76ers pounce early, rout Trail Blazers
PHILADELPHIA — Two seasons ago, the Philadelphia 76ers went 10-72.
On Wednesday they won for the 10th time in 17 games this season, beating the Portland Trail Blazers 101-81.
Joel Embiid had 28 points and 12 rebounds, and Ben Simmons collected 16 points, nine assists, eight boards and three steals for Philadelphia, which won for the fourth time in five games.
The Sixers’ defense was also a big factor. The Blazers shot just 33.7 percent from the floor, their worst shooting night of the season. Their point total was also a season low, and the fewest Philadelphia has allowed in a game this season.
“I would give us an A on defense and like a C-minus on offense,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said.
Brown cited turnovers — his team had 18 — and “ratty shots” as concerns. Portland guard Damian Lillard scored 30 points, but C.J. McCollum, his high-scoring backcourt partner, was limited to five, on 1 of 14 shooting from the floor.
“The execution of the defensive game plan, I thought the guys did well,” Brown said.
“I think that (Lillard and McCollum) saw a crowd. It wasn’t just the guys that were guarding them. It was a team effort. Those two guys, we did a pretty good job of restricting them from normal numbers.”
Embiid backstopped the effort. He missed the last two-and-half months of the 2016-17 season and this year’s preseason with a knee injury, and it has taken him a while to get his conditioning up to snuff. He pronounced himself “81 percent” now, and Brown said that has made all the difference on defense.
“The dots are completely connected,” the coach said.
Embiid takes pride in his work at that end of the court.
“Not to be cocky, but I think I’m the best defensive player in the league right now,” he said. “I just want to keep on growing. I’m still getting better. My blocks are a little bit down, but I’m a better rebounder this year. ... Hopefully this year I can win Defensive Player of the Year.”
Portland coach Terry Stotts, who watched his team fall into a 16-0 hole at the beginning of the game, was not as impressed with the Sixers’ defense.
“I don’t know if it was anything they did,” he said. “We couldn’t buy a basket early. Missed open shots. Missed shots around the basket.”
Lillard, who went 11 of 27 from the floor, attempted just three free throws, making two. He believed he should have gone to the foul line a lot more.
“I go to the rim a lot,” he said. “I’m getting smacked in my head, smacked on my shooting hand when I’m going to the basket. Guys knocking me to the ground every other play — like hard. ... It’s frustrating.”
The Blazers missed their first 13 shots of the night. Dario Saric had five of the Sixers’ points in the game-opening 16-0 flurry.
Portland didn’t score until Shabazz Napier hit a jumper from the left baseline seven minutes into the game. The Blazers trailed 26-14 at the end of the first quarter. It was the fewest points the Sixers have allowed in any quarter this season.
The Blazers never drew closer than eight the rest of the night.
When Portland (10-8) cut the gap to 64-55 on Lillard’s 3-point play with 2:26 left in the third quarter, Embiid answered with six consecutive points, and his resounding block of Lillard’s layup attempt with 2.2 seconds left in the quarter elicited a roar from the crowd.
Embiid later called it “a regular block,” even though he spiked the ball out of bounds, like the volleyball player he had been years ago in his native Cameroon.
The Sixers, ahead 70-57 at the end of the period, extended their lead to as many as 22 in the fourth quarter.
NOTES: Sixers guard T.J. McConnell had 13 points off the bench, and another Philadelphia reserve, C Amir Johnson, contributed 11 rebounds and two blocks. ... C Jusuf Nurkic had 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Blazers. ... Philadelphia G-F Ben Simmons entered the game averaging 18.7 points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.6 assists. The only Sixer to average at least 18 points, nine rebounds and 7.5 assists for a full season was the legendary Wilt Chamberlain, who did it in 1966-67 and 1967-68. “That’s amazing to me,” Simmons said before the game. “But for me to see that, it makes me think, why I can’t be one of the best players to ever play, or the best?” ... Portland F Al-Farouq Aminu missed his 10th straight game with a sprained right ankle. ... Philadelphia G/F Nik Stauskas sat out his seventh straight with an ankle sprain, and G-F Justin Anderson missed his third straight with shin splints.