Sixers-Blazers observations, 'best' and 'worst' awards: CJ McCollum, Joel Embiid, fourth-quarter turnovers (again)

76ers Trail Blazers Basketball
Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic (right) gets fouled by the 76ers’ Amir Johnson during the first half.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Here are my key takeaways and “best” and “worst” awards from the 76ers’ 114-100 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night at the Moda Center.

Five observations

— It has become obvious that NO lead is safe with the Sixers. However, you still scratch your head at how easily they go from in control to disarray. Thursday was the latest example, as the Sixers blew an 18-point, third-quarter lead. As they usually do, the Sixers fell apart by committing turnovers — eight of their 14 — in the fourth quarter.  But this collapse had to hurt, considering the Blazers were without two-time all-star Damian Lillard.

— Richaun Holmes’ presence was missed. The reserve center/power forward received a DNP-coaches’ decision for the second straight game because the Sixers didn’t think his 235-pound frame was a good matchup for Portland center Jusuf Nurkic, a 280-pound brute.  However, they could have used the third-year veteran’s ability to get to the rim, as well as his athleticism and rim protection. Nurkic made a comment postgame about how Joel Embiid was getting tired. Sixers backup center Amir Johnson had more personal fouls (four) than rebounds (one). So this would have been a  great game to insert Holmes.

— Embiid made a comment about the Sixers’ not getting any fouls called. On the surface, his comment seems justifiable. Portland made 36 of 47 foul shots compared to the Sixers’ 10 of 14. So the Blazers attempted 33 more free throws. Embiid took eight foul shots, making five. However, attempting a career-high 12 three-pointers kind of negated making more trips to the foul line. Sure he made a career-high six three-pointers.  But roaming on the perimeter kind of took Nurkic (five fouls) and Ed Davis (four) off the hook.

— The Sixers were doomed by their bench, which contributed only 18 points and graded out at a minus-49.  Jerryd Bayless (zero points) was a minus-20, meaning the Sixers were outscored by 20 points when he was on the floor. T.J. McConnell (10 points) was minus-18.  Trevor Booker (two) was minus-7, and Amir Johnson (four) was minus-4. In addition to Holmes,  Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Justin Anderson did not play.

— This team just can’t stay healthy. On a night when they welcomed Anderson back, Robert Covington exited in the third quarter with a left middle-finger injury. The small forwardcouldn’t bend the top of his finger and didn’t return. The Sixers already had two sidelined players in Markelle Fultz (right shoulder rehabilitation) and Furkan Korkmaz (Lisfranc injury, left foot).

‘Best’ and ‘worst’ awards

— Best performance: I had to give this one to CJ McCollum, who erased memories of scoring just five points against the Sixers on Nov. 22.  Thursday, the Blazers shooting guard scored a game-high 34 points and added seven rebounds and a team-high four assists.

— Worst performance: This was a tough one, but I ended up giving this award to Bayless for attempting only one shot and failing to score in 19 minutes, 59 seconds.

— Best defensive performance: I’m giving this to Shabazz Napier. The Blazers point guard had a career-high-tying three steals.

— Worst statistic: The Sixers were outrebounded, 47-37. That’s not good for a squad that leads the NBA in rebounds at 48 per game.

— Best statistic: Napier’s 15 fourth-quarter points.

— Worst of the worst: The Sixers’ eight fourth-quarter turnovers.  They did a great job of taking care of the ball for three quarters. However, they reverted back to the turnover-prone Sixers we had witnessed in the first 33 games.