Hot Tip: Thad Young and The Sixers Bench Can Beat You

Hot Tip: Thad Young and The Sixers Bench Can Beat You

One of the calling cards of a Doug Collins' Sixers team is that his best players may not actually be in the starting five.

Fans like to argue about whether Jodie Meeks should be starting over Evan Turner, but Collins will tell you repeatedly that the players on the floor when the ball is first tossed into the air aren't necessarily the five best the team has to offer. You've seen glimpses of that truth the past few games when the Sixers have gotten out to very slow starts. Doug Collins knows on any given night that his sixth, seventh, or eighth guy could be his best player. The Pacers apparently knew this coming into the game, too, so their game plan was to "dominate the Sixers' second unit."

How do we know that? Let's just say the Sixers had a man on the inside.

According to Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young, prior to first tip the Sixers were made aware that the Pacers scouting report game plan was to win the battle of the second units. That didn't work out so well for a Pacers team who was already without Danny Granger due to illness and lost Tyler Hansbrough midway through the game after getting poked in the eye. The Pacers' plan to shutdown the second unit also motived Lou Williams and his bench partners. You will not hold LouWill in check. Oh. No. You. Won't. (4-11 shooting)

"I think it really got us juiced up. We did get a hot tip that they wanted to dominate the game with the second unit," Thaddeus Young said after the 96-86 victory. "Me, Lou, Evan, Nik, we come out and just play. We play great off each other and we've been doing this for a while, so we don't let that get into our heads or anything like that."

Thaddeus Young was brilliant on both ends of the floor, but specifically on the defensive end, taking four charges and deflecting another five balls -- a stat Coach Collins loves to keep. Thad also made six of seven shots for 12 points, pulled down 8 boards, and added 2 assists to only 1 turnover. But his defense was inspired. The Sixers held the Pacers to just 37% from the floor.

"People are going to have to start talking about him for All Defensive Team," Collins said of Young. "He blows up every screen and roll, he absolutely gets out there, hedges, gets back. His speed and quickness is amazing."

Thad getting it done off the bench is nothing new for the Sixers, but the contribution they got from rookie Nikola Vucevic was a welcomed surprise. On a night when Spencer Hawes wasn't feeling well, the rookie stepped in and the team didn't really seem to miss a beat. Vucevic finished the night with 11 points, 8 boards and hit a big three pointer along the way. The fans at the Wells Fargo Center are really enjoying the extended "Vuuuuuuuuu" chants as well.

He's amazed the Sixers fans early in the season but has he amazed Coach Collins with his production??

"No. I fell in love with him the first time I saw him," Collins said. "He just plays in a nice rhythm out there. We've got two big guys in Spencer and Nik that both have good ball skills."

While the starters once again looked sluggish to start the night out, the bench came in and gave them a nice spark, pushing them to a slim lead after the first quarter. That momentum carried on into the second, and they pushed the lead to double digits. It remained there for most of the third before the Pacers made their push in the fourth when they finally got some shots to fall.

It was not all pretty for Doug's boys tonight, however, as they were sloppy with the ball at times, giving it away 18 times, but they won the points-off-turnovers battle 24 to 12 -- a stat Doug Collins said you can almost always point to in determining who the Sixers beat.

One of the uglier themes of last season was the Sixers' inability to close out games, but every time the Pacers cut a double-digit lead in the fourth to about six points tonight, the Sixers answered. Jrue Holiday hit a pull up three. Thad Young hit a running hook in the lane. Dre hits one of his ridiculously tough fadeaways. Spencer Hawes took a charge. The Sixers are maturing and finding ways to hold on to their leads.

Lou Williams, perhaps the team's best "closer," was asked if they're now a team that can finish opponents off on the regular.

"It's a work in progress," he said.

Progressing in the right direction, that's for sure.

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Sixers-Magic 5 things: Hoping for a dry court with rested roster

Sixers-Magic 5 things: Hoping for a dry court with rested roster

The Sixers (4-14) will tip off against the Orlando Magic (7-12) at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night (7 p.m./CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Floored
Let's try this again.

The Sixers will return to the Wells Fargo Center court for the first time since Wednesday's game against the Sacramento Kings was postponed because of moisture on the floor.

While the Sixers were frustrated that they couldn't face the Kings, the team was also happy that player safety was made the top priority in the postponement decision.

"It was disappointing not to play," head coach Brett Brown said after practice on Thursday. "It got to a stage the longer that it went and it was being prolonged and prolonged, I'm glad that ultimately we didn't play."

2. Rested and ready
The postponement of Wednesday's game means the Sixers haven't played since Monday's road loss to the Toronto Raptors.

Center Joel Embiid should be even more rested than his teammates since he didn't make the trip north of the border because it was the second game of a back-to-back set.

When Embiid does return to action Friday against the Magic, he will have a little more freedom. The NBA's Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month had his minutes restriction raised from 24 to 28 earlier this week.

That should only mean good things for Embiid, who turned in a strong effort when the Sixers faced off against the Magic earlier this season. Embiid recorded 18 points and 10 boards for his first-ever double-double in a 103-101 loss to Orlando back on Nov. 1.

3. Protection plan
Perhaps Embiid's bump in minutes will help the Sixers better protect the paint this time around.

During the season's first meeting, in which the Sixers blew an 18-point lead, the Magic scored a massive 60 points in the paint. Former Sixer Nikola Vucevic and Serge Ibaka led the way with 45 combined points.

