Phils Get Back to .500, Cole Wins, Dom Homers, Everyone Happy Forever

Phils Get Back to .500, Cole Wins, Dom Homers, Everyone Happy Forever

A dicey game for about six-and-a-half innings there--especially if you were squatting behind home plate--was redeemed in the seventh inning today when the Phils exploded for five runs, all with two outs, off Marlins reliever A.J. Ramos. The Phillies easily held on in the last two frames to get a 6-1 win that makes for all sorts of team benchmarks: Their first home sweep of the year, their first four-game winning streak of the year, and of course, their first time this season with as many wins as losses since they were 6-6 on April 14th.

The biggest personal vindication of the afternoon goes to Colbert Michael Hamels, who had easily his best start of the season (though truth told, all his Miami starts have been pretty good--six runs in 27 innings, with 32 strikeouts and just four walks between his four outings this year) with a final line of 7 IP, 4H, 1ER, 1BB and a season-high 11 K's. Best of all, the Phils' offensive unshackling came just in time to count towards Cole's decision for the game, resulting in his long-delayed second W of the season, his first since April 28th. I don't want to call it a "Vintage Cole" outing because I want to believe this was more of a return to form than a flashback, but in any event, it was fun to watch our ace pitching like one.

And after going hitless in his last eight at bats--a biblical drought considering the tear he'd been on--the Downtown Dom Brown watch was back in full effect in the sixth inning tonight, when Marlins reliever A.J. Ramos generously hung a 3-1 changeup over the outside of the plate to Dom, and he belted it to right for an easy round-tripper. The best thing about it for me was how damn predictable it was--men on base, Phils with the lead, a 3-1 count and a shaky righty reliever on the mound, of course Dom was gonna homer to right. I mean seriously, doesn't this Ramos dude watch MLB Tonight? This be what Dom Brown do.

And in case you need happy funtime stat reminders, it's Domonic's NL-leading 18th homer of the season--Justin Upton is now four back in second place with his 14, and Dom now only trails Chris Davis' 20 for the lead in all of baseball--and his 10th in his last 12 games. With only one dinger today and zero yesterday, though, Dom is really starting to lag behind the homer-a-game pace he's set out for himself, so he should probably make up some ground by going yard thrice tomorrow night against the Brewers. Otherwise he might be spending the whole year playing catchup.

Aside from Dom and Cole, big kudos today go to Ryan "Big Legs" Howard, who again went for the triple today on a drive to right-center and actually got there this time. ("I thought, 'Oh no, not again,'" was Charlie's answer when asked his reaction to Ryno going for three.) And the whole inning was broken wide by Jimmy Rollins, whose single scored Delmon Young for the go-ahead run. J-Roll is also in the midst of maybe the best stretch of his career seeing the ball--though batting third in front of Ryan and Domonic might be helping with that--walking 12 times in his last ten games, after walking just 12 times in the 50 games before that. OBP has always been a concern with Rollins, so it's good to see him doing his part to give Ryan and Dom actual runs to bat in.

Oh, and because it's what anyone who didn't care about the actual outcome of this game is likely going to be talking about, it's probably worth mentioning that umpire John Hirschbeck took one in the wrist in the seventh and laid on the ground for several minutes afterwards, resulting in a 20-plus-minute delay and Jim Reynolds replacing Hirschbeck behind the place. Weird moment at the ballpark that halted what was otherwise a very quick-moving game, but the Phils commenced their rally shortly thereafter, so it looks like Charlie's "Win One For Hirschy" motivational ploy worked. Thanks John!

In Milwaukee tomorrow night for the first of a four-gamer, hopefully which will go better than the last time the Brewers were in town. Unrealistic to expect all four going this well, anyway--nine hits for the game, and one for each slot in the lineup (the eight position starters and Delmon Young as a pinch-hitter). Throw in the afternoon setting and gorgeous weather, and baseball will rarely be as utopian as this.

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.