Basically, the 76ers salvaged this road trip. With the way it began, it looked like a possibly disastrous five-game swing. Instead, the Sixers began playing good basketball, won two in a row over the Los Angeles Clippers and Sacramento Kings, and then came into tonight's game at the Rose Garden undermanned and, quite frankly, needing some serious inspiration to defeat the Portland Trail Blazers. The team needed to give Andre Iguodala (right knee tendinitis) the night off -- it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. So if the Sixers were going to steal this game, they would need a strong, strong performance from Evan Turner (who started in Iguodala's place) and strong performances from some other key guys like Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young, maybe even Andres Nocioni. What the Sixers got was only 17 minutes from Turner. He picked up a quartet of fouls, which consistently limited his minutes, and contributed a trio of turnovers alongside his 6 points.
Given that gap in the lineup, as well as below-average games from power forward Elton Brand (10 points) and point guard Jrue Holiday (7 points on 3 for 11 shooting), the Sixers could never get their footing tonight against the Blazers, who were downright awesome. They tried, battling back towards the end of the third quarter, but Portland was just much better.
Portland finished the game shooting 51.4 percent from the floor, 47.8 percent (11 for 23) from three and 86.2 percent (25 for 29) from the line. They scored 36 points in the first half and scored no fewer than 23 points in any quarter.
"Some games you kind of beat yourself, 'Oh, you made too many mistakes,'" explained Brand. "But they played great, they beat us, they made great shots. And their defensive intensity and running the floor, it hurt us."
Sixers coach Doug Collins was fine with his team's effort, acknowledging how well Portland played.
"Wow, Portland, that team played as well as any team has played against us in a long time," Collins said. "I talked to Nate [McMillan] after the game, just for a moment, but the addition of Gerald Wallace, I mean, he's playing like he did when he was an all-star with Charlotte ... They're a long, rangy team, they played great."
Added Collins: "I thought our guys played terrific."
The Blazers pressured the ball the length of the floor and the Sixers, without Iguodala, were minus one legitimate ball handler. Collins explained that when he had a lineup with Jodie Meeks and Andres Nocioni on the floor, the offense was virtually stalled. He tried to keep two ballhandlers on the floor at all times, but when he couldn't, the Sixers didn't run much offense.
"Really it was a game we couldn't run a lot of set offense, we had to play some freelance, screen, play through the post a little bit," Collins said.
And there were also a number of unconventional lineups on the floor, due to Iguodala's absence.
"I thought we got confused on some of the rotations," Collins said. "We rotated off guys who could shoot to go to guys who couldn't. We lost a little bit of discipline with that."
At one point, the Sixers cut the lead, which kept springing to double digits, to 85-83, but you could sense that there was virtually no way the Sixers were going to hang with the Blazers tonight. Wesley Matthews couldn't miss, Wallace was physical and aggressive, LaMarcus Aldridge was too much inside, and Andre Miller was steady.
Brand called this road trip "OK."
"It was an OK trip," Brand said. "We did OK. We could have done really well if we'd have gotten that Utah win, we'd feel really good about it. But it's an OK trip."
The Sixers will fly back to Philly tonight, landing sometime in the morning. Collins said he'll give the guys Sunday off and then spend Monday and Tuesday getting the team back on track before Wednesday night's game against the Atlanta Hawks. Although next week is the opposite of this week -- only two games -- both of the games are very interesting. The Sixers are within striking distance of the Hawks for the Eastern Conference's fifth playoff seed and Friday night's opponent, the Miami Heat, could very likely be the team's first-round opponent if the Sixers do snag the sixth seed.
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