76ers-Trail Blazers Preview

In what has become a recurring theme in Portland, the Trail
Blazers will open the season with a myriad of injuries. This time,
however, there’s a feeling of optimism within the organization.

The Philadelphia 76ers are pleased about their direction as well
as both teams begin the season Monday night in Portland.

Philadelphia and Portland are similarly looking to build on
playoff appearances. Each club failed to make it out of the first
round, but considered making the postseason an important step.

The Blazers (48-34) lost in six games to eventual champion
Dallas – their third straight first-round exit – but had a positive
season considering they once again had to deal with a series of key
injuries.

They’re still trying to overcome some of those health problems.
While much of the NBA used the additional time during the lockout
to get healthy, the Blazers saw the retirement of 27-year-old star
Brandon Roy due to chronic knee problems, while Greg Oden – the No.
1 overall pick in the 2007 draft – suffered a setback following his
latest microfracture surgery and is out indefinitely.

There were also concerns that LaMarcus Aldridge would miss the
season after it was discovered he needed a procedure to address a
heart condition. Fortunately, Aldridge – who has
Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, which can cause an irregular
heartbeat – received good news from doctors and quickly
returned.

Center Marcus Camby missed the Blazers’ preseason finale with a
knee problem, although it’s not believed to be serious.

Aldridge averaged a team-leading 21.8 points along with 8.8
rebounds last season. Without Roy, the team will look to rally
around him – a role Aldridge relishes.

“I was coming into this season trying to grow as a leader,
whether Brandon came back or not,” Aldridge said. “(With Roy out)
I’m going to try and grow as a vocal leader on the court and trying
to close out games. That’s where I have to get to for us to
win.”

Aldridge’s recovery was the first piece of positive news for the
Blazers, who ironically may be one of the deeper teams in the
Western Conference after being active in the free-agent market.

Portland added Jamal Crawford, the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year
in 2009-10, to back up emerging guard Wesley Matthews. The Blazers
also signed Kurt Thomas, who averaged 4.1 points and 5.8 rebounds
in 52 games with Chicago last season, and Craig Smith, who
contributed 5.4 points and 2.4 rebounds per game with the Los
Angeles Clippers.

“I like the depth that we have coming off the bench now,” coach
Nate McMillan said. “This season, more than any other season, depth
is going to be important.”

Portland is hoping to surprise opponents in the West while
Philadelphia is trying to take another step forward in the East
after reaching the playoffs with a 41-41 record and losing in five
games to Miami.

The 76ers kept their roster largely intact, sticking with Andre
Iguodala – a rumored trade candidate. Iguodala averaged 14.1
points, 6.3 assists and 5.8 rebounds last season while dealing with
a variety of injuries, but said he returned to an abbreviated camp
10 pounds lighter and in good health.

“The time off was incredible for me,” Iguodala said. “It was
like the weight of the world was off my shoulders.”

In coach Doug Collins’ second season with the team, the Sixers’
fate may depend on the development of their young backcourt.

In his first full season as a starter, Jrue Holiday averaged
14.0 points and 6.5 assists. Jodie Meeks, also a second-year player
in 2010-11, averaged 10.5 points and shot 39.7 percent from 3-point
range.

Philadelphia is also hoping for improvement from Evan Turner,
the second overall pick in the 2010 draft, who had an up-and-down
rookie campaign but showed promise with a couple of good games in
the playoffs.

The 76ers opened last season 3-13, and could have trouble
avoiding another slow start while beginning with a five-game road
trip. Iguodala, however, said the team’s continuity will help.

“It’s the first time in a while I didn’t have to go through a
new set,” Iguodala said. “Pretty much everyone knew it. When you
have a core of guys who have been together, and you don’t have to
change much, we know each other, that makes it easier. You don’t
have to play catch up.”

Portland and Philadelphia split two meetings last season, with
each winning at home.