The Sixers can't allow that type of production inside, especially from a team that ranks 25th in the league with an average of 39.5 points in the paint per game.

4. Injuries
Jerryd Bayless (wrist), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

Former Sixer Jodie Meeks (foot) is a game-time decision for the Magic.

5. This and that
- The Sixers have lost three straight to the Magic.

- Vucevic has averaged 20.3 points and 13.2 rebounds against the Sixers during his career.

- Dario Saric scored a career-high 21 points on 9 of 14 shooting in the season's first clash.

A closer look at the Cincinnati Bengals, a team the Eagles should beat

A closer look at the Cincinnati Bengals, a team the Eagles should beat

You think Eagles fans have it bad? After five straight trips to the playoffs, Bengals fans were expecting their team to be good. Really good. Instead, they're 3-7-1 and on the verge of their first losing season since 2011.

And in all honesty, the Eagles should probably clinch it for them. With the Bengals' best player out with an injury, there's nothing particularly scary about this team. The offense is running out of weapons, and the defense, while good, has its weaknesses.

This is the Eagles' chance to get back to .500 and make one final desperation push. Can they take advantage?

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback: Andy Dalton

After a breakout 2015 campaign in which he finished second in the NFL with a 106.2 passer rating, it seems Dalton is back to his usual self. The sixth-year veteran's 63.5 completion percentage and 7.4 yards per attempt are better than what he's posted in years past, but down significantly from last season, while sacks are up. About the only thing that's carried over for Dalton from his career year is he seemingly learned to take care of the football, as he's thrown only six interceptions in 11 games. Dalton is a game manager with upside in a perfect situation. The 2016 Bengals are not that situation.

Strength: Nothing in particular

Now that All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green is out with an injury, as is versatile running back Giovani Bernard, the Bengals offense isn't exactly loaded with weapons. Prior to Green and Bernard going out, the duo combined for somewhere around 60 percent of the team's production. They still have Tyler Eifert, a Pro Bowl tight end who presents matchup issues, and running back Jeremy Hill, who is like a sledgehammer with legs. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth is one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL as well, although the rest of the unit is just okay. Without Green, there's nothing very impressive about what this group can do.

Weakness: Red-zone offense

This might seem oddly specific, but moving the football hasn't been a problem for the Bengals. Cincinnati's offense ranks 10th in the league in terms of yards per game, yet at 27th is near the bottom when it comes to scoring. Even when Green was healthy and despite having big bodies like Eifert and Hill, for some reason the Bengals have really struggled to put points on the board. Part of the problem is Dalton, who's only thrown 12 touchdown passes, but his 2.9 touchdown percentage is by far the worst of his career, so it's not easy to explain why. This team simply doesn't score a ton, which is probably why they only have three wins.

 

DEFENSE

Strength: Pass defense

Cincinnati has playmakers at every level of the defense, which can make them a difficult team to pass against. It starts up front, where Geno Atkins is pushing up the middle and underrated Carlos Dunlap is coming off the edge top create a hostile environment for quarterbacks. Dunlap had 13.5 sacks a season ago, and when he doesn't get to the passer, he often bats passes down at the line, as he's done 10 times this season. The Bengals boast a fine trio of cornerbacks as well, with Dre Kirkpatrick's three interceptions, veteran Adam "Pacman" Jones and 2014 first-round draft pick Darqueze Dennard. The unit ranks 10th in passing yards per game and has 11 interceptions, so while not impenetrable, they are tough.

Weakness: Run defense

Although it may be difficult to throw against the Bengals, opponents have had little trouble finding room to run. It seems odd with guys like Atkins and Dunlap up front, not to mention quality veteran linebackers like Karlos Dansby and Vincent Rey, but the fact is they aren't getting the job done. Cincinnati ranks 28th against the run overall and 26th in terms of yards per carry, allowing an average of 4.4 per attempt. It's pretty clear what the strategy should be against this defense, particularly for an offense with mediocre talent at wide receiver. Run the ball, then run the ball some more.

X-factor: Vontaze Burfict

There may not be a bigger wild card in the NFL then Burfict. The fifth-year veteran isn't an X-factor in the conventional sense that he'll rack up a bunch of sacks or create a ton of turnovers. A 2013 Pro Bowler, Burfict does lead the team in tackles, so he'll be in on a lot of plays. The bigger concern though is really whether he might go head hunting or dive at a player's legs and potentially hurt someone. Not to say he's not a talented player, but you could argue that threat makes him a bigger game-changer than any conventional charting numbers will measure.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Mike Nugent has seen better days. Cincinnati's kicker has missed five field goals, including all three tries from 50 or more yards, plus a whopping four extra points this season, which makes you wonder a little bit what the team is still clinging to. The Bengals' return game isn't especially dangerous either. Alex Erickson handles the bulk of the work, and does have strong averages on both kicks and punts, although he has yet to take one to the house this season.

 

COACHING

Marvin Lewis (14th season, 115-108-3)

Somehow, despite not winning a playoff game in seven tries over 14 seasons, Lewis is still the head coach of the Bengals. Probably not for much longer though. He's in his third straight year of lame-duck status, and one more defeat would guarantee the club its first losing season since 2011. Then again, Lewis has survived down seasons before, including a pair of four-win campaigns separated by only a year. He's a good coach, but as Eagles fans well know, sometimes after 14 years it's simply time to move on. The Bengals are weird, so who knows what they will decide, but at this point, Lewis has been given more than enough second chances and opportunities.