Dammit Spencer Hawes Stop Teasing Us Like This

Dammit Spencer Hawes Stop Teasing Us Like This

On March 3rd of this year, exactly four weeks ago to the day, Spencer
Hawes had the worst game of his career, and arguably one of the worst
games ever posted by a starting center in the National Basketball
Association, at home against the Golden State Warriors. In about 20
minutes of game action, he scored 0 points on stunning 0-9 shooting,
with four rebounds and two dimes, but also three turnovers and three
personal fouls. (Amazingly, the Sixers still won the game somehow.) It
was an absolutely embarrassing performance in an already disappointing
season that made you wonder if Doug Collins was going to gently,
tenderly asphyxiate him as he slept on the team plane that night,
putting him out of both of their misery.


Since that game, Spencer Hawes has basically been Marc Gasol.

OK,
that's not really true—Gasol has the defensive-anchor bonafides that
Spence, at his best, simply never will, as anyone who watched Hawes
whiff on blocked shot after blocked shot as a help defender in the last
two games against the likes of Kemba Walker and Shaun Livingston will
attest. But if you gave Spencer Hawes' stat line over the 16 games since
the Golden State humiliation to an impartial observer and asked them to
name the player responsible for it, Memphis' all-around beast of an an
All-Star center would be the most logical guess. I mean, look at this
thing:



That's 16 games for which Spence is averaging 15
and 10 a game, on 53.5% shooting along with 50% from three (!!!) and
even 84% from the foul line, to go with about four assists and two
blocks a game, and just two turnovers and 3.4 personal fouls in 32
minutes a night. Those aren't just All-Star numbers; if he had them for a
full season they'd be putting Spence in All-NBA discussion, better than
(or at least comparable to) the lines posted by the likes of Joakim
Noah, Tyson Chandler and (yes) Marc Gasol. Again, Spence will never have
the all-around defensive impact of those three stars, but when you're
getting statistical production of this caliber from your big man, it's
hard to be too critical.


This should be cause for excitement, right? After all, despite being
in his sixth NBA season, Spencer is still just a
young-and-impressionable 24 years old, not hitting the quarter-century
mark until late April. He's signed for another year with the Sixers for
an unexorbitant $6.5 million, and with no assurances for the future with
Andrew Bynum, to have a backup plan (for next year and after) like this
version of Spencer Hawes could give the team a ton of options when
figuring out where their team goes from here. And hell, he's helping
them win games—after losing their first five after the Golden State
game, the team has gone 7-4 since, including the team's first three-game
winning streak since early February, cemented with the team's most
recent victory over the Bobcats.


Unfortunately, Sixers fans have seen this movie before. At the
beginning of last year's lockout-shortened season, Spence looked like he
was going to fulfill Yahoo hoops writer Adrian Wojnarowski's prediction
of winning the year's Most Imrpoved Player honors. He averaged a
double-double over his first eight games, on league-leading 63%
shooting, with three assists and a couple blocks as well. Then injuries
slowed down his season, and when he came back, seemingly fully healthy,
he was back to the player he was the year before—bringing it some
nights, disappearing others, showing flashes of a blue-chip player but
never doing it with any degree of consistency.


And after three years as a Liberty Baller, that's what most of us
have taken to be the norm with Spencer—inconsistency. Like the Sixers'
other tease of a lottery pick, Evan Turner (who, incidentally, has also
come to life a bit lately, scoring 20 in back-to-back games for the
first time since January), it's impossible to trust that the Spence we
see when he's draining jumpers and finishing on putbacks and running our
offense from the high post is the same one we're going to see this time
next week, or next month, or next year. Seemingly at a moment's notice,
he can lose the range, let himself get pushed around inside, and try to
force passes as a distributor, turning into a liability on both ends of
the court.


In the eight games that preceded his recent hot streak—all Sixer
losses, besides the Golden State catastrophe—Spence averaged just nine
points sand seven rebounds on awful 32% shooting, with as many turnovers
and assists, just one block a game, and 0 three-point makes. Even if
this is his longest stretch of quality play—and 16 games is nothing to
sneeze at, certainly—there's simply no guarantee that his level of play
next year, or even for the rest of this season, will come anywhere near
this. Every game is a new opportunity for Spence's play to start
regressing back to the mean.


