Garbage Time For All, Big Macs for No One: Sixers Beat Raps 97-62

Garbage Time For All, Big Macs for No One: Sixers Beat Raps 97-62

Well, this one isn't going to hurt our score differential any. On a line
graph, the Sixers' performance against the Raptors tonight would look
remarkably similar to last night against the Pistons—steadily climbing
for two quarters, then suddenly shooting almost straight up towards the
end of the third quarter into the fourth. Again, the Sixers thoroughly
outplayed the Raps in the first half, but missed open jumpers (Jodie,
oh, Jodie), failed to convert fast breaks, and let rebounds and passes
slip through their fingers, resulting in Toronto staying nearly level
with Philly throughout. Then in the third, a couple of shots started to
fall, the fast breaks got a little smoother, and before you knew it, the
Sixers were up 20, never to look back. The Sixers made Garbage Time out
of the entire 4th quarter, and ended up winning 97-62.

The key to the team's win tonight, as that number "62" would suggest,
was the defense. The Sixers, especially in the backcourt, had the
Raptors smothered, had them covered like my Waffle House hash browns,
cutting off driving lanes and getting their hands on the ball in what
felt like every possession, getting those deflections that Coach Collins
has preached about all season, causing turnovers and suffocating
possessions. They switched well on pick-and-rolls, they helped well on
layup drives, they got out to shooters and they played tough D in
general without fouling. (In fact, you'd have to say they got more than a
little help from the referees tonight, considering the Sixers only got
whistled for three fouls in the entire first half—their defense was
good, but no one's D is that good.)

Their stellar defensive effort—and it was not only the fewest points the
Raptors had scored since 2003, it was the lowest amount of points ever
scored by an opponent at the [Rotating Bank Name] Center—kept the
Sixers in the driver's seat, despite a lackluster first half on the
other end. Whatever juju was working for Jodie Meeks in the fourth
quarter last night did not carry over to this one, as he went a
miserable 2-11 (1-6 from deep) despite a whole host of clean, open
looks. Andre Iguodala wasn't much better, shooting 3-12 for the evening
and hearing a smattering of boos for an opening-drive airball. In fact,
no Sixer scored more than 14 points on the night, usually a sure recipe
for offensive disaster.

But that's sort of how this team works now, isn't it? 'Dre and Jodie
can't buy a bucket, Spencer Hawes (who has somehow become this team's
most potent offensive threat, and I don't even mean that in an
eye-rolling way) misses almost the entire second half with a tight back,
nobody gets particularly hot from the field—and we still string
together a 97-point performance and a 35-point win. It's sharing the
ball, it's taking care of the ball, and it's going nine deep—the ninth
tonight being Nik Vucevic, who had a very nice night scoring, passing
and rebounding the ball, nearly coming up with his first career
double-double (9 and 10), though he did get burned on defense by Andrea
Bargnani a couple times. It's not gonna get the team many nationally
televised games, but it is fun to watch, and so far this season, it's
getting them wins—decisive ones, at that.

5-2 for the Liberty Ballers now, their best start to the season since
they went 10-0 in '00-'01, Iverson's MVP season where the team went to
the finals. Of course, neither the blowout win or the best start in a
decade meant much to those in attendance at the WFC tonight, most of
whom left cruelly disappointed that Evan Turner would not shoot a three
in the team's final clock-dwindling possession, up 35, to try to get the
crowd the free Big Macs that come with a 100-point performance. Well,
the Lakers have had to put up with similar "WE WANT TA-COS!" chants for
as long as I can remember, even in the midst of three straight trips to
the finals and two championships, so hopefully the Sixers aren't taking
it as too much of a slight.

Next up: The 6-2 Pacers at home on Monday night, the first of three
games in three nights for the Sixers, and a game that should represent
the Sixers' first real challenge since returning East. Bring 'em on, I
say. We might not beat 'em by 35, but I like the chances of our nine
guys outplaying their nine guys just the same. TURNER AND VOOCH 4 LIFE.

