Nationals, Braves Numbers 1 and 2 in SI Offseason Power Rankings, Phillies 16th

Nationals, Braves Numbers 1 and 2 in SI Offseason Power Rankings, Phillies 16th

One of the big arguments we keep hearing as to why the
Phillies have been such a disappointment this offseason is, “Look how much
better the rest of the NL East got,” specifically the Washington Nationals and
Atlanta Braves. Sports Illustrated clearly believes there’s something to that.

According to SI’s offseason power rankings, the Nationals
and Braves are the two top teams in Major League Baseball this


CF Denard Span, RP Rafael Soriano, SP Dan Haren, RP Bill Bray, RP Zack Duke

Subtractions: SP Edwin Jackson, 1B/OF Michael Morse, RP Sean
Burnett, SP John Lannan, RP Tom Gorzelanny, Util. Mark DeRosa, RP Mike Gonzalez

Last year's major league leader in
wins, with 98, ought to be even better a year later. The addition of Span gives
Washington the true centerfielder and leadoff hitter it has craved, while Haren
reasonably can be expected to pick up where Jackson left off and Soriano
deepens an already strong bullpen. The core players are mostly young with the
potential for growth (especially Bryce Harper) and remember that three of that
number -- ace Stephen Strasburg, reliever Drew Storen and catcher Wilson Ramos
-- missed time last year either with injuries or the fear thereof.


OF Justin Upton, OF B.J. Upton, RP Jordan Walden, 3B Chris Johnson, C Gerald

Subtractions: 3B/OF Martin Prado, SP Tommy Hanson, SP Randall
Delgado, C David Ross, OF Eric Hinske, OF Michael Bourn*, 3B Chipper Jones*

Atlanta's production from its
righthanded hitters (49 HRs and a .671 OPS) was the worst in the NL. That's a
huge reason the Braves gave B.J. Upton the largest free-agent contract in team
history (five years, $75.25 million) and traded five players for his brother,
Justin. Jones retired but manager Fredi Gonzalez believes Justin Upton can be
the same middle-of-the-order presence for this young team on the rise. Atlanta
did, after all, win the same number of regular-season games as the champion
Giants (94) and did so with a slightly better staff ERA (3.42 for Atlanta, 3.68
for SF).

I’m still on the fence about just how “improved” Atlanta
really is. Sure, they will get more production from righthanders, but there is
plenty of overall production there to replace. I wouldn’t describe them as
being a vastly better team, and certainly not the runner-up for best team in baseball after the completion of this offseason,
but that’s me.

Hard to argue with the Nationals in the top spot though,
strengthening a core that won 98 games last season.

As for the Phillies…


3B Michael Young, RP Mike Adams, OF Ben Revere, SP John Lannan, OF Delmon Young

Subtractions: SP Vance Worley, 3B Placido Polanco, RP David
Herndon, Util Ty Wigginton, RP Josh Lindblom

The rotation is still headlined by
Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay -- though not in that order -- and
that's an encouraging start to any team, but Philadelphia's offensive
production (both total runs scored and league rank) has dipped three straight
seasons. On Opening Day the Phillies' four infielders and catcher will all be 33
or older, and the only player in that group who hasn't shown signs of decline
-- catcher Carlos Ruiz -- is suspended the first 25 games of the season for a
failed PED test. Adams and Jonathan Papelbon form a dominant back end of the
bullpen, which had been missing in Philadelphia.

First of all, 16th is hardly the disaster the Phils’
offseason has often been made out to be. As I wrote last week, the Phillies
didn’t necessarily need to make tremendous improvements seeing as they won 102
in 2011, and posted a .587 winning percentage in the second half last season
once they got healthy. True, they are relying on aging core, but they still appear
to be much better off in the bullpen (what about Chad Durbin, bro?) and at
third base at least.

In fact, some might argue this ranking is a little low.

We’ll see soon enough though, because baseball is right
around the corner. Pitchers and catchers report next week, and it won’t be long
after that before things start to get interesting.

>> Nationals, Braves lead NL quartet atop offseason Power Rankings [SI]

/* Style Definitions */
{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday in the season opener (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular-season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot, it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as the big man liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 minutes and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fadeaway jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guys' first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of [Hakeem] Olajuwon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).