Five Practical Goals For the Second Half of the Sixers Season

Five Practical Goals For the Second Half of the Sixers Season

The Philadelphia 76ers are not going to win a championship this season.
They are pretty far away from winning a playoff series, and in all
likelihood—at four games back of the eighth seed and having already lost
the tiebreaker with the last-one-in Bucks—are not even going to make
the post-season. With all the expectation that this season began with,
we're probably headed for the lottery for just the second time in the
last six seasons.


All that depressing stuff said, we still do have 31 games to play
this year. There's still an ostensible playoff race to be run—even as
far back as the Sixers are, they're still the ninth seed, and within
striking distance of the top eight if things break right—but personally,
I don't think it's one worth making much of a push for, especially if
it comes at any potential cost to the team's long-term future, whether
that means returning players quickly from injury or making short-sighted
deals for veteran talent to help steal a couple wins between now and
May.


Rather, here's five things I'd like to see the team try to do
between now and then. Some may happen, some not, but all are at least
reasonably attainable goals, which could help the Sixers in either the
short or long-term.


1. Try to trade an expendable role player for a young prospect or future draft pick. This
might be tough to do, as the Sixers are a little short-handed on
movable assets at the moment, especially with shooting guard Jason
Richardson—an overpaid commodity, but a reliable one that a contending
team could make use for—out for the year. Still, the Sixers have two
decent role players on short contracts in Spencer Hawes (two years, $13
million) and Nick Young (expiring, $6 million), who are hardly bargains
but could be good low-leverage pickups for a team in need of size or
shooting off the bench, respectively.



The Sixers have been notoriously inactive at the trade deadline in
recent years—I think dealing a second-rounder for Jodie Meeks a couple
off-seasons ago was the only real in-season trade of consequence made by
Philly since the Iverson deal—and most reports concerning the team have
them standing pat between now and the deadline on Thursday. Still, if
DiLeo and company can do their due diligence and at least see if there's
a late first-rounder to be had, or a project big or wing we can snag
for Hawes or Young (neither of whom are really in the team's long-term
plans), it'd be a nice chip to have while rebuilding over the next
couple years.



2. Continue to develop Arnett Moultrie. The project big man
already on the Sixers' roster has shown some flashes over the last few
weeks, moving well without the ball and fighting for rebounds down low.
But he's badly in need of more reps to find himself in the flow of the
offense (or occasional lack thereof), and that means more minutes,
especially as Thaddeus Young continues to rehab from injury. I'd like to
see him get more PT with Jrue and some of the first-unit guys, though
with Thad returning at the starting four before too long, perhaps it
makes sense to get him acclimated to playing with Evan Turner, Jeremy
Pargo and the rest of the bench unit. At the very least, let's get him
entrenched in the rotation, comfortable and confident and not worried
about Doug yanking his minutes in favor of Damien Wilkins or the ghost
of Tony Battie or whoever.



3. Stick with Evan. Yes, he's struggled lately. Yes, he very
well might continue struggle for the rest of the season. But they're
probably not going to trade him before the deadline, and he has more of a
chance of being a key, long-term part of the team than any other wing
player (not counting Jrue) on their roster. If Coach Collins starts
futzing with his PT now, trying to teach him "lessons" and further
undermining his occasionally fragile confidence, he might alienate or
ruin him entirely. If Turner proves that he just just can't be relied
upon long-term, then we'll figure out what to do about him in the
off-season, but in the meantime, there's no real upside to doing
anything but giving him as much of a chance as possible to prove that he
can be.


4. Keep on driving. Even if Evan's final stat line from his
pre-All-Star Break performance against the Bucks ended a mediocre one—20
points on 8-19 shooting, though that was still his best scoring night
in two weeks—the way he was consistently taking the ball to the basket
was heartening, looking for foul calls that weren't quite materializing.
He did still get four shots at the line, above his season average, and
the team shot 24 times at the charity stripe for the game, the most the
team had in nearly two months. 


If Evan and company keep it up, you have to think eventually he'll
get those calls, and maybe so will Jrue and the rest of the Sixers, who
have been pathetic (though not surprisingly so, given that the team has
been bottom-five in FTAs the last few seasons) in getting to the line
this season. It's the first step in the long process of getting this
offense back to efficiency, but it's a necessary one, and it'd be a nice
precedent to start over the last few months of the year.


5. Try to get at least...what, ten games in with Andrew Bynum and a full roster?
Hoping for just about any amount of time spent on the court for Andrew
Bynum this season seems arrogant and naive at this point. Is ten games
too much to ask for? Very possibly, but boy would even that be huge for
this team—to get some sense of playing with one another, to hopefully
pitch Bynum on his future with the Sixers (and the organization on the
idea that he has a future with the Sixers), to give the team something
to build on when hopefully the whole roster is returned for the
following year. If we can't get even that, it's going to be a long and
emotionally trying off-season, for sure.

Best of MLB: Curtis Granderson homers twice off bench in Mets' win

Best of MLB: Curtis Granderson homers twice off bench in Mets' win

NEW YORK -- Curtis Granderson came off the bench and homered twice, Jose Reyes had four hits and the surging New York Mets beat the Miami Marlins 7-4 on Tuesday night.