Eagles Training Camp Preview: We’re So Screwed  

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Eagles Training Camp Preview: We’re So Screwed  

The Eagles’ full training camp got underway Thursday and I’m already worried. In fact, I have seen nothing from this team thus far in training camp that gives me any confidence that they can compete this season. 

The Sam Bradford/Carson Wentz thing hasn’t been resolved at all. We already had no running backs to speak of, and now Ryan Mathews is hurt. And then Nigel Badham got arrested for assaulting a hotel employee in Miami -- I know I’ve been saying for awhile that the Eagles need guys on defense who “punch people in the mouth,” but that’s not what I meant. 

There’s another thing that makes me question what the hell the Eagles are doing: I don’t care if he’s the long snapper -- letting a player report late to training camp because he’s doing magic tricks on a talent show? A morning show caller the other day suggested the Eagles try some trick plays involving Dorenbos making the ball disappear -- but if there’s any hope for that, Jon needs to be at practice, instead of gallivanting in Hollywood with Simon Cowell. What would Buddy say? 

The last straw may have been Tuesday, when veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin signed with the Detroit Lions, even though the Eagles had pursued him. I for one have been calling for the Eagles to acquire Boldin since 2005, but this time hurts the most. What is Howie doing? 

Should Doug Pederson be on the hot seat in Philadelphia? Should Howie Roseman? After two days of training camp, my answer is, “yes” and “absolutely yes.” If the Eagles lose the first week to Cleveland, the clock will be ticking, if it isn’t already. 

__

The streets of Philadelphia this week were chockfull of angry people, agitating loudly on behalf of the guy who had already been defeated, wearing T-shirts with his likeness and refusing to give up on him even though he already issued a lengthy statement giving up himself. Please, people: Let Sam Hinkie go. 

Still, though: When it comes to Sam Hinkie and Bernie Sanders, things just keep getting more curious: 

Exhibit A: Chuck Todd said on NBC News Friday that, "Bernie Sanders is here to land the plane."

Exhibit B: 

Exhibit C:

Exhibit D: 

And Exhibit E taken, at a post-DNC Party: 

I’m not exactly sure what this all means, but between the national media once again making a big deal about people booing at a Philadelphia sports arena -- and the President of the United States actually said “don’t boo” --  it can’t be good news. First Dario Saric came to Philly because of his foreknowledge of the coup attempt in Turkey, and now this. 

Other Philly sports takes: 

- As @petesbigtwit pointed out on Twitter, the first female major party presidential nominee accepted the nomination on the very spot where Wing Bowl is held each year. It’s the greatest moment for women in that stage in at least five months, since Molly Schuyler ate 429 wings in 26 minutes at Wing Bowl XXIV. 

- Why shouldn’t the Eagles sign Ray Rice? I see no downside -- and he’s only been on the shelf a couple of months longer than Joel Embiid. 

- I wish the Phillies had someone passionate enough to carve up all the team’s throwback uniforms with a knife. 

- Can you believe Joel Embiid was caught using his phone on the sidelines during summer league? This would be like if Andrew Bynum had actually gone bowling next to the court during a game. 

- Who cares if the Pikachu guy flipped the bird at Citizen’s Bank Park? The Phanatic averages three obscene gestures per game. 

Follow @FakeWIPCaller on Twitter. And don’t vote- boo! 

Union's homegrown program produces latest signing Derrick Jones

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Philadelphia Union

Union's homegrown program produces latest signing Derrick Jones

CHESTER, Pa. — Long after most of the Union players retreated from the heat Wednesday, Derrick Jones remained on the practice field. Not even his new rookie responsibility of carrying the bag of balls could dampen the 19-year-old’s enthusiasm of participating in his first official training as a member of the Union.

“I was just excited,” said Jones, who signed a homegrown contract with the Union a day earlier. “I was just happy. I didn’t know where I was going to be four years ago.”