At this point in the season, when it's too late for an improved
Spencer to do anything for us but cost us ping-pong balls in the
lottery, it's hard not to be a little angry at this guy for teasing us
once again. We'd finally contented ourselves that the Big GOPper was
just never gonna be that good, that his miserable defense would always
outweigh his sporadically inspired offense, that his pedigree and
potential was always gonna come with too many caveats to be worth
investing in. But now here we are again, wondering "Well, maybe this
time it's for real?" And maybe it is—possibly maybe—but given Spence's
past history, you'd have to be described with a "G" word that you can't
find in the dictionary to believe it with any seriousness.


At the very least, Sixers fans should be thankful that Spence is
under contract with the team for another season, since it means there's
no chance (less of a chance, anyway) that the Sixers will reward his
recent hot play with a short-sighted, long-term-damaging multi-year
contract extension, as you know they're just itching to do. Do it for a
whole season, Spencer—next season, perhaps, if you're so inclined—and
then we'll have some degree of faith that you're the real deal. Until
then, we wish you'd stop strutting around all coy and peacock-like on
the court when we know it's all just gonna end in frustration and
disappointment.

NFL Playoff Wrap: Packers, Steelers off to conference title games after dramatic wins

NFL Playoff Wrap: Packers, Steelers off to conference title games after dramatic wins

ARLINGTON, Texas -- This time it was a catch, and another win for the Green Bay Packers.

Call it a "Half Mary" from Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers threw a 36-yard pass to a toe-dragging Jared Cook on the sideline, and Mason Crosby kicked a 51-yard field goal as time expired, sending the Packers to the NFC championship game with their eighth straight win while thwarting a huge Dallas rally in a 34-31 victory in the divisional round of the playoffs Sunday.

The throw on the run from Rodgers to Cook -- confirmed on review -- wasn't nearly as debatable as Dez Bryant's famous catch that wasn't in the Cowboys' divisional round loss to Green Bay two years ago.

Cook kept both feet inbounds with a knee just above the ground out of bounds.

And it came after the Cowboys tied the game twice in the final 5 minutes behind rookie sensations Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in their playoff debut.

It was the third field goal of more than 50 yards in the final 1:38 -- two from Crosby and one from Dallas' Dan Bailey. And Crosby had to make the winner twice after Dallas coach Jason Garrett called timeout before the first attempt.

Rodgers, who sparked last week's wild-card win over the New York Giants with another Hail Mary before halftime, is headed to an MVP showdown with Atlanta's Matt Ryan next Sunday. It will be his third NFC title game -- all on the road.

Green Bay's win was the first by a road team after 12 straight home victories in the playoffs dating to last season.

The Cowboys (13-4) almost became the third team in the Super Bowl era to win in the playoffs after trailing by 15 points in the fourth quarter. The first was Dallas in 1972, when "Captain Comeback", Roger Staubach, rallied the Cowboys for a 30-28 win over San Francisco.

Instead, Dallas ended up with its fifth straight loss in the divisional round and a 21-year drought in trips to the NFC championship game.

Prescott got the Dallas rally going with a 40-yard touchdown toss in the first half to Bryant, the first playoff TD for the star receiver.

Then he set the stage for the first tying score on a 6-yarder to Jason Witten, also the first postseason touchdown for the 14th-year tight end.

Rodgers led the Packers to a go-ahead 56-yard field goal from Crosby with a big boost on a pass interference penalty against rookie Anthony Brown that wiped out an interception from Jeff Heath, whose pick earlier in the game helped Dallas rally.

The Cowboys answered with a 52-yarder from Bailey (see full recap).

Steelers hold off Chiefs to set up rematch with Pats in AFC title game
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Who needs to reach the end zone when you have Le'Veon Bell chewing up yards and the clock, and Chris Boswell setting an NFL playoff record with six field goals?

Throw in a stingy Pittsburgh defense for most of Sunday night, and a multitude of mistakes by Kansas City, and the Steelers' 18-16 victory sent them into the AFC championship game.

The Steelers (13-5) needed to hold off a last-ditch threat by the Chiefs (12-5) before advancing to face New England next Sunday night for a spot in the Super Bowl. The Patriots won at Pittsburgh 27-16, but Ben Roethlisberger was injured and didn't play.

Spencer Ware's 1-yard touchdown run took Kansas City within 18-16. The Chiefs at first converted the 2-pointer to tie it, but tackle Eric Fisher -- the first overall selection in the 2013 draft -- was penalized for holding. The next try failed.