Asdrubal Cabrera extended his recent tear at the plate, hitting a two-run homer in his return to the lineup after missing one start due to a sore left knee. Rookie right-hander Seth Lugo (2-2) gave up two runs in the first inning but recovered nicely as the Mets won for the eighth time in 10 games.

By winning the first two games of the four-game series, New York (68-64) moved ahead of slumping Miami for second place in the NL East. Both teams began the day 2 1/2 games behind St. Louis for the league's second wild card (see full recap).

Cardinals edge Brewers in 10 innings
MILWAUKEE -- Zach Duke stranded the bases loaded with a strikeout in the 10th inning after Randal Grichuk hit an RBI single in the top half of the inning, lifting the St. Louis Cardinals over the Milwaukee Brewers 2-1 on Tuesday night.

Seung Hwan Oh (4-2) pitched out of a jam in the ninth to get the win. Duke got his first save with the Cardinals by striking out pinch-hitter Manny Pina after Matt Bowman walked three batters.

The Cardinals' Jhonny Peralta led off the 10th with a single off Corey Knebel (0-2) and moved to third on Yadier Molina's ground-rule double. Jeremy Hazelbaker, who pinch ran for Peralta, scored the winning run on Grichuk's flare to right.

St. Louis' Adam Wainwright and Milwaukee's Wily Peralta dueled for seven innings, leaving a 1-1 game for the bullpens (see full recap).

Wieters lifts Orioles over Blue Jays
BALTIMORE -- Matt Wieters hit a go-ahead, two-run homer off Jason Grilli in the eighth inning to lead the Baltimore Orioles to a 5-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night.

The Orioles pulled within three games of the first-place Blue Jays, who had a four-game winning streak snapped. After losing the opener 5-1, the Orioles will look to gain more ground in the series finale Wednesday.

Michael Saunders drilled a two-run shot off Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez that tied the game 3-3 in the seventh.

In the eighth, Jonathan Schoop walked and Wieters homered off Grilli (4-2), his 12th of the season.

Brad Brach (8-2) picked up the win with 1 1/3 scoreless innings. Zach Britton got his league-leading 39th save (see full recap).

Phillies' bats dominated by Max Scherzer again in loss to Nationals

Phillies' bats dominated by Max Scherzer again in loss to Nationals

BOX SCORE

The Phillies entered Tuesday night’s game with the worst on-base percentage in the majors – a paltry .297 – and they were facing one of the top pitchers in the game.
 
The results were, uh, predictable.
 
The Phillies were dominated by Max Scherzer in a 3-2 loss to the NL East-leading Washington Nationals (see Instant Replay). The final score was deceiving. The only thing that kept the game close was a solid start from Jerad Eickhoff and good work from Phillies relievers Michael Mariot, Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos.
 
Scherzer (15-7, 2.89) held the Phillies to three hits and a walk over eight innings. He struck out 11, marking the 12th time he has reached double digits in K's this season.
 
Since signing a seven-year, $210 million contract with the Nationals before the 2015 season, Scherzer has faced the Phillies eight times. He is 6-0 with a 1.98 ERA in those games. (And you thought Bartolo Colon owned the Phillies.)
 
Scherzer opened this game with five no-hit innings. It was the ninth time he’d carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning in 61 starts with the club.

Scherzer has twice taken no-hitters into the sixth inning against the Phillies. Freddy Galvis broke up a Scherzer no-hitter with a double in the sixth inning June 26, 2015. He did it again Tuesday night with another sixth-inning double.
 
“He’s a thorn in my side,” Scherzer joked after the game.
 
Galvis didn’t stay on the bases long. He made a boneheaded base running play after the double and Scherzer wheeled and picked him off.
 
The Phillies’ three-hit effort left manager Peter Mackanin a little frustrated. The Phils had just four hits in losing to the Nats, 4-0, on Monday night. They are hitting just .239 as a team. Only the San Diego Padres (.237) are worse in the majors.
 
“Gotta hit,” Mackanin said quietly. “Once again, I mentioned it before, we need to improve our plate discipline. We’re just not getting hits. We had chances to win the game. But Scherzer was tough. You have to give him credit. He’s got what, 60 less hits than innings pitched? He’s a tough cookie.”
 
Scherzer has given up just 128 hits in 190 innings.
 
The Phillies made a run at Scherzer in the seventh inning. Odubel Herrera reached base on an infield hit and Ryan Howard followed with a line drive two-run homer into the left-field seats. He hit a 94 mph fastball on an 0-1 count.
 
Howard had struck out in both of his previous at-bats against Scherzer and was 1 for 20 with 13 strikeouts in his career against the Washington fireballer before the homer.
 
Given Howard’s career struggles against Scherzer, it was actually a little surprising to see him in the lineup. But Mackanin reasoned that no one on the team had good numbers against Scherzer and Howard was just as likely to run into a big hit as anyone.
 
He was right.
 