Jones' path to the pros was certainly an interesting one as he came from Ghana to South Philly in 2012, and at the time, “didn’t know anything about the Union.” But he soon found his way to YSC Academy, the Union-run high school in Wayne, and after graduating from there, was the first player ever signed by the Bethlehem Steel, the team’s expansion minor-league affiliate.

He then played well enough for Bethlehem this season to ink a deal with the Union on Tuesday as their first Homegrown signing since 2012 and just the fourth in franchise history.

“It's a proud moment for me as a coach, a former academy coach,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “I’d like to thank (YSC Academy head and Union part owner) Richie Graham and (academy director) Tommy Wilson for the job they did developing Derrick, and also (Bethlehem Steel head coach) Brendan Burke sprinkling in that extra polish for the half a season that Derrick put in. I'd also like to thank the players because the one thing people don't always get to see is how valuable it is with our first-team players being around Derrick in the preseason and putting him under their wing and all of those little things. 

“As a club, it's a proud moment because everybody has played a role, from our medical staff to our trainers to our equipment guys, all the way through our academy to Bethlehem to now our first team.”

Ever since the franchise’s inception, Union coaches and executives have always said how they wanted to build a team from their youth ranks with several players hailing from the Philadelphia area. But, as it turned out, it was easier said than done.

Zach Pfeffer was the first player to sign a homegrown contract (an MLS mechanism that allows teams to directly sign youth players from their own development academies) as a 15-year-old Upper Dublin High School sophomore in December of 2010. And although he showed some promise, the teenager was never able to become a regular and was traded to the Colorado Rapids this past offseason. Former manager Peter Nowak signed two other homegrown players — Jimmy McLaughlin and Cristhian Hernandez — during his tenure but neither played much and they're no longer with the club.

You can certainly argue that Pfeffer, McLaughlin and Hernandez were all victims of an old system that didn’t allow them to properly develop at such a young age. In many ways, that’s why the Union launched YSC Academy and the Bethlehem Steel: to create a more surefire pathway from high school to the pros without throwing teenagers directly into the fire.

And Jones, the only current homegrown player on the roster, is the first to truly benefit from that improved structure — and will very likely usher in a new, better era of youth development for the Union.

“Everyone likes to compare who's doing it the best, and there's a lot of really good things being done right now in the U.S. Developmental Academy and specific MLS academies, but I can say with confidence, having coached in it and lived through it and having seen it up close, our academy is the one that prepares these kids for life more so than any,” Curtin said. “So everyone wants to talk about the successful homegrowns and how many each team has, but no one writes the article about a lot of the homegrowns that are out of this league in a year and no one cares about them anymore.

“It does need to be said that our structure, in the way Richie Graham has set it up, is holistic in every way. The school and the things that they do there, it is amazing. It’s a special environment, and it’s one that is based on each individual kid and their needs, because every kid has different spurts in their development, highs and lows. And the support system that they provide at our academy is second to none in this country.”

Curtin’s glowing praise of YSC Academy is not hyperbole. The school is the first in the country to fully integrate a college-preparatory education with an MLS-affiliated youth soccer development program with practice time embedded into the school day. And although Jones is the first from the school to sign with the Union, many others in the first two graduating classes have moved on to play high-level Division I soccer (and can still sign with the Union, or the Steel, as a homegrown player if they shine at the collegiate level). 

“They helped me a lot,” Jones said of YSC Academy. “It was good. I got to train twice a day. I spent my whole day over there. In terms of working on my fitness, it really helped me.”

The school also helped Jones adapt to the United States away from the field, and even though he’s a quiet kid, his new teammates made sure to greet him with a lot of smiles this week. MLS veteran Chris Pontius said he expects Jones’ personality to come out in a few months and praised his soccer skills, calling him “a good two-way player” in the midfield.

It might be unfair to expect Jones to play right away for the Union, but the 19-year-old will certainly be ready if called upon, as early as Sunday’s home game vs. Real Salt Lake (7 p.m., CSN).

“I don’t know what that’s going to be like,” Jones said. “Maybe I’ll get nervous since it’s my first game. But I’m looking forward to it.”

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Chance for Nola to respond vs. worst offense

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Phillies-Braves 5 things: Chance for Nola to respond vs. worst offense

Phillies (46-57) at Braves (35-66)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies were throttled Wednesday, 11-1, as they dropped their fourth straight series coming out of the All-Star break. 

The Phils have gone 2-4 through the first two stops of their three-city, 10-game road trip which now takes them to Atlanta. It's a winnable series against the majors' worst team that could get the ice-cold Phillies' offense back on track.

Let's take a look at the opener:

1. Important night for Nola
Aaron Nola came out of the All-Star break with six shutout innings of the Marlins. It didn't mean he was all the way back. Sure enough, his next start was a struggle, just like his five before the break.

Nola allowed six runs in four innings to the Pirates last weekend as his ERA rose again to 4.75. He's allowed four runs or more in six of his last seven starts, five runs or more in five of his last seven, and he's pitched more than five innings just once in that span.

His command is just gone right now. And that's why this is such an important start for him. Facing the worst offense in baseball in a pitcher-friendly environment could build back Nola's confidence and result in a quality start, even if he's not locating perfectly. There is one dangerous hitter in Atlanta's lineup, Freddie Freeman. Other than that, Nola should be able to get away with a curveball that hangs a bit or a fastball that doesn't perfectly nip the outside corner.

His focus tonight should be attacking. Nola has faced the Braves four times and gone 2-1 with a 1.73 ERA.

2. Situational struggles
The Phillies went 2 for 21 with runners in scoring position in the Marlins series. On Wednesday, they had 10 hits but left 10 men on base. 

Rarely do you see a team come an out away from being shut out when its first two hitters reach base seven of 10 times. Cesar Hernandez was 3 for 4 with a walk, Odubel Herrera was 2 for 4 with a walk, and Maikel Franco also had a multi-hit game batting third.

But the Phils have just been unable to come up with the one big hit since the break and it's why they're averaging 2.6 runs per game.

3. Scouting Wisler
The Phils get another look at young Braves right-hander Matt Wisler (4-10, 4.92), whose ERA is much higher than it was the last time they faced him.

Wisler, like Nola, has been pounded lately. He ended May with a 3.16 ERA, but has a 7.40 ERA in nine starts since, allowing his opponents a .329 batting average and .934 OPS. 

Wisler faced the Phils twice in a 10-day span on May 10 and May 20 and allowed four runs in 14⅔ innings.

Wisler's fastball averages 94 mph, but he doesn't strike many batters out (6.8 per nine this season). He usually uses three pitches: four-seam fastball, sinker and slider.

Current Phillies have hit .299 against him in 67 at-bats with seven doubles and three home runs. Franco has done the most damage, going 5 for 9 with two doubles and a homer.

4. Bullpen blunders
The Phillies' bullpen has a 5.14 ERA since the All-Star break, another reason they've struggled. The main culprits have been Andrew Bailey (seven runs in four innings) and Brett Oberholtzer (four in five). 

The Phillies have three legit bullpen pieces in Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos, but none of the others have been reliable, which is a problem when the Phils don't carry a lead into the later innings. 

Expect to see a lot of bullpen turnover next season. The Phils have two promising young relievers in the minors in Jimmy Cordero (Double A) and Victor Arano (High A) who could turn this unit into one of the hardest-throwing in the game when they're ready to join Neris and Ramos. 

Bailey and Oberholtzer are not long for this organization. Both are free agents after the year and both could be designated for assignment to make room for another player over the next month.

5. This and that
• The Phillies are 6-3 vs. the Braves this season after going 30-45 against them from 2013 to 2015.

• Atlanta is a majors-worst 14-36 at home.

• Freeman is hitting .280 with 18 home runs and an .881 OPS, but he has just 41 RBIs because the Braves barely get on base ahead of him.