PORTLAND, Ore. -- A loss is still a loss, but with two contenders on the horizon, a close match against the postseason-focused Trail Blazers was a solid starting point to get the Sixers on track for this road trip.
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The Sixers came into Portland having dropped six out of their last eight games. They were blown out by 30 by the Pistons last weekend and trailed the Bucks by 27 in their most recent contest on Monday. The Sixers wanted to shake those losses.
The Trail Blazers, who entered the night on a three-game winning streak, jumped out to a 12-point lead. The Sixers fought back this time and forced overtime at the buzzer of regulation before falling short, 114-108 (see Instant Replay).
"We had a few games there that were out of character," Gerald Henderson said. "This is a good team and we played well against them. In terms of how we're playing, I think we'll take some positives from it. You want to turn it into winning."
The Sixers face a tough upcoming schedule with games against the Clippers on Saturday and Warriors on Tuesday. The competition isn't going to get easier, and this is the kind of fight they will have to show to compete on their opponents' home turf.
"Playing in front of this crowd and playing in front of superstars like they have, that's what we're going to have to face these next couple of games," T.J. McConnell said. "We have to be ready, know our defensive assignments to a T and execute on offense."
The Sixers had moments to take with them, and others to learn from and leave behind.
Dario Saric scored a career-high 28 points with nine rebounds (which was overshadowed by 28 points, 20 rebounds, eight assists and six blocks by Jusuf Nurkic). He had a determined mindset entering the game. Saric played well in front of his mother, who traveled from Europe to watch him compete in the NBA.
"I felt this can be my night," Saric said. "I just tried to play, tried to stay hungry all the game, tried to be smart, tried to [prevent] the emotional side of me to push me into some kind of hole, to want too much, and don't get in trouble because of that. This was in my mind all the time and I tried to keep myself, no rush, just no rush, take your time."
On the flip side, Robert Covington briefly lost track of the game and intentionally fouled C.J. McCollum with 19.6 seconds to go and the game tied 95 apiece. Covington thought Nurkic had drained two free throws, not one, moments earlier and the Sixers were trailing when they actually were evened up. Brown described the play as a "type of mistake he just doesn't make."
"I thought Nurkic made both," Covington said. "It was a small brain fart. But coach told me to move on from it."
He did, and sent the game into overtime with a putback off a Henderson miss at the buzzer. Covington finished the night with 24 points and 13 rebounds.
"What we all should finally remember is how good of an effort he made to get that putback at the end of the game and what a good game he had," Brown said.
The Sixers also integrated Jahlil Okafor back into the starting lineup after missing the last two games with right knee soreness. Okafor posted 16 points and eight rebounds in 28 minutes.
"At the start of each half he got winded quickly, but I thought for not having played for a while he was really good," Brown said.
The Sixers will have a day to regroup before facing the Clippers on Saturday afternoon. They will follow that up with a back-to-back against the Lakers on Sunday before heading to Oakland against the Warriors on Tuesday.