Big Man and the Doctor: 'Nuff Said for Phils Victory

Big Man and the Doctor: 'Nuff Said for Phils Victory

It's always a nice feeling when you feel like your team has the game in
the bag in the first inning. When Ryan Howard lifted off on a three-run
blast in the Phillies' first time up in their second game at Miller Park
this trip, you could be pretty sure that the Brewers were just about
sunk with Cy Young candidate (and reigning winner) Roy Halladay taking
the mound in the bottom of the frame. Sure enough, Doc was dominant, and
despite some unnecessary suspense from the bullpen in the ninth, the
Brew Crew were shut down as the Phils won their fifth in a row, by a
score of 5-3.

The game was a relatively boring one in between that rockin' first
inning and a mildly heartburning ninth (the Brewers began the inning
down four but managed to bring up the possible tying run several times),
so rather than doing straight recapping, let's look at some player and
team numbers instead. Cool?

The Big Piece

Though
Ryan Howard's percentages have fallen this year pretty much across the
board, his counting numbers remain about as impressive as ever. Ryno's
three-run no-doubter tonight give him 32 dingers and 111 RBIs for the
season, both more than he had all of last year, and in only 137 games so
far. (Howard played 143 in '10.) His .836 OPS (as of yesterday,
probably in the low .840s with his performance tonight) is way too low
for a slugger of his stature and pay-rate, but good to know that the big
man still knows how to put points on the board as well as anyone.

The
Doctor Is In

Roy Halladay was predictably beastly for the
Phils tonight, giving up just one run in eight innings of four-hit, nine
K ball. (The three walks Doc gave up were a season high, but
considering that still puts him at just one per start, we'll let it
slide.) The nine punchouts put Big Roy over 200 for the fifth time in
his career (and fourth straight season), and with presumably at least
three more starts coming his way before season's end, he's got a fairly
good shot of breaking his career-best mark of 219, set with the Fightins
last year. Doc's start will hopefully be a challenging en garde
for Cliff Lee's start tomorrow, as the pair are undoubtedly two of the
three NL Cy Young front-runners at this point—though the third, Clayton
Kershaw of the Dodgers, also strengthened his case with an eight-inning,
one-run win of his own in San Francisco.

Choooooooooooch

Anyone notice how quietly awesome our starting catcher has been the last
few months? On July 6, Carlos sat with a batting average of .248,
looking like he was undergoing a major regression to the mean after last
year's unexpected .300+ hitting campaign. But in the 45 games since,
Chooch has goosed that average all the way back up to .283, getting his
OPS over .750—my highly unofficial cut-off line for when a player is
having an above-average hitting season. Ruiz has hit safely in 18 of his
last 20 games, hitting .388 over that stretch, and last night posted a
ho-hum 2-2 with two walks and an RBI. It's enough in my opinion to prove
that last year wasn't a fluke, and that Chooch has indeed turned
himself into a legitimate offensive threat in this league.

The Magic is Fading Fast

The Magic Number posted for the Phillies on Yahoo! Sports is currently a
paltry nine over the Braves, but by my highly unreliable calculations,
the number over the Cardinals to secure the wildcard is just
three—meaning that the Phils could theoretically clinch a spot in the
post-season as early as Sunday, If so, hopefully there will be ginger
ale and chips made available to the boys in the locker room for what
will undoubtedly be an incredibly unimpressed celebration.

108

All right, so I shouldn't even care about this and it probably doesn't
even make sense for us to push for it, but whatever—I really, really
want to see this team get to 108 wins. 108 wins would mean a 2/3 winning
percentage—in other words, the team would have won twice as many games
as it lost for an entire season, something that I don't believe has been
done in the NL since the '86 Mets. It's something only a truly great
team can do, though as the 116-win 2001 Seattle Mariners will attest, it
can ring a little hollow without a post-season to back it up. I'm
rooting for it, in any event, and the team only has to 15-6 to do it—no
easy task, certainly, but not impossible by any means. And at the very
least, I would like to see the team get to 102, thus making it the best
regular-season squad in the Phillies' 128-year history. That and another
ring, I'd certainly live without the 108.

Up Next

Cliff Lee—remember him?—will be facing our old friend Randy Wolf at 7:05
tomorrow night in the penultimate game of the series, and the last game
of the season before the Phils officially have to share face time with
the Eagles' 2011 campaign. Enjoy it while you can, kids—for as hyped as
the team is this year, we'd still have to be damn, damn lucky for
the Eagles' season to end up being anywhere near as pleasurable and
drama-free as it has been so far for the Fightins.

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

BOX SCORE

Brett Brown was ready to do it Wednesday night. The matchup against the Kings presented an opportunity to experiment with playing Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together. That pairing had to wait two days, though, after the Kings game was postponed

On Friday, Embiid and Okafor shared the court for just under 13 minutes in the Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic (see Instant Replay), who also rolled out a duo of bigs in Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. 

“I thought we had our moments,” Embiid said. “We shared the ball, we made shots. Obviously we need to play more together and learn how to play with each other.”

Embiid and Okafor first played together for 5:29 in the second quarter. They scored all of the Sixers' 12 points during that time, including a pair of threes by Embiid. They also combined for five boards. The Sixers outscored the Magic, 12-9, with the bigs in together.

The benefits of the floor spacing was apparent. Oftentimes in the game, Okafor could be seen open at the basket with a hand up for the ball while Embiid was also getting looks from long range. 

