PORTLAND - It wasn't exactly the way Tony Wroten envisioned his Christmas to play out, but the excitement he showed before playing in front of many family and friends against the Trail Blazers made all the struggles of the past few days worth it.
Wroten sat out Tuesday's win in Miami after bumping knees with someone during the team's win in Orlando on Sunday. He was limping heavily when he made his way to the team bus after the win over the Heat. He then had the knee drained Wednesday before getting on a flight to go cross-country to be with his family in his hometown of Seattle.
"I feel good," he said. "Any chance you get to play in front of a lot of family and friends, it's a great feeling. We're playing good basketball as a team right now so it's an exciting feeling.
"My knee is not bothering me like it was back in Miami. It feels a lot better now. I had to play tonight. We only come to the West Coast one time. This is the game. You look forward to it."
Which could be both a good thing and a bad one. But coach Brett Brown is excited to have his leading scorer back.
"He wears his heart on his sleeve," Brown said. "My mission is to try to just slow him down. He's going to play a million miles an hour. He's going to be incredibly emotional. He's going to want to make the greatest pass ever or the greatest play ever. Sometimes it could be, and other times it's just rushed or playing in a crowd, or whatever. He hasn't played for a while, to compound that anxiety and enthusiasm and just excitement that I know he wants to get back on the court.
"Both he and Michael [Carter-Williams] are among the league leaders in turnovers. It's going to have to happen or you have to re-evaluate court time, and that's no treat against those guys, it's just the way it is, trying to find wins and grow them. I think they can coexist. The turnovers are a big part of both of their games. I still sort of zone in on defense . . . Lately, we have been playing pretty good defense and so the bar is set quite high, where we want him to come in and hold the fort and fulfill his role and I believe that he can and I believe he will."
Coach Brett Brown had some more weapons at his disposal last night after playing, and winning, the previous two games with only nine players available against Orlando and eight vs. Miami.
Furkan Aldemir, who played in one game after coming over from Turkey before being sidelined with plantar fasciitis, was available. Also, newly signed Malcolm Thomas, who was with the team earlier in the season, joined the team in Portland and was available.
With Aldemir and Thomas, both 6-9 forwards, Brown suddenly finds himself with a plethora of big men.
"Like most guys we get, you sort of throw them in at some point," Brown said. "We're in - albeit really not a high volume of games to support what I'm about to say - we are in a little bit of a rhythm. We've got a little bit of a thing going with who we're playing, and so on. You sort of got a little bit of a logjam at the big position."
Swingman Hollis Thompson missed his third game with an upper-respiratory infection.
While the Sixers have battled injuries of late, their opponent last night was the one with the light bench, as Portland was missing Robin Lopez with a fractured right hand, LaMarcus Aldridge because of an illness and Chris Kaman, who was attending the birth of his child. That's almost 21 feet of players missing.
"What it always does, and we experienced it in Miami, a lot of times [in one game] less is more," Brown said. "You look at the players that they do have and they have really good players that are still playing that they will probably feel the burden to bring their games to a higher level. Anytime you have [Wes] Matthews, [Nicolas] Batum and [Damian] Lillard, that's capable of winning a lot of games by itself."
Portland has done a lot of winning this season and just finished an impressive road trip, with wins in San Antonio, New Orleans and Oklahoma City, surrounding a loss in Houston.
"I like the way we played, and getting three wins on a road trip like that, I'll take that every time," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "It's still about us in regards to who were playing. We're a little shorthanded, so everybody needs to bring it."
The game against the Sixers was the first of seven straight at home for the Trail Blazers.
"One of the challenging things of being at home is keeping that edge," Stotts said. "I really thought we were really dialed in on this road trip, all four of those games we were dialed in and focused. The challenge when you have seven in a row at home is to keep that edge and not get comfortable and not get complacent. The onus is on all of us, coaches and players, to keep that edge."
Sixers at Utah Jazz
Tonight, 9 o'clock
EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City
TV/Radio: TCN (Xfinity HD 846) / ESPN (97.5 FM)