PORTLAND – The Portland Trail Blazers returned home last night after winning three of four on a tough road trip that got them wins in San Antonio, New Orleans and Oklahoma City, with the lone loss against the Houston Rockets.
The 76ers were the first of seven straight home opponents the Blazers will face in the next couple of weeks, and coach Terry Stotts was a little worried about his team having the same fire at home that they showed during the impressive road wins.
Brett Brown's Sixers had also just come from impressive road wins, in Orlando and Miami, doubling their win total for the season. No need for him to worry about what wins may do for his team's psyche, as every game is a struggle. What Brown was worried about was the Blazers ability to shoot the three-pointer. He had good reason to be worried. Though the Blazers were shorthanded, they still had more than enough firepower to snap the modest winning streak of the Sixers, 114-93.
All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge was out with an illness, while starting center Robin Lopez is nursing a broken hand and backup center Chris Kaman was out witnessing the birth of his child. So with close to 21 feet of players missing, Portland moved the offensive game to the outside and did it extremely well, making 18 of their 43 three-point attempts, outscoring the Sixers by a whopping 54-9 from beyond the arc.
Guard Damian Lillard, who had posted 43 and 40 points in two of his previous four games, led Portland with 28 points and also dealt nine assists. His dizzying quickness getting to the lane opened up the outside and no one took advantage of that more than Wesley Matthews, who went for 25 points in making half of his 14 threes.
"They run their sets pretty well and having Damian and having to react to his pick and roll opens things up for them," said Luc Mbah a Moute. "In the first half we gave them a lot of open looks, whether we were late or didn't trail or help when we needed to. They got the confidence and just started making a lot of threes. They beat us with what they do well."
In the third quarter, when Portland grew a 10-point halftime lead to as many as 17, Lillard (14) and Matthews (eight) scored 22 of Portland's 27 points.
And while Lillard and Matthews did their damage from the perimeter, Joel Freeland did his part on the inside, snaring a career-best17 rebounds as the Trail Blazers improved to 24-7.
"It's a team effort (to try to stop Lillard)," said Brett Brown. "He's so explosive, he can score in so many ways. He can dance behind the pick and roll and rise up. There aren't many guards that have the skill package that he does where he can go dunk on you, he can rise up behind a pick and roll and bury threes often and at a high percentage and he's got that jitter bug in-between game. He's emerging into being just one of those really difficult people to guard and his last few games confirm that."
Tony Wroten returned after missing the last game with a knee sprain. Wroten had the knee drained on Wednesday and was a blur most of the night. Playing in front of many family and friends from his hometown of Seattle, Wroten scored a team-high 22 points. Michael Carter-Williams totaled 17 points, six rebounds and five assists, while K.J. McDaniels scored 12.
"When you know how you're going to get hit and you didn't really do the job we needed to do to give ourselves a chance, it's discouraging," said Brown. "There are times when we switch, one through five and Damian Lillard blows by Nerlens (Noel) and then we have to help and then there's a kick out, that's on me. Maybe the switching wasn't the way to go. There were so many mental mistakes. We knew Wes was going to come out doing what he had to do with them missing a lot of points without LaMarcus and so on. Leaving corners, shooting gaps, closing out (shooters) with our hands at our thighs, those are the things that we'll learn from. Those were mental mistakes."
Sixshots: The team flew home from Miami after the win there on Tuesday, but the players had their freedom for Christmas. "We let them go wherever they wanted to go for Christmas, as long as they were back at our hotel (in Portland on Christmas night). All bets were off and we hope they had a good time with their family," said Brett Brown. It was an added bonus to the players that they were coming off a two-game winning streak. "We woujld have done it regardless if we had won or lost. It sure does make it easier when you leave Miami the way that we won and the way that we guarded to wish them well and wish them even a merrier Christmas."… Although Furkan Aldemir was available against Portland, he played only a few garbage minutes at the end of the game. He had missed the previous three games with plantar fasciitis in his right foot… The Sixers shot just 3-of-14 from three (21.4 percent) and 18-of-33 (54.5 percent) from the free throw line.