with how we played,” Stotts said after the win against Washington. “We got off to a great start and held the lead. We had a lot of contributions from a lot of guys.”

–Field Level Media

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