PORTLAND - All the talk and belief that this 76ers team would benefit from returning the top 12 players from last season and not having to tinker with added personnel might turn out to be true. But in the team's season opener against the Trail Blazers last night, it looked about as cohesive as a group of high-paid free agents thrown together before the start of the season.
And Philly fans know how hard that can be at times.
Missed defensive assignments, failure to get loose balls and Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge all contributed to the Sixers losing their first game of the season, 107-103, at the raucous Rose Garden, despite a furious fourth-quarter comeback.
In the first quarter, the Sixers forced no turnovers at the defensive end, missed seven of their first eight shots and had no answer for the outside-inside game of Aldridge.
There were so many little mistakes that led to key moments: a fumbled pass on a key offensive possession; losing a loose-ball battle; missing a gimme at one end and giving up a transition "three" at the other. The frustration displayed by the players matched the feelings of NBA fans during the prolonged lockout.
But, as Collins said before the game, the Rose Garden brings with it a chaotic, playoff-like atmosphere. There are probably few other places on the road that would be harder to open a season, let alone the fact that it's 2,900 miles away.
Aldridge, the 6-11 forward from Texas, posed a matchup problem of nightmarish proportions for the Sixers. Whenever Collins had Brand on the coverage, Aldridge simply chose to step further outside, to about the 18-foot mark. Brand had to back off to respect Aldridge's speed to the basket. Aldridge drained jumper after jumper. When the smaller, quicker Thaddeus Young was summoned to hound Aldridge, the Trail Blazer found his way toward the basket and simply shot high-percentage attempts over Young.
Aldridge, the new leader of the Blazers now that guard Brandon Roy has retired due to chronic knee problems, torched the Sixers for 25 points.
The Sixers struggled early offensively, their sets mostly poorly executed, often finishing in desperation jumpers toward the end of the shot clock. Whatever offensive groove they did find, and there was some as they shot 48.2 percent for the game, was often offset by turnovers (20) and Portland's ability to score off those miscues.
Gerald Wallace collected 21 points and nine rebounds for the Blazers, while Wes Matthews had 16 points and Marcus Camby grabbed 13 rebounds to go with six assists.
The Sixers had a balanced scoring attack, led by Lou Williams' 25. Andre Iguodala, who had a chance to tie the game in the waning seconds with a three-pointer, collected 22 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. Starting center Spencer Hawes just missed a triple-double with 10 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists.