3-2!! 3-2!! Sixers Go Over .500 With Win in New Orleans

3-2!! 3-2!! Sixers Go Over .500 With Win in New Orleans

Sooo much better than last year. Five games in last season, the
Philadelphia 76ers were just picking up their first win—a home victory
against the mediocre Pacers—on their way to starting the season 3-13, a
hole it took the whole season to crawl out of. Now, five games into the
'11-'12 season, we already have our third win—all won on the road, all
coming from behind, all with our young guys showing why they just might
be capable of leading this franchise back to something vaguely
resembling prominence. It's a pretty nice thing.

Tonight was
looking dangerously like a repeat performance of the Sixers'
disappointing performance in Utah, as the Hornets jumped out to an early
double-digit lead and seemed to be keeping the Sixers at arms' length
for much of the second half, showing impressive fight despite a somewhat
talent-depleted roster. But thanks to some awesome defensive tightening
in the fourth quarter, and some absolutely huge late-game shots from
Jrue Holiday, the Sixers were finally able to grab the lead and pull
away late, holding on for the 101-93 victory.

There were a number of players who stepped up for the Sixers, led
perhaps by Evan Turner of the bench. The Extraterrestrial started out
miserably, missing open looks and turning the ball over (echoing his season-worst
performance in NO last year), but found a groove late in second quarter
that continued into the second half and breathed life back into the
lethargic Sixers. Evan ended with 21 points on 8-12 shooting, with six
boards and four dimes, easily his best game of the season and probably
his second best as a Sixer. After two back-to-back bum games, it's
exactly what he (and we) needed to reinforce that he is still ahead of
where he was last season.

And once again, Spencer F'ing Hawes. Spence saw his streak of
double-digit rebound games finally snapped, but he still grabbed seven,
scored 17 and even picked up a season-high four blocks. The Unibrow
entered this game as the league leader in FG% with his 67.6%, and though
it might drop a few tenths after going 8-12 tonight, we're certainly
not complaining. The improvement is real—Hawes has become absolutely
automatic from 18 feet, to the point that even on the one such shot he
missed (with 90 seconds to go), Andre Iguodala was able to swoop in for
an offensive rebound because nobody bothered to box out. He might come
back to earth a little in future weeks as defenses start to adjust to
his newly proven skill set, but he's proving why with certain
high-upside players, you have to hang on a little more than feels right,
just in case they suddenly start to figure it out.

Still, the game ball tonight has to go to one Jrue Holiday. Like Evan,
the Damaja started the night out slow, looking off on his jumper, but
boy did he ever end strong. Jrue hit a couple gigantic threes in the
fourth to give the Sixers the separation from the Hornets they'd been
scrapping for all game, and another with under a minute left that was
just barely ruled a two, ending with a season-high 24 points, along with
eight assists and zero turnovers. On a team that has so badly craved a
closer in recent years, Jrue is starting to present a pretty convincing
case that the guy's been there all along, and if Coach Collins continues
to put the ball in Andre Iguodala's hands in the final seconds, he's
gonna have a lot of explaining to do in his post-game press-conferences.

It wasn't all wine and roses for the Sixers—'Dre's hot shooting start
came crashing down to the mean with his 2-10 night (0-4 from deep), and
Jodie Meeks' shot continues to be totally M.I.A., as he went 1-5,
missing some open looks that really sapped the team's momentum.
Meanwhile, Hornets lead scorer Eric Gordon shredded the team's defense in the first quarter,
and finished with 22 points, though the Sixers' tight wing D in the
second half at least dictated that he needed 22 shots to do so. But the
Sixers protected the ball (just eight TOs total), were able to get stops
late, and so thoroughly outplayed the Hornets' bench (41 points to 26)
that they were able to overcome the strong performances from Gordon,
power forward Carl Landry (21 points, 8 boards) and point guard Jarret
Jack (19 points, 11 assists). As Zumoff said, it'll be a recurring theme
this season.

Ultimately, the Sixers were the better team in four of their five road
games, and won three of them—pretty acceptable, all told. While 3-2
isn't exactly winning a championship, it's still a very good start for
the Liberty Ballers, who now get to play their first game in Philly this
year (against the Pistons on Friday, the latest first home game of any
team) as a winning ballclub. A small victory, and one we hope to add to
as the season progresses, and Holiday, Turner, Hawes and the rest of the
guys try to prove that they're capable of growing into a legit Eastern
Conference power. We can't wait to root 'em on at the WFC this Friday.
Marreese Who?

Highly ranked 2018 recruit Brandon Slater verbally commits to Villanova

Highly ranked 2018 recruit Brandon Slater verbally commits to Villanova

The future of Villanova basketball just got brighter.

