5 things

Sixers-Trail Blazers 5 things: Opening up a difficult road trip

Sixers-Trail Blazers 5 things: Opening up a difficult road trip

The Sixers (23-40) kick off a four-game road trip against the Portland Trail Blazers (27-35) at Moda Center on Thursday night (10 p.m./TCN, CSNPhilly.com, and the NBC Sports app).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. On the road again
Ready or not, here they come.

The banged-up and shorthanded Sixers are set to embark on a tough road trip. The trek includes stops in Portland, Los Angeles (against both the Clippers and Lakers) and Oakland.

That means games against the playoff-bound Clippers and Warriors with the opener vs. the Trail Blazers, who are just one game out of the final postseason spot in the Western Conference.

Overall, the Sixers are beginning a stretch of 11 games out of 14 on the road with clashes against some of the top teams in the entire league.

"I look at it very clearly in my eyes," Brett Brown said before practice on Monday (see story). "The first thing that I'll tell everybody is bunker down -- fans, media, players. We've done this for four years. We completely understand what's around the corner."

2. Unleash the lion
What's also around the corner is more Justin Anderson.

The young swingman has been unleashed since being acquired from the Mavericks. In six games after the deal, Anderson is averaging 9.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.2 assists in 19.5 minutes.

Anderson is coming off a 19-point performance -- his second in the last three games -- in Monday's blowout loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. The 23-year-old shot 9 of 16 from the field but 0 of 6 from three-point range. His numbers from deep could determine his long-term stability with the Sixers (see story).

In the meantime, the Sixers will need similar offensive outputs from Anderson on this road swing. Plus, his high-energy defense will be put to the test against the likes of Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Chris Paul, D'Angelo Russell, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

3. Three for all
The Blazers aren't having any trouble shooting threes this season. Portland is tied for eighth in the NBA in three-point percentage at 36.9.

Somehow, the Blazers have been much better from long range during their current three-game win streak. They have drilled double-digit three-pointers in each game and connected on an incredible 50.6 percent from distance.

Allen Crabbe has led the way with eight treys over that span, while Lillard, McCollum and Al-Farouq Aminu each have seven.

4. Injuries
Gerald Henderson (hip) and Richaun Holmes (hamstring) are probable. Jahlil Okafor (knee) is questionable. Tiago Spillter (calf), Joel Embiid (knee), Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are all out.

Evan Turner (hand), Ed Davis (shoulder) and Festus Ezeli (knee) are out for the Trail Blazers.

5. This and that
• The Sixers are going for a season sweep of the Blazers after a 93-92 home win over them on Jan. 20.

• Center Jusuf Nurkic is averaging 14.9 points (54.9 percent shooting), 8.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks in seven games since being acquired by the Blazers at the trade deadline.

• Robert Covington has made at least two three-pointers in 10 straight games.

Sixers-Heat 5 things: Banged-up lineup gets NBA's hottest team

Sixers-Heat 5 things: Banged-up lineup gets NBA's hottest team

The Sixers (18-30) continue their four-game road trip against the white-hot Miami Heat (20-30) at American Airlines Arena (7:30 p.m./CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports app).

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Battered and bruised
The Sixers are limping into to Saturday night’s matchup in Miami. Literally.

Joel Embiid (left knee contusion), Robert Covington (right hand contusion) and Nerlens Noel (upper-respiratory infection) all missed Thursday’s 102-86 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Gerald Henderson, who has been battling a hip ailment, also received a DNP-CD in anticipation of the Sixers’ schedule picking up.

That left the Sixers with just nine healthy players against the Spurs. The lack of depth showed as the team was outscored 54-33 during the second half.

A banged-up team in the middle of a road trip isn’t the best recipe when considering the Heat are currently on a four-game homestand and will be plenty rested after not playing since Wednesday.

2. Too hot to handle
More important than the rest, the Heat are coming into this matchup against the Sixers on a mammoth roll. 

Miami has won nine straight games, the longest streak in league history by a team that was at least 19 games under .500, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Those victories haven’t all come over lowly teams, either. The Heat knocked off the Houston Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors during this stretch.

“You’re going into someplace a little bit like Dallas,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said (see story). “Dallas, after you beat the Cavaliers and Spurs, you probably feel pretty good about yourself. Now you’re going to Miami. Any time any team wins nine games in a row in the NBA, they’ve got to feel pretty good about themselves.”

No one is feeling better about themselves than the Heat’s backcourt tandem of Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters. The two guards have combined for an average of 44.9 points per game over the past nine games.

3. Step into the board room
With two of their top three rebounders dealing in Embiid and Covington dealing with injuries, the Sixers have been bludgeoned on the backboard the last two games.

The Sixers were outrebounded 51-39 in their loss to the Mavs on Wednesday as reserve center Salah Mejri grabbed a career-high 17. They followed that up by getting beat on the glass, 57-48, in Thursday’s loss to the Spurs as former Sixer Dewayne Dedmon hauled in 10 boards.

While those were tough tests, nothing will have prepared the shorthanded Sixers for dealing with Miami center Hassan Whiteside. The Heat big man leads the league in rebounding with 13.8 per game.

Whiteside pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds in the season’s first meeting between the two teams to go along with 32 points, and that was with Embiid in the lineup.

4. Injuries
Noel (upper-respiratory infection) and Jahlil Okafor (right knee soreness) are listed as probable. Embiid (knee), Covington (hand), Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Josh Richardson (ankle), Josh McRoberts (foot), Justise Winslow (shoulder) and Chris Bosh (calf) are all out for the Heat.

