The Portland Trail Blazers are a bad matchup for the 76ers when the Sixers are healthy. So you kind of knew going into Saturday’s game that Philly, without All-Star center Joel Embiid, could struggle.
And they did, as the Blazers prevailed, 130-115, in a matinee at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Sixers (38-22) suffered blowout losses in both of this season’s games against Portland (36-23), both without Embiid (left knee soreness both games). The Blazers rolled to a 34-point rout on Dec. 30 in Portland.
Saturday marked the second of three consecutive games the Sixers are expected to play without Embiid, who dealing with tendinitis. They will travel to New Orleans to face the Pelicans on Monday night. Embiid will be reevaluated this week and could return in time for Thursday’s game against the Thunder in Oklahoma City.
“We made some shots, we missed some shots,” said Jimmy Butler, whose squad shot 48.3 percent overall, including 37.5 percent from three in Saturday’s loss. “I don’t think offense was a problem. We scored 115. On any given night, that’s enough to win.”
Ben Simmons tried to will the Sixers to a victory. The All-Star point guard tied a season’s best with 29 points to go with 10 assists and seven rebounds. The Sixers, however, couldn’t overcome Embiid’s absence, especially on the defensive end.
Jusuf Nurkic had 24 points on 9-for-13 shooting for Portland. The 7-foot, 275-ponder also grabbed 10 rebounds for his 28th double-double of the season. All three of the Sixers’ available centers -- Boban Marjanovic, Jonah Bolden, and Amir Johnson -- and reserve power forward Mike Scott tried to defend the “The Bosnian Bear.”
The only real competition came by way of verbal sparring with Simmons, when the two exchanged words while Simmons was on the foul line with 5 minutes, 48 seconds left in the third quarter.
The TV audio picked up Simmons saying, 'You talk a lot of [stuff] for being an ass." They both received double technical fouls.
Simmons downplayed the exchange after the game.
“He just gave me a tech for just talking to him,” Simmons said. “We were talking to each other. You saw what happened.”
However, Nurkic took a shot at Simmons for his shooting woes when asked about Simmons’ trash talk.
“I’m a better shooter than him, I guess,” he said. “The way he’s able to shoot -- or not able to shoot -- is ridiculous.”
Evan Turner, seated a few feet away from the media scrum, asked the big man who he was talking about.
Nurkic responded: “The best shooter on the floor. Your boy, Ben Simmons.”
Simmons was later involved in an altercation with Portland’s backup center, Enes Kanter, with 9:16 left in the game.
Simmons bumped into Kanter after Simmons scored a layup. Kanter fell to the floor. Kanter immediately got up and proceeded to go after Simmons, who was walking up the floor. Scott came to his teammate’s defense, and he and Kanter received double technicals.
The Blazers had a commanding 19-7 advantage in offensive rebounds. Fourteen of their offensive rebounds, and 14 of their 19 second-chance points, came in the first half.
“You see therein lies the game and we all go home,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “Therein lies the game. The offensive rebounding disparity, and you know, there are other pieces that are important. But none as significant as that fact.”
Brown’s squad actually did a solid job on Portland’s talented backcourt tandem of All-Star point guard Damian Lillard and shooting guard C. J. McCollum.
Lillard finished with 17 points on 5-for-10 shooting, including missing four of five three-point attempts. McCollum had 15 points on 6-for-17 shooting. He also missed four of five three-pointers. As a team, the Blazers made just 21.7 percent from beyond the arc.
But Portland took command of the game by outscoring the Sixers, 41-26, in the third quarter.
The game was more lopsided than a 15-point outcome would indicate. Some in the sellout crowd of 20,619 began booing the home team late in the third quarter. Then fans started heading to the exits during a timeout with 5:27 left and the Blazers up, 117-97.