With 2:43 remaining, Justin Gilbert misplayed the kick return and was tackled at the Pittsburgh 5. Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for 7 yards on third down and Pittsburgh then ran out the clock, securing a ninth straight victory for the Steelers. The Chiefs have not won a home playoff game since 1994, losing five in a row.

The scoring started furiously in the opening minutes, then the game became a kicking exhibition by Boswell, who also had six field goals in the regular season against Cincinnati. And Bell put on a virtuoso running performance, patiently finding holes and then exploding through them. He added a team-record 170 yards rushing to the 167 he had in a win over Miami last week.

The Steelers became first team to win a playoff game without a TD since eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis in the 2006 AFC divisional round at Baltimore.

Using a no-huddle attack almost to perfection early on, the Steelers drove deep into Kansas City territory. But they bogged down inside the 5 and Boswell made a 22-yard field goal.

The Chiefs were just as efficient on a six-play march capped by receiver Albert Wilson lining up in the backfield, then slipping uncovered into the end zone for a 5-yard score.

Pittsburgh's answer came on a 52-yard heave to All-Pro Brown, who somehow was covered by linebacker Justin Houston. That led to Boswell's second field goal, a 38-yarder. He added a 36-yarder to cap a 14-play drive on which Pittsburgh again barely huddled.

A clean game up until then turned to, well, turnovers, on successive series. Bud Dupree pounded Alex Smith, whose pass shot high into the air and was caught by linebacker Ryan Shazier.

The Steelers got to the Kansas City 5, where Frank Zombo leaped to deflect Roethlisberger's throw, and All-Pro safety Eric Berry -- burned for 26 yards on the previously play -- picked it off in the end zone.

Boswell's fourth field goal, from 45 yards, made it 12-7 at the half. His 43-yarder, setting the franchise record for a postseason game and tying the league mark of five, came on Pittsburgh's first series of the second half. A 43-yarder midway in the fourth quarter gave Boswell the NFL record.

Kansas City's Cairo Santos got in on the kicking act with a 48-yarder to make it 15-10. At that point, 10 seconds from the end of the third quarter, the Chiefs were outgained 333 yards to 150 (see full recap).

Best of NBA: James Harden's 12th triple-double paces Rockets' rout of Nets

Best of NBA: James Harden's 12th triple-double paces Rockets' rout of Nets

NEW YORK -- James Harden had 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in his 12th triple-double of the season and the Houston Rockets easily ended their first losing streak of the season by beating the Brooklyn Nets 137-112 on Sunday night.

Held to 105 points in losses to Minnesota and Memphis, the Rockets bounced back with 104 after three quarters and handed the Nets their 10th straight loss.

Eric Gordon led the Rockets with 24 points and Trevor Ariza added 23. Houston made 21 3-pointers and had five players with at least 16 points.

Houston shot just 40.8 percent during its two losses, well below its 46.8 season average, while being held nearly 10 points below its season scoring average. But the Rockets had no trouble bouncing back against the Nets, who allow an NBA-worst 114.3 per game (see full recap).

DeRozan leads Raptors past Knicks
TORONTO -- DeMar DeRozan had 23 points, Norman Powell added 21 and the Toronto Raptors used a dominant third quarter to beat the New York Knicks 116-101 on Sunday.

DeRozan also had five rebounds and five assists before coming out late in the third quarter.

The Raptors improved to 27-13, taking the lead for good late in the first quarter. They led by 38 points in the third in winning their third straight game overall and fifth in a row against the Knicks.

DeMarre Carroll added 20 points, and Jonas Valanciunas had 12 points and 16 rebounds.

Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 18 points, Justin Holiday had 17, and Derrick Rose added 16. The Knicks are 2-10 in their last 12 to drop to 18-23 (see full recap).

Hawks stay hot by beating Bucks    
ATLANTA -- Kent Bazemore scored 24 points, Mike Dunleavy added 20 and the Atlanta Hawks beat the Milwaukee Bucks 111-98 on Sunday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 33 points and was a tough matchup in the paint for Milwaukee, which dropped 2 1/2 games behind the fourth-place Hawks in the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta has won eight of nine. The Bucks have dropped three of five.

Dunleavy, in his second game since arriving in a trade last week with Cleveland, had his first 20-point performance since a first-round playoff game for Chicago on April 30, 2015.

Antetokounmpo has scored at least 30 points in eight games in a breakout season (see full recap)