Full steam ahead as Sixers charge into meeting with Blazers
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Two perennial All-Stars coming off 40-point games go head-to-head Thursday night when Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers visit Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers.

Embiid put on quite a show in back-to-back games at Los Angeles on Friday and Sunday, putting up 35 points in a 113-112 victory over the Lakers, then 41 in a 120-110 triumph over the Clippers.

Embiid has scored 30 or more points in six straight games, wrapped around a three-game absence for a sore left foot, with an average of 35.7 points per game in the run.

Lillard has a similar six-game run, with an average of 39.0 points in the stretch. Lillard scored 40 and 44 points in his last two outings, the latter coming in a 122-113 road loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday.

The stars from opposite conferences have gone head-to-head just four times in their careers, with each team winning twice. Lillard has gotten the better of the individual duel, thanks to a 51-2 scoring difference in 2020 when Embiid sprained his left ankle in the game's sixth minute.

They've met once since, with Embiid enjoying a 35-30 scoring advantage, but the Trail Blazers had the team edge in a 118-114 home win in February 2021. Embiid did not play in either of the Sixers' games against the Trail Blazers last season.

The 76ers have opened a five-game Western Conference road swing with three straight wins, having also recorded a one-point win at Utah last Saturday. The trip ends this Saturday at Sacramento.

Embiid has been far from a one-man show during his Western showcase. Tyrese Maxey has averaged 19.7 points in the three wins and Tobias Harris 17.5 in the last two games, while James Harden had a pair of double-doubles averaging 27.5 points and 12.0 rebounds to get the trip rolling.

"It wouldn't be happening without my teammates," Embiid said. "James is doing a good job of making it easy for me. Guys knocking down shots opens up a lot for me to go out and dominate."

Harden has a far more extensive head-to-head history with Lillard than Embiid. The former Houston Rockets standout dueled Lillard to a virtual standstill (Harden 26.8 points per game, Lillard 25.5) in a 4-2 Portland series win in the 2014 playoffs. They have met 28 other times in the regular season, with Harden averaging 32.8 points in those games en route to a 15-13 edge in wins.

The 76ers and Trail Blazers are seeing each other for the first time this season.

Portland will be tipping off a six-game homestand after the overnight trip to Denver. All told, the Trail Blazers are in the midst of playing 10 of 11 at home over a three-week span.

Before facing Denver, Portland won two of their four consecutive home games, beating the Dallas Mavericks on consecutive nights Saturday and Sunday. Lillard (40), Anfernee Simons (20), Jerami Grant (20) and Jusuf Nurkic (20) combined for 100 points in Sunday's 140-123 victory.

Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups did not feel that Tuesday's loss at Denver stunted the team's momentum moving forward.

"I thought we played well (against the Nuggets). We didn't win the game, but we played well," Billups said. "We kept fighting and obviously (Lillard) had it going. We just couldn't stop them."

This article first appeared on Field Level Media and was syndicated with permission.

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