76ers-Trail Blazers Preview
By KATE HEDLIN
(AP) -- 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.
Updated December 25, 2011