Mackanin also said he’s going to start cutting into Howard’s playing time and get Tommy Joseph more looks as the season winds down. Howard, however, could force his way into the lineup with more big hits.
 
Howard was asked about his approach against Scherzer.
 
“Put the ball in play,” he said. “Simple.”
 
Howard’s homer was his 20th of the season. He has reached 20 homers 10 times. Only Mike Schmidt (14) did it more as a Phillie. Howard has 377 homers, tying him with Norm Cash and Jeff Kent for 73rd all time.
 
Howard was asked what makes Scherzer so tough against the Phillies.
 
“That’s Scherzer, man,” Howard said. “I mean, he’s one of the best pitchers in the game for a reason. He’s got basically four-plus pitches that he can throw anytime in any count, throw them for strikes, and he does a great job of keeping hitters off balance, mixing it up really, really well. He’s kind of got a pit bull’s mentality on the mound just going out there wanting to shove it to the other team. He had it going tonight.”
 
Scherzer also drove home the Nats’ third run of the night with a safety squeeze. It proved to be a huge run after Howard’s homer.
 
Eickhoff was solid. He gave up a couple of softly hit balls for hits in the first inning and that helped the Nats score two runs out of the gate.
 
The Phillies just didn't have enough hitting to ever get the lead.

Some of that is just who they are – one of the poorest hitting teams in the majors.

Some of it was the guy they were facing.

'Stronger, bigger, better' Ivan Provorov hoping to follow Shayne Gostisbehere's path

'Stronger, bigger, better' Ivan Provorov hoping to follow Shayne Gostisbehere's path

TORONTO — At training camp last year, Ivan Provorov roomed with Shayne Gostisbehere. This year, he’s hoping to follow the young blueliner’s footsteps and earn a roster spot on the Flyers' blue line. 

After playing two games with the Flyers during the 2014-15 season, Gostisbehere joined the Flyers last November and appeared in 64 games, scoring 17 goals and tallying 29 assists. The 23-year-old’s 46 points led all Flyers defensemen and the Florida native finished second to only Chicago’s Artemi Panarin in Calder Trophy voting as the league’s Rookie of the Year. 

“He had an unbelievable season [and] he helped the Flyers a lot,” Provorov said this week at the annual NHLPA rookie showcase in Toronto. “I saw him at development camp and main camp — thought he was a great player. He got his chance when he got called up, and he used it well and played his game.”

Provorov, the Flyers’ first selection (seventh overall) in the 2015 NHL draft, has only one option this year: make the Flyers' roster out of camp. Otherwise, because of his age, he’ll have to return to junior and the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings. 

This past season, Provorov scored 21 goals and 73 points in 62 regular-season games with Brandon. He added three goals and 10 assists in 21 postseason games, helping the Wheat Kings win the WHL title and reach the Memorial Cup. However, Brandon struggled at the four-team tournament, losing all three games.

For his solid second season in the WHL, Provorov was named the recipient of the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.

“[Memorial Cup] didn’t really turn out the way that we were hoping to, but still a great experience,” Provorov said. “It was a different atmosphere and different tournament, where you have to win one game to get into the playoffs. It’s not like a seven-game series.”

With a second WHL season under his belt, Provorov feels he’s better prepared than he was a year ago to make the leap to the NHL game. 

“I should be a little bit more comfortable, I know what to expect,” he said. “I had a great summer and I think I'm a better player than I was a year ago: stronger, bigger, better in all areas of my game. Just looking forward to getting to Philly and starting camp.”

The Flyers currently have seven defensemen under contract for the upcoming season, but Provorov’s combination of size and skill could push a veteran such as Andrew MacDonald, who already spent most of last season with the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms, out of a job. 

Despite his abilities, Provorov knows bumping a veteran for a roster spot won’t be an easy task.

“Of course when you move on from a level to another level the speed increases, the players are stronger [and] bigger,” he said. “I think, for me I'll just try to play my game and compete as hard as I can.”

Provorov grew up idolizing Nicklas Lidstrom and has tried to model his game after the Hall of Famer. At 6-foot, 200 pounds, Provorov has spent his two seasons in Brandon developing into a two-way blueliner, who can put up numbers on the offensive side, but at the same time be counted on in a shutdown role. 

The 19-year-old credits his decision to come to North America at such a young age for helping him adjust to the differences in lifestyle. By the time he was 16, Provorov was playing for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in Iowa prior to being selected by the Wheat Kings in the Canadian Hockey League import draft.

“I came here when I was really young, so it wasn't that hard of a transition,” Provorov said. “Probably the most weird [adjustment] was probably food 'cause, I mean, food is really different from back home, but now I'm used to both.”

If he does wind up back in the WHL, Provorov has the annual World Junior Hockey Championship to look forward to. At last year’s tournament, Provorov, a native of Yaroslavl, Russia, registered eight assists in seven games, winning a second consecutive silver medal at the under-20 tournament.

“World Juniors is a great tournament, good experience,” he said. “It's always great to represent your country and, this time, if I get a chance to play, hopefully we'll win gold.”