Approaching game's end, the 76ers ignored the scoreboard.

Those flashing numbers showed too big a lead, with too little time left, and those numbers could have tricked them into thinking the game was already won.

The Sixers have felt that pain before.

Which could be why in the final minutes of Tuesday night's 88-79 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, the Sixers defended as if it were tied, executed on offense as if they were trailing, and called time-outs as if they needed a strategic overhaul.

Instead of allowing the Blazers to sneak back into the game at the Wells Fargo Center, thus delivering them a sliver of hope and a chance, the Sixers extended their lead.

The Sixers, now on a two-game winning streak, improved to 5-13. The Blazers, led by Wesley Matthews with 26 points, dropped to 8-9.

Afterward, Sixers coach Doug Collins looked as if he'd dumped a cup of water over his head. If effort is measured by sweat, then Collins was clearly the winning coach.

"Our guys just took the challenge, they took the challenge," said Collins, his shirt drenched. "Our defense the last three, four minutes of the game was fantastic."

It was fantastic for the entire fourth quarter.

The Blazers could not find a crease on a pick-and-roll, a lane on a drive to the hoop, or room on a long-range shot.

Portland finished the fourth quarter with only 11 points and shot 4 for 20 from the field.

"We're struggling right now," said Blazers point guard Andre Miller, formerly a starter for the Sixers. "We're not playing good basketball."

With 1 minute, 2 seconds left in the third, the Blazers were ahead, 68-60. A little less than a quarter later, after an 18-4 run, the Sixers were ahead, 78-72.

Down the stretch, Portland would get no closer.

"I think it was a key game for us, playing against a team like that," said Sixers swingman Andre Iguodala, who scored only seven points but held Blazers star Brandon Roy to only one second-half basket.

"Andre Iguodala was spectacular," Collins said. "He was our ace of spades even though he did not score that many points."

The scoring was done by power forward Elton Brand, who finished with a team-high 18 points.

"It's good to see the camaraderie," Collins said. "Guys are having fun, and to me as a coach, basketball should be fun. There has to be work for there to be joy, but our guys work."

In the first half, much of the work was completed by Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who had 18 points and eight rebounds and single-handedly kept his team's offense from becoming unwatchable. Aldridge had only two points and four rebounds in the second half.

In recent days, the Sixers have focused on end-of-game situations, on how they react under pressure, on time and score, on taking a little more care when more care should be taken.

On Tuesday night, the Sixers had a chance to prove they absorbed some of these lessons.

It appears they did.

"The last two games have been fun, but we've had some ridiculous losses, too, that definitely were not fun," Brand said. "We have enough talent to win games. . . . It's a good feeling, two in a row."

Contact staff writer Kate Fagan at 856-779-3844 or