Trail Blazers vs Sixers Monday, 03/18/13 AT 04:00PM

Trail Blazers Kick Off Five-Game Road Trip In Philly

03/18/13
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    On Monday the Trail Blazers (31-34) begin their five-game road trip in Philadelphia against the 76ers (25-40). The Trail Blazers defeated the Sixers on their visit to the Rose Garden on December 29th by the score of 89-85.

        •    First of all, let's put the road trip in context. The Trail Blazers now have sole possession of 10th place in the Western Conference after Dallas' loss to Oklahoma City on Sunday and are three games back of the Los Angeles Lakers and two game back of them in the loss column. The Trail Blazers, in their last long road trip of the season, are in the difficult position of also needing that road trip to be their best. They have gone 9-23 on the road this season and no matter whom they take on, it almost always seems as though they have trouble in other team's arenas. Aside from the Sixers, every team they play on this road trip will almost certainly be in the playoffs. Monday's game is also the first of four games in five nights as the five-game trip has two back-to-backs before wrapping up in Oklahoma City on Sunday. It will undoubtedly be tough, but it is the road that these Trail Blazers have made for themselves, and if they want to make the playoffs as they say they do, they will have defy the odds, as anything below .500 will likely mean the end of their playoff chances.
       
    •    The previous match-up between these two teams in Portland didn't involve a lot of offense, but it involved a lot of Jrue Holiday, who will certainly be of the utmost concern for the Trail Blazers. Holiday, who made his first All-Star game appearance of his career this year in his fourth season, scored 29 points and dished nine assists on his visit to Portland. As he has been burdened with more responsibility, after the departure of Andre Iguodala and the knee problems for Andrew Bynum, he has thrived. Although his three-point shooting has gone slightly down from earlier in the season, Holiday is still averaging 18.7 points and 8.7 assists per game. Holiday is responsible for getting opportunities for others while also leading his team in scoring and he does so in an efficient manner. The Sixers outscored the Trail Blazers in the paint 42-32. However, Nicolas Batum put together one of his classic performances with 22 points, eight assists and seven rebounds while Damian Lillard scored 20 points aiding Batum in the effort. However, it can't be overlooked that Portland's other starters in that game did well with the few shots they took, as JJ Hickson, LaMarcus Aldridge and Victor Claver shot a combined 17-of-28 from the field. The Sixers average a slightly lower number of possessions per game than the Trail Blazers and they succeeded in not allowing Portland to run very much in the first match-up. The Sixers take a greater percentage of shots from the midrange (35 percent), the most inefficient location on the court, than any other type of shot according to NBA.com. The Sixers are coming off a win against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday, a team that concedes a lot of midrange jumpers, with Spencer Hawes putting up a historic line in the box score of 18 points, 16 rebounds, eight assists and seven blocks, becoming the first person since Hakeem Olajuwon got a quadruple-double to put up such a stat line.
      
     •    Despite Damian Lillard's off shooting night on Saturday, you can usually count on a few things with regards to the Trail Blazers: Lillard will usually get his, Aldridge is as consistent as they come and JJ Hickson will usually shoot a high percentage and get a double-double. What is a key for the Trail Blazers offense, something that really takes them to the next level, is the aggression level of Nicolas Batum. For me, Batum is the most important player on the road trip as his aggression is usually a gauge for how the team will play. His wrist has given him trouble, but he has removed his wrist brace, as it hasn't really helped him and is trying as best he can to just play through the pain. In wins, Batum averages one more field goal attempt and 1.4 more three-point attempts than he does in losses. Although the Knicks were shorthanded and the Pistons were embattled as well, it's an encouraging sign that Batum has revved up his offensive intensity by shooting more as he can still effect the game in many ways whether he is scoring or not. If the Trail Blazers have a successful road trip, bet that Batum will be a big reason why. Also, with Victor Claver not playing on this road trip, Stotts said that he will use Batum more at power forward, to give the Trail Blazers more spacing with their other line-ups. The most used line-up with Batum at the four features Aldridge, Matthews, Lillard and Eric Maynor. In a small sample size of 10 minutes spread out over four games in March, the line-up is shooting 76.5 percent from the field and have outscored opponents by a total of 17 points. So, look for that line-ups sample size to grow, as Stotts intends to use Batum more as a floor spacing power forward while Claver is out.

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