5. This and that
• The Sixers had lost five straight to the Heat before recording a 101-94 win on Nov. 21.

• The Heat can tie the Rockets for the second-longest win streak in the NBA this season with a victory on Saturday.

• The Sixers have committed 37 turnovers in the first two games of their road trip.

Sixers-Suns 5 things: First sighting of an Embiid-Noel pairing?

Sixers-Suns 5 things: First sighting of an Embiid-Noel pairing?

Sixers (7-21) at Suns (8-21)
9 p.m. on CSN/CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports app; Pregame Live at 8:30

The Sixers begin a four-game West Coast trip tonight against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena in their final game before Christmas. They resume play Monday, when they head to Sacramento, Utah and then Denver before coming home after the New Year.

Let’s take a closer look at tonight’s matchup.

1. Better together
Could tonight be the first time we see Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel together on the court? If Embiid has it his way, Sixers head coach Brett Brown will give the duo a chance to gel.

After Tuesday’s 108-93 loss to the Pelicans, Embiid expressed his interest to play with Noel, referencing Brown’s decision to play Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together but not him and Noel. 

“I also want to get on the court and see what we can look like together because I like him and I want to play with everybody,” Embiid said of playing with Noel. “I feel like if we’re trying something, I feel like we should try the other thing too.”

With Noel returning from a knee injury that sidelined him the first two months Dec. 11, Brown’s big-man dilemma that was already burdensome got even more challenging. Noel voiced his frustrations for his limited role Dec. 16, saying the Sixers need to “figure this s--- out.” Brown later said Noel would not be part of their regular rotation, only playing when foul trouble arises.

Noel has played eight, zero and seven minutes in the Sixers’ last three games. He played just 10 minutes before spraining his ankle in his season debut and then missed a game. When he checked into Tuesday’s game, he entered to a standing ovation from Sixers fans.

The Sixers have tried Embiid and Okafor together with little success. In fact, Brown has started Embiid and Okafor at the four and five in the last four games to the tune of a 1-3 record. That is the plan again tonight, as Brown said he wants an eight-game sample size with the two.

With regards to Embiid’s sentiment of playing with Noel, Brown agreed with the rookie center, but hinted he will hold off on the experiment until Noel’s conditioning gets up to par.

“I feel like the bottom line is we have these three bigs and we need to experiment,” Brown said. “We need to try different things. It’s on Nerlens to get himself back in shape and learn what we’re actually running. It will be on our bigs to find ways to coexist and for me to manage it. And I think they’re great. The conversations we’ve all had have been very transparent and candid and we look forward to seeing those two (Noel and Embiid) amongst other combinations as well.”

2. Great expectations
Embiid has big expectations for the Sixers on this four-game West Coast swing.

Four wins.

“We’ve just gotta play together, share the ball, get back to being that defensive-minded team,” Embiid, who’s averaging 17.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks on a minutes restriction, said Thursday. “The last couple of games we haven’t played any defense. We gotta get back to that.”

It has been a while, however, since the Sixers have last won four straight games -- three seasons ago, when they won four games from Dec. 29, 2013, to Jan. 4, 2014. The Sixers have strung together just two wins in a row twice this season, still without an official win streak.

Entering tonight’s game on a loss and taking into account the Sixers’ 2-7 road record, talking win streak is looking too far ahead, but they do have winnable games beginning in Phoenix.

The Suns have one more win than the Sixers, and lost in Philadelphia, 120-105, Nov. 19 for the Sixers’ third win of the season. Phoenix also enters on a four-game losing streak, and is 2-8 in its last 10 games. Also on the trip include dates with the Kings and Nuggets, both 12-17. Utah is 18-12, which presents the toughest challenge, on paper. Four wins on the trip seems farfetched, but the Sixers could come back home easily with two, possibly three.

3. Searching for answers
Losing four straight and eight of their last 10 games, the Suns check into tonight’s game in disarray. They have allowed 100 points or more in 12 consecutive games, something Phoenix coach Earl Watson is actively looking to find an answer for.

With T.J. Warren now healthy and dropping 19 points in Phoenix’s 125-111 loss to Houston Wednesday, Watson now has to decide which is more important: offense or defense.

P.J. Tucker presents Watson a better option defensively, an area the rebuilding Suns are lacking in, than Warren. But the scoring touch of Warren, who’s averaging 15.7 points this season, puts Watson is an interesting situation, but he hinted that Tucker would remain in the starting lineup.

“We look at our team and what we need to build upon,” Watson said, via the AP. “We know we need toughness. We know we need defensive-minded players. We already have one, so we want to continue to build around (Tucker’s) personality on defense.”

4. Injuries
Sixers: Nik Stauskas (knee) is probable. Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out.

Suns: Brandon Knight (right thigh) and Leandro Barbosa (right knee) are both questionable.

5. This and that
• A win would be the Sixers’ eighth of the season. They didn’t win their eighth game last season until Feb. 6 against the Brooklyn Nets, and it would be the fastest to eight wins since 2012-13.

• Ersan Ilyasova, who came off the bench Tuesday, is averaging 14.4 points in 25 games since being acquired from Oklahoma City. He has double-digit points in nine straight.

• Opponents are shooting 39.2 percent from three-point range against the Suns, second worst in the NBA, while the Sixers are holding opponents to 34.8 percent, which ranks in the top 15.