The Portland Trail Blazers have proved they can win on the road. Now they’re hoping to get their first home victory.
The next opportunity comes Saturday night against the undefeated but shorthanded Philadelphia 76ers.
Philadelphia will be without center Joel Embiid, who will begin serving a two-game suspension for his role in an on-court skirmish with Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns on Wednesday night. Towns also was suspended.
Saturday’s game will be only the second at home for Portland, which lost 108-100 to the Denver Nuggets on opening night.
The Blazers then went on the road and took three of four, defeating Sacramento, Dallas and Oklahoma City but losing 113-110 at San Antonio.
Philadelphia has defeated Boston, Detroit, Atlanta and Minnesota, going 2-0 both home and away, to take the early lead in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. It’s the only undefeated team left in the league.
Embiid has averaged 23.3 points and 10.3 rebounds in what the team is proclaiming as “bully ball defense” and “smash-mouth offense” as it tries to set a tone with physicality and defense.
Sixers coach Brett Brown initially said the tussle involving Embiid didn’t seem like it would warrant a suspension.
“It’s our creed. It’s Philly hard. It’s Philly edge. There’s an authenticity, it’s real,” he said. “Every time we can, we like to point to an example, ‘Yup, this is Philly hard. Yup, that thing had an edge.’ This is real. There’s a spirit amongst our team that’s authentic. It is Philadelphia and life moves on. That’s part of it.”
Four other Philadelphia players are scoring in double figures: small forward Tobias Harris (18.8 points per game), point guard Ben Simmons (16.5), power forward Al Horford (14.0) and shooting guard Josh Richardson (13.3). Harris and Horford each are averaging 9.0 rebounds, and Simmons leads the team in assists (8.0) and steals (2.8).
Horford likely will shift to center in Embiid’s absence, with Harris able to play power forward and rookie Matisse Thybulle, who has impressed defensively, an option at small forward.
Another key for the Sixers on Wednesday was the scoring of reserve swing man Furkan Korkmaz, who had 17 points and three 3-pointers in replacing Shake Milton (knee) in the rotation.
The Blazers’ most recent outing also was Wednesday, when a typical late flurry by guard Damian Lillard lifted Portland past Oklahoma City 102-99.
Lillard got hot in the fourth quarter, hitting three 3-pointers in a span of less than 90 seconds to turn the tide in Portland’s favor. He finished with 23 points and 13 assists, and he set up teammates such as small forward Rodney Hood for big baskets down the stretch.
“Sometimes, we’re going to be able to have success when I’m making shots, taking over, when I’m the one scoring the ball. But I think it’ll go further and it will be stronger and we’ll be able to do it more often when we trust in each other making that extra pass,” Lillard said.
The game also will mark the return of Portland native Ime Udoka, 42, who once played for Portland State and the Blazers. He’s now Philly’s lead assistant coach.
It’ll be the start of a four-game trip that will also take the 76ers to Phoenix on Monday, Utah on Wednesday and Denver on Friday.
The Blazers will visit Golden State on Monday, with the Warriors having just lost guard Stephen Curry to a broken left hand.
–Field Level Media