Game Details: Rose Garden, Portland, OR. 7:00 PM. TV: CSN. Radio: KXTG (95.5 FM).
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6’3″, Utah), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5″, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6’8″, France), PF Gerald Wallace (#3, 6’7″, Alabama), C LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6’11″, Texas)
Projected Philadelphia Starting Lineup: PG Jrue Holiday (#11, 6’4″, UCLA), SG Jodie Meeks (#20, 6’4″, Kentucky), SF Thaddeus Young (#21, 6’8″, Georgia Tech), PF Elton Brand (#42, 6’9″, Duke), C Spencer Hawes (#00, 7’1″, Washington)
This wasn’t the case when the Blazers blew a fourth-quarter lead to the Sixers in November’s Road Trip That Shall Not Be Named, but at this point in the season, Philadelphia has run away with the “2009-10 Milwaukee Bucks” award for the team nobody expected to be good vying for a playoff spot. Much of this is due to the leadership of Doug Collins, who would get my vote for Coach of the Year. Collins has succeeded in getting this lacking-on-paper bunch to buy in and as a result, the Sixers are competing with the Knicks for the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Philly’s best player, Andre Igoudala, is out tonight as he continues to battle knee tendonitis, but this shouldn’t give the Blazers license to relax. After years of injury-induced futility, Elton Brand is contributing again, and the Sixers have plenty of other capable scorers: Thaddeus Young, Jrue Holiday, Jodie Meeks, and Lou Williams to name a few. This team has played the Blazers tough for years, dating back to when Andre Miller was their anchor. They took advantage of Portland’s propensity to blow fourth-quarter leads back in November when they were the worst team in the Eastern Conference.
Portland has turned in two solid performances in a row, one against a contender and one against…a non-contender. While it’s encouraging to see them in a place right now where they can both hang with the Dallases of the league and not play down to the Clevelands, what will be most crucial in determining their playoff seed is how they do against the teams that are (roughly) on their level. Tonight is one of those tests.