Brandon Slater, a 6-foot-6 wing and highly touted 2018 recruit, told Scout.com on Wednesday night that he has verbally committed to the Wildcats.

He later made the announcement on Twitter.

Among the 2018 recruiting class, Slater, a product of Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, Virginia, is ranked in the top 30 by Scout.com and top 50 by ESPN.com. He's slated as a four-star talent by both media outlets.

Per ESPN, Slater had offers from Louisville, Maryland, Miami, Syracuse, USC and Virginia Tech. He is Villanova's first commitment for 2018.

"Going up there it just feels like a second home," Slater said, via Evan Daniels of Scout.com. "It gives me a good vibe. It's nothing like all the other schools. I just feel like a Villanova guy. It feels like PVI. It's already home."

Slater and Villanova head coach Jay Wright expressed their excitement on Twitter.

Pete Mackanin maintains positive outlook even though Phillies now have worst record in majors

Pete Mackanin maintains positive outlook even though Phillies now have worst record in majors

BOX SCORE

On the surface, it might appear that the Phillies were done in by one bad inning on Wednesday night. After all, they suffered a 7-2 loss at Citizens Bank Park and the visiting Colorado Rockies scored all of their runs in one hellacious burst in the third inning (see Instant Replay).

But there was more to the loss than just one poor inning by starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson. The Phillies came to the plate in nine innings against the Rockies pitchers and managed hits in only two of them while finishing the game with just three. It was the third time in the last four games — all losses — that the Phillies have mustered just three (expletive deleted) hits. Through the first seven innings in this one, they were out-hit, 11-1.

"Well, once again, three hits," manager Pete Mackanin said afterward. "Not a whole lot of good to talk about."

No, there wasn't. Hasn't been for a while. The Phillies have lost five in a row, 9 of 10 and 20 of their last 24 games. Wednesday night's loss left them with the worst record in the majors at 15-29.

"There's a lot of baseball left, and I know we're better than this," Mackanin said. "We just have to have some kind of spark to get out of it. Win a couple in a row and it could put us on a winning streak."

It's not going to be easy to start the winning streak in Thursday's series finale against Colorado. The Rockies have the best record in the National League at 31-17 and they have outscored the Phillies, 23-5, in the first three games of the series.

That's a serious beating.

"They have some really good hitters in that lineup and it's a deep lineup, too," Hellickson said. "There are no easy outs."

Conversely, there have been many easy outs in the Phillies' lineup in this series. The Phils did not get their first hit Wednesday night until Andrew Knapp singled with two outs in the fifth inning. The Rockies' starting pitchers in this series have held the Phils to two runs in 20 innings. And two of those pitchers were rookies, Jeff Hoffman and German Marquez. Tyler Chatwood pitched seven shutout innings Wednesday night.

The Phillies' starting pitching in the month of May has been brutal. Phillies starters have a 6.39 ERA in the month, second worst in baseball over that span.

The team is 4-17 in the month.

"It's been kind of surprising," Mackanin said of the rotation's problems this month. "I know they're better than that. We're going to put something together. I believe that."

Hellickson went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts in April. He's been a different pitcher in May. His ERA in the month is a hefty 7.30 in five starts. The difference in the months: Hellickson located his finesse repertoire down in the strike zone in April. He's been up in the zone in May. On Wednesday night, Rockies hitters fought off his middling fastball and didn't miss his soft stuff because it was up. Carlos Gonzalez had the big hit against Hellickson in the Rockies' seven-run third. He jumped out of his shoes to hack at a 2-1 changeup and hit it for a three-run home run.

"He had poor command of his changeup," Mackanin said. "He was yanking his changeup, not locating it. That's his out pitch. He didn't have it tonight.

"He's had a lot of good starts for us. When he doesn't locate, he gives up a run here or there, but he kind of gets it back. For that one inning, it fell apart on him."

Hellickson allowed eight baserunners on six hits and two walks in the Rockies' seven-run third inning. He gave up a double, a triple, a homer and three singles in the frame.

"I beat myself that inning by falling behind and walking too many," the pitcher said. "When I did make a good pitch, they found a way to get hits off those, too."

This is the third straight season that the Phillies have endured a 4-20 stretch.

"It's not easy," Hellickson said. "It's not fun. It's just something you deal with. It's not fun."

During this stretch, Mackanin has benched his cleanup hitter, Maikel Franco (see story). Otherwise, he has kept his sanity.

"I remember when I took over in '15, the team was scuffling, really not playing well," Mackanin said. "Then something clicked and we started beating teams. Last year, we had a good first part of the season and then kind of scuffled at the end. Sometimes one little thing clicks and you get better.

"In a long season, these things sometimes happen. I remember Atlanta, the first half last year, was terrible. They had a real good second half. I believe we just need to get something going. We're going to put something together. I believe that."