The Philadelphia 76ers proved one thing Sunday night in Moda Center against the Portland Trail Blazers:
Their center, Joel Embiid, who sat the game out with a sore knee, may well be the best player in the world. He MUST be, to make the hapless-on-this-night Sixers worthy of a 23-14 record.
Philadelphia, which was just this side of pathetic against the Trail Blazers, shot only 35.4 percent from the field and an incredibly horrific 18.6 percent from three-point range. Portland, meanwhile, worked Philadelphia over to the tune of 59 percent from the floor and 54.5 percent from three – both season highs.
The Blazers’ 34-point victory was their largest of the season and they actually led by 43 at one point. They shot 65.6 percent after three quarters before turning the game over to the end of their bench.
“I was really proud of the way we played in the first half at both ends,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said.
The Trail Blazers got 35-51 shooting from their starters, with Evan Turner taking over for Maurice Harkless, who was resting a sore left knee. But the big news was that CJ McCollum was able to shoot his way out of a three-point slump that had been hindering him for a few weeks.
McCollum went 13-18 from the field and 4-7 from three-point range. He scored 35 points in just 27:50.
“Overall, I think we played a good game and I made some shots, which made it easier for everybody else,” McCollum said. “It was a big win for us going into a new year and a tough road opponent in the Sacramento Kings.
“I understand how much time I put in and how many shots I put up. I knew the tide would turn eventually.
“The important thing is to be yourself. If you’re a shooter, shoot it. If you’re a ball handler, handle the ball. If you’re a defensive player, defend.”
Sixer Coach Brett Brown pointed to the absence of Embiid and what it meant for his team.
“Just the reality of how much Joel means to the team,” Brown said, “I’ve said, I’ll say it again, I think he’s a defensive player of the year. You know, you feel him, whether you look at the points in the paint, it’s at 62 to 30, whether you look at the rebounding margin (59-36).
“And I think the guys that we had, we just struggled defending them. We missed a lot of shots, we had a hard time defending them and the combination is lethal.”
Very true, but I think it’s only fair to point out that the 76ers are very talented, even without their center. They have one of the best two-way players in the league in Jimmy Butler, supposedly. Butler went 2-12 from the floor.
They have JJ Redick, an all-time great three-point shooter who was 3-11 overall and 2-7 from three.
They have Ben Simmons, last season’s Rookie of the Year, who managed to go 7-12 from the field but just 5-10 from the foul line.
Simmons has a jump shot that looks like a right-handed player trying to work on his left-handed shots. Except that Simmons is left-handed.
The Trail Blazers, who got double-figure scoring from all their starters but Turner, who finished with 8, did a very good defensive job on the Sixers, one of those teams that insists on beating you with three-point field goals, even on nights when they are not going in for them. They finished a rather mind-boggling 8-43 from that range.
The Trail Blazers head for Sacramento Monday and meet the Kings on New Year’s Day.