Sixers make a stop in Portland
If there was one positive in a lengthy season-opening road, it would be the allowance of new and old players to spend time and mess together on and off the court.
However, with the Philadelphia 76ers seeing little overhaul this offseason, their five game trip to begin the 2011-12 season will instead just be business as usual.
With an eye on a better start than the one that plagued them a season ago, the Sixers kick off their season looking to deny the Portland Trail Blazers an 11th straight home-opening victory.
In head coach Doug Collins' first season on the bench last year, the 76ers lost their first four games and were just 3-13 by late November before finally finding their groove under the coach. Philadelphia finished strong and ended the season at the .500 mark (41-41), earning a first-round playoff date with the mighty Heat that went Miami's favor in five games.
Still, Philadelphia posted a 14-game improvement under Collins and little change to the roster could be a big advantage in this abbreviated season.
"Our calling card is going to be internal improvement," Collins said.
That means Collins will be looking for outstanding play on both ends of the floor from star forwards Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand and another step forward from young point guard Jrue Holiday. Also looking to build off last season will be second-year pro Evan Turner, the second overall pick of the 2010 draft.
Philadelphia's players will have plenty of time to get reacquainted as the club won't play its home opener until Jan. 6. Philadelphia's five-game road trip is its longest ever to begin the season, surpassing a pair of three-game treks in 1971-72 and 1999-2000. The Sixers went perfect on the first swing, but dropped all three contests of the latter one.
Portland will welcome Philadelphia to town looking to win an 11th straight home opener. The 10-game run dates back to 2001 and has featured victories over 10 different opponents.
The Trail Blazers will play each of their first three contests as the host, but do so without guard Brandon Roy after the star player was forced to retire because of knee problems.
Roy was the sixth overall pick in the 2006 draft and was limited to only 47 games last year due to injury.
"You're sad to see a situation like this happen," said Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan. "He's very special to me. We're going to miss him. He played some great basketball for us."
Also missing from Portland's opening lineup will be another oft-injured player in Greg Oden, who signed his qualifying offer with the Trail Blazers after playing in just a total of 82 games since Portland made him the top pick of the 2007 draft. Oden has already had surgery on both his knees since and missed all of last year due to a microfracture procedure on his left knee.
A setback for Oden has again but his season in doubt.
That leaves the heavy lifting for forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who is likely to play tonight despite undergoing a heart procedure in the offseason.
These two clubs split a pair of meetings last year, with each team winning on home court. The 76ers have won six of the last nine both overall and in Portland, while the Blazers will be looking to win two in a row over the Sixers for the first time since Dec. 28, 2005 and Dec. 11, 2006.