“I liked our spacing, I liked the high-low stuff we were doing,” Brown said. “I think when you post Joel, that Jahlil is going to play sort of hide-and-seek on the other side of the floor, and work that low zone, and become — I hope — a potent offensive rebounder. When you post Jahlil, Joel has the ability to space to three.”

Brown turned to Embiid and Okafor again in the fourth. At that point, the Magic had a 23-point lead. Their next 7:25 together was a chance to give them a long run in live game action. They combined for another 12 points and four rebounds. All of their buckets were layups, dunks or free throws. Both teams scored 19 points with Embiid and Okafor in that segment.

Both Embiid and Okafor finished the game with double-doubles: 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Embiid; 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks for Okafor. 

“I thought they played well together,” Vucevic said. “I thought it was tough to guard them because they’re both really good offensively.”

Okafor credited his friendship with Embiid, which dates back to high school, as a key to coexisting well on the court. Both emphasized their off-the-court relationship would help them in a game situation. 

“I think the communication piece went really well,” Okafor said. “He was talking to me, I was talking to him.”

Scoring and communication always seemed to be the easier parts of the pairing to tackle. Defense, though, was the challenge given that one of the centers would have to guard the four spot. Okafor noted their transition D as an area that needs improvement.

“We’re both used to going right to the rim,” Okafor said. “I think I had a couple easy buckets. That’s something we’ll be able to fix.” 

Brown had based his decision of when to play Embiid and Okafor together on the matchups. While the two could boast their own edge on the offensive end, Brown didn’t want to play them in a scenario in which they’d be at a huge defensive disadvantage. 

“It’s not offense to me, it’s defense. That’s the thing that is most challenging,” Brown said. “We want to play fast. We want to put points on the board. You don’t want to play in the 80s. You don’t want to do that, that’s not our sport anymore. So you want to make sure that you're capable of guarding the opposition.”

Vucevic noticed the challenge from an opposing perspective. He understands the necessary changes since playing alongside Biyombo.  

“It takes time for them to get adjusted, especially for the guy that will be playing the four defensively,” Vucevic said. “They’re not used to that because they always back down to the paint guarding the fives. It’s a different look. They have to work on it, communicate, and I think they’ll be fine.” 

On a night with few highlights in a 17-point blowout loss, Brown was able to take away a positive from this anticipated duo.

"I thought Jahlil and Joel did a really good job," he said. 

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Joel Embiid didn’t see four quarters of basketball from the Sixers in their 105-88 loss to the Magic Friday night (see Instant Replay). Their efforts were inconsistent as they fell flat in long stretches and allowed the Magic to build up double-digit leads as high as 29 points.

The Sixers gave up a 16-0 run in the first and shot just 6 for 26 (23.1 percent) in the quarter. The Magic, who had lost a one-point game to the Grizzlies in Memphis the night before, rallied together to seize this opportunity.

“They just made a lot of shots that we didn’t,” Embiid said. “That’s the game, but we didn’t play hard all 48 minutes and we need to do a better job next time.”

The Sixers didn’t break 30 points until 4:33 to go in the second and attempted just two free throws in the first half. By the end of the third, the Magic had a 21-point lead which they held on to with in ease in the fourth. 

The Magic outshot the Sixers on all areas of the floor: 47.4 percent to 37.9 from the field and 50.0 to 28.1 from three. While the teams had nearly equal percentages from the line, the Magic shot 18 for 26 compared to only 7 for 10 from the Sixers. 

“They missed a lot of shots,” Magic forward Jeff Green said. “We got stops, were aggressive, guys just played hard and created for one another and played as a team.”

Covington injured
The Sixers are waiting to learn more news on the extent of Robert Covington’s injury. In the fourth quarter, Covington exited and did not return after suffering a left knee sprain when he collided with T.J. McConnell chasing a loose ball in front of the Sixers’ bench. If the starting small forward has to miss time, Sixers head coach Brett Brown is thinking ahead to possible lineup changes. 

“We'll try to figure out what his next week represents,” Brown said. “If we aren't with him, maybe there's a chance we can look at Dario [Saric] a little bit at the three.”

Covington is averaging 8.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 27.5 minutes per game. Saric has been coming off the bench at power forward behind Ersan Ilyasova. He started 10 games earlier this season at the four spot. 

Embiid honored
The Sixers honored Embiid during a timeout for being named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month (October and November). Embiid was appreciative of the award and has his sights set on the bigger picture this season.

“All the hard work I’ve put in, it feels great,” Embiid said earlier in the day at shootaround. “Obviously, maybe the bigger picture is Rookie of the Year, that’s what matters. … I don’t have my mind set on that. But if I can get it, that would be nice.”

Brown sees this recent showing as just a glimpse into what Embiid will be able to do over his career. Embiid leads the Sixers with 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. 

“This in infant stages, early days for him,” Brown said. “His body of work, given his lack of playing basketball, really is jaw-dropping for what I think he can be. To jump in and get rookie of the month I think is a real, sort of, quick snapshot view of him now. I think what he’s going to be is going to be extremely special.”

Embiid also is shooting 51.4 percent from three, including 3 for 5 against the Magic. When asked if he would like to participate in the three-point contest All-Star weekend, he said "it would be nice" and noted he would have to work on the speed of his release.