76ers

Sixers at Trail Blazers: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Sixers at Trail Blazers: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Updated: 8:30 p.m.

The 4-0 Sixers are the only undefeated team left in the NBA. They’ll look to keep it that way Saturday night as they begin a four-game West Coast road trip in Portland.

Here are tonight’s essentials for the Sixers’ game against the 3-2 Trail Blazers:

When: 10 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 9:30 p.m.
Where: Moda Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

The backup plan 

The Sixers’ worst loss of last season in terms of margin of defeat was Dec. 30 in Portland. They lost 129-95 and trailed by as many as 43 points.

Joel Embiid was out that night with left knee soreness, and he’ll be out Saturday as he serves the first game of his two-game suspension for a fight Wednesday with Karl-Anthony Towns.

Amir Johnson started at center in that ugly loss for the Sixers, while Al Horford is expected to start Saturday. Those players are close in age but Horford is clearly in a different class

The key to containing Lillard

Damian Lillard is averaging 29.0 points per game and 17.2 of them have come out of the pick-and-roll. He’s run more pick-and-roll than any player in the league

There are some similarities to the challenge the Sixers had Monday against Trae Young, another very good pick-and-roll player with extended range. Lillard has shot 10 for 24 (41.7 percent) from 26 feet and out. 

As the Sixers did against Young, it would make sense to give Josh Richardson and Matisse Thybulle most of the responsibility against Lillard. Horford’s pick-and-roll defense should be helpful against Lillard, regardless of who Portland starts at center — Hassan Whiteside is out with a left knee injury and Zach Collins is out with a left shoulder injury. 

A good time to pivot?

While we’re on the topic of pick-and-rolls, the Sixers have run the fewest of any team in the league. They also lead the NBA in post-ups

Perhaps, with Embiid out, that ratio will shift a bit tonight and we’ll see some more pick-and-roll centered around Richardson and Tobias Harris. In general, this might be a game in which Harris steps more into the spotlight. 

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There are positive signs, but still glaring issues with Sixers

There are positive signs, but still glaring issues with Sixers

After dropping their second straight game in overtime Friday night in Oklahoma City (see observations), the Sixers at times sounded like a team looking for answers.

More of that is likely struggling to answer questions coming off another brutal loss. They have an idea why they’ve lost five of their last seven after starting their season 5-0. A large part of it is a group with a bunch of new faces that are still figuring each other out. On Friday, fouls were an issue as they allowed the Thunder to attempt 41 free throws.

For a team that has championship aspirations and got off to such a hot start, this isn’t where they expected to be 12 games into the season.

“Obviously we're frustrated,” Tobias Harris said to reporters postgame. “7-5 is not where we want to be. It's early in the season and right now we're going to progress and get better and figure out ways that we can help each other and help our team and go from there. This game is over. Tomorrow, we'll watch film on it, we'll find out which ways that we can better ourselves and be ready for the next game. [We’re] 7-5 right now but ... we'll just go into the next game and be ready to get that win and go from there.”

There are reasons for optimism — with Harris being arguably the biggest.

After missing 23 straight threes and looking lost recently, Harris splashed his first trey of the game and looked like a totally different player. He finished with 21 points on 8 of 16 from the field and 3 of 4 from three. He was much more aggressive and decisive than he’d been in the previous two games.

Josh Richardson, returning to his native Oklahoma, has continued to show signs of improvement. He poured in 28 points, his highest total as a Sixer. More importantly, he’s looked much more comfortable in the offense as he figures out his role.

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons both had their moments. Embiid had a game-high 31 points and Simmons broke out after a quiet first half to play the entire second half.

One of the team’s biggest issues is figuring out the pairing of Embiid and Al Horford. The reality is Horford has never played with a center like Embiid who demands the ball and attention offensively. It’s been an obvious adjustment for Horford, who shot just 5 of 12 Friday and has done most of his damage with Embiid off the floor.

The uncomfortable offensive fit for the entire starting five has been a big reason the Sixers have been involved in so many close games. A familiar theme emerged Friday, as the Sixers held a nine-point advantage with 7:20 to go in the game. Instead of hitting the gas and putting the Thunder away, they gave up a 12-2 run and saw their lead evaporate.

These are talented players that have won in different places. They’re still learning how to win together.

“I was just telling Al about that,” Harris said, “and really it's just I think a matter of right now we are yet to be up like eight points and push that to 15 and really push what we're doing and move forward with that, and really imposing our will and dominating. And that's something that we have to get to and that's something I think we're still learning — how we can do that and how we can make those type of runs. That's something we definitely got to get better at.”

The good news is you see the talent and recognize some of the issues.

And Brett Brown has 70 games to figure it out.

“If you're sick and you don't know why, that's a problem,” Brown said. “We are in a tough spot right now, but it's a long year. I think that it doesn't take much for me to understand where we have to get better. And it's really that simple. If you're scratching your head, sort of confused, then I think we got some problems and that's not what I'm doing. I think the guys understand the areas that matter most that can best impact changing the way things are going and get back on the winning side.”

They know the problems, now they just have to answer the questions.

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Sixers Talk podcast: What went wrong in OKC?

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NBCSP/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: What went wrong in OKC?

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Brett Brown's decision to have Furkan Korkmaz play key minutes in overtime, using more pick-and-rolls with Joel Embiid, and the loss to the Thunder.

• Should Brown have gone to Korkmaz when Tobias Harris fouled out in overtime?

• Do the Sixers need to rework their offense?

• The starting lineup looked good at times, but what went wrong in OKC?

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers