It's been a long road trip -- and I'm not the one playing. But here we are in Portland for the final game of this five-game swing. Game 5 in seven days. And the back end of a back-to-back. That is to say, in many ways, tonight's game is challenging. And, the Trailblazers are good. They're currently in sixth place in the Western Conference with a record of 44-26 -- but, like all the teams in that 2-8 crunch in the WC, they're two games out of second place.
After last night's win over the Sacramento Kings, the 76ers are now 35-33, and in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. They're 1-1/2 games out of both fifth place (currently held by the Miami Heat) and seventh place (currently held by the Detroit Pistons).
After last night's game, Sixers coach Tony DiLeo did say that he tried to rest his starters -- no one played more than 35 minutes. That's not to say tonight won't be a tough, tired game, but that is to say if DiLeo said the reason the Kings cut a 29-point lead to 11 was because he was resting his guys, then the Sixers shouldn't be as tired tonight as they were the night after the big win over the Lakers.
Lou Williams did mention last night that at this point in a road trip, it would be your reserves that win or lose games for you -- because the starters will be drained. But guys like Speights, Williams, Ivey, Evans, Marshall, etc. should have some legs left. So you have to think if the Sixers can run with the Blazers tonight, it will be because of some big nights from those guys.
A couple of things that seem interesting about tonight:
1.) Andre Iguodala. He looks like he is shifting his mindset for this stretch run. He has a tendency to let chunks of the game drift past without asserting himself. But lately it seems he isn't doing that. He knows this is his team, and if anyone is going to bring them down this stretch with a chance to catch Miami, it's him. I think he knows that. He's the guy, and he is more than capable of doing it. Tonight he should play well. He started strong against the Kings and -- for the most part -- that was all the team needed from him. Tonight, they'll need more. And my guess is he will be ready.
2.) The key reserve. Who will it be? There have been a number of them lately: Williams has been playing well, Donyell Marshall has had a huge impact on the perimeter game, Marreese Speights has been scoring. I know Kareem Rush played well against the Kings the other night, but I would be surprised to see him in tonight's game. But we'll see. Regardless, the second unit will have to play very well if the Sixers are going to win tonight. The second quarter -- where the second unit makes the biggest appearance -- is going to be crucial.
3.) Portland will not be cruising down the stretch. What is tough when playing any decent Western Conference team is that they are scrambling for playoff position. A win or loss can drop a team from second to eighth (that's only a slight stretch). But the Blazers are not secure with either their playoff berth or with the seeding. And the Rose Garden will most likely be sold out. Before the game, we spoke with Nate McMillan, Portland's coach, about Greg Oden's injuries. McMillan was asked if Oden was -- or might be starting to be considered -- a bust.
Nate said: "You guys are sitting over there with Elton Brand ... injuries are part of the game." <-- good answer.
Sixers guard Andre Miller said before this trip that a successful trip would be three victories. So far, the Sixers are 2-2.
Game tips off in about 30 minutes ...