By Annie Ross
It will be a rare afternoon game today at the Wells for the Sixers and the Portland Trail Blazers.
Rarer still because Joel Embiid is still out for Philly.
The Sixers captured their second in a row when they returned from the All-Star break with a 106-102 win over the Miami Heat on Thursday, pushing their record to 38-21.
Despite playing without injured All-Star center Embiid and reserve guard/forward Furkan Korkmaz, the Sixers received a balanced effort against the Heat.
Tobias Harris (above) led the way with 23 points and 11 rebounds, while Ben Simmons scored 21 points. Boban Marjanovic hit his first six shots and wound up with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Jimmy Butler scored 18 points. JJ Redick added 13.
The new-look Sixers will have another stern test against the Trail Blazers.
“We’re still learning,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “I think it’s our fifth game with this group and it was my determination to come back in this final third and try to figure some stuff out so that we’re where we want to be in April.”
Embiid and Korkmaz will be out once again against Portland, which will cause Brown to mix and match his lineups. The Sixers will have to go small at times. For a player like Simmons, he could shift from point guard to any of the four other positions, including center.
“I don’t mind playing the five at all … I actually like it,” Simmons said. “It gives me the opportunity to just make plays defensively.”
The Sixers will be searching for their fourth consecutive home win against the Trail Blazers, who will be playing their second game with center Enes Kanter.
Portland picked up its second win in a row with a 113-99 decision at the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday.
Jusuf Nurkic scored 27 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, while Enes Kanter added 18 points and nine rebounds in 19 minutes. Kanter, recently being released by the struggling New York Knicks, made his first seven shots and finished 8 of 9 from the field.
“I saw a guy who can finish inside,” Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts told reporters about Kanter.
“He basically played the way we expected him to. He’s a very effective post player. He’s very effective in the paint. He set great screens in the pick-and-rolls. I don’t know if you could have asked for a better first game from him.”
The Trail Blazers won by 14 points despite an off night from All-Star guard Damian Lillard, who had 13 points, eight assists and eight rebounds. But he shot just 5 of 21.
Kanter was a key presence in the win, which were quite rare with the Knicks.
“The last time I got a win, I think it was almost two months,” Kanter told reporters. “Winning feels good again. I’m just happy to go out there again, playing with my teammates. I’m trying to make everyone better.”
The Trail Blazers, in fourth place in the Western Conference at 35-23, will be playing the second game in a seven-game road trip.