Is This It? Sixers Get Another Chance for Statement Win Vs. Bulls

Is This It? Sixers Get Another Chance for Statement Win Vs. Bulls

Good as it was that the Sixers dispatched the Magic Monday night—a lot
more handily than the 74-69 final score would indicate, I might add
(again)—we all knew it wasn't going to be one to silence the critics.
The Magic had lost three of four, were officially in team-wide tailspin,
and probably weren't all that great to begin with. But the good news,
sparing though it may be, about this next stretch of six games that the
Sixers will play, is that nearly every one of them is a chance for that
longed for Statement Win to establish the Sixers as legit contenders in
this league. Defeat the Heat, Lakers, Clippers, Spurs and/or Hawks (the
last in Atlanta) and people will no longer be able to flippantly dismiss
the Ballers as a team that "hasn't beaten anybody yet."

Indeed,
tonight's game against the Bulls might be their best shot at it yet.
There's still excuses to be had on both sides—starting center Spencer
Hawes is still out for the Sixers, while starting wings Rip Hamilton and
Luol Deng are probably out for the Bulls—but even at 85% each, the
Sixers and Bulls are two of the top teams in the East, and it looks like
no one's gonna go this whole strike-condensed season without losing a
key player or two to injury anyway. At the very least, the Bulls should
have All-Everything point guard Derrick Rose at the ready, and all he's
done is score over 30 points in each of his last three games—a win
against the reigning MVP will be impressive regardless of who's flanking
him.

Of course, that means we're gonna need one hell of a performance on both
ends from our boy Jrue Holiday, who had one of his worst offensive
games of the season against Orlando on Monday, finishing with six points
on 3-11 shooting (though he did contribute six assists, with only one
turnover). Having to stay in front of D-Rose for 48 minutes is one of
the least enviable tasks in the league, but Jrue has proven to be a
capable on-ball defender when need be, and we're certainly going to need
it tonight with our front-court reinforcements (helllooooo again Tony
Battie) not so likely to provide stellar help defense.

By the way, interesting stat about The Damaja, courtesy of NBA stat guru
John Schumann—his +181 rating for the month of January (as in the
Sixers scored 181 more points than their opponents when he was on the
court) is the highest in the entire league. It's due in large part to
the fact that the Sixers as a team have been blowing out so many of
their opponents—and indeed, Thaddeus Young is #3 on the list with
+151—but still, interesting indeed for a player whose season many would
describe as being disappointing to be the leader in such an absolute
category.

7:00 tip from the WFC. The Sixers, especially Evan Turner, say No Hard
Feelings with Coach Doug Collins after his blowup at the team for
letting the Magic creep into the game late on Monday. "If we're going to
be a legit team in the playoffs, then we can't let
teams score 18 points in the last three minutes and not get one stop,"
said Collins. "At the end of the day, playing like that [late in the
game] is going to cost us in the future" agreed Elton Brand. All right,
so we're all good then? Good. Let's do this thing.

Report: Nerlens Noel upset with Sixers' situation at center

Report: Nerlens Noel upset with Sixers' situation at center

After being in the middle of trade rumors over the last few months, Nerlens Noel appears to frustrated with his situation with the Sixers, according to the Inquirer's Keith Pompey.

The Sixers have three starting-caliber centers — Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid, who's now healthy — heading into this season.

"I think it's just silly," Noel told Pompey. "With the departure of [former general manager and president] Sam Hinkie, I would have figured that management would be able to set something done this summer.

"Don't get me wrong. We all get along great on the court and off the court. But at the end of the day, it's like having three starting quarterbacks. It doesn't make any sense.

"And it's just not going to work to anybody's advantage having that on the same team. That's how I'm looking at it. I'm not opposed to anything, but things need to be situated."

The Sixers flirted with having two big men on the court at the same time last season, with Noel and Okafor but with no real success. 

He has a point, and the team knows it.

During the summer, reports swirled saying the Sixers were looking to trade either Noel or Okafor for backcourt help.

Noel, who's in the final year of his rookie contract, doesn't appear to believe the current situation will work.

"I think something needs to happen," he said.

Darren Sproles 'amazing' 73-yard TD set tone for fun 2nd half vs. Steelers

Darren Sproles 'amazing' 73-yard TD set tone for fun 2nd half vs. Steelers

When Darren Sproles caught the nifty touch pass from Carson Wentz around midfield, there was little doubt about what would happen next.

"Touchdown," running back Kenjon Barner said after the Eagles' stunning 34-3 shellacking of the Steelers (see Instant Replay)
 
Really? With that many yards to go?

"Touchdown," he said. "As soon as he caught the ball. There was nobody there. That guy in the open field — you're not going to bring him down by yourself. With that much space — touchdown."

Barner wasn't the only one.

"Man, it's Sproles! Did you think he was going to get tackled?" receiver Nelson Agholor said incredulously. 

Uhh …

"Man, listen, it's Darren Sproles, and if you second-guessed him, then I don't know what you're thinking," he said. "I'm surprised if he gets tackled."

So is center Jason Kelce. 

"I was actually celebrating before he scored the touchdown, because I watched the whole thing unfold," Kelce said. "It was just a great play. [Wentz] scrambles out and then has the common sense to when the defender comes to him to dump it over top to Sproles, and that dude, once he gets the ball in space, it's incredibly special."

It sure was. 

First, Wentz stepped away from charging defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who had gotten away from Allen Barbre. 

“I came out and saw Sproles and he just turned up the field,” Wentz said. “Anytime that you can put it in [his hands], something special can happen on any play, and he did the rest of it.” 

Wentz did a little more than that (see story). After escaping the sack, he rushed to his right and made a right turn. Then he parallelled the line of scrimmage, drawing linebacker Ryan Shazier toward him — and allowing Sproles to get wide open.

Whoops.

"I thought he crossed the line of scrimmage, so I ran up," Shazier said. "It was my fault."

Sproles caught the pass, snaked his way the remaining 50 yards, spinning Steelers rookie safety Sean Davis around a couple times and watching rookie corner Artie Burns flail at him helplessly right before crossing the goal line.

"When they do that, it kind of gets everyone off their job when he extends the play like that," Davis said. "Me being a deep player, I just tried to buy us some time once I saw that we got broken down and let the defense rally up, and it's just a good play [by] him."

An amazing play. It was a 73-yard touchdown on the fourth play of the third quarter, a 3rd-and-8, and put the Eagles up 20-3 (see 10 observations). It was the second-longest catch of Sproles' career and longest since 2009 while with the Chargers (an 81-yarder vs. Baltimore). It was easily the longest TD of Wentz’s career and a main reason he was able to become only the second rookie in team history to reach 300 passing yards in a game (Nick Foles is the other).

“It was so much fun,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “Those are the kinds of plays you can’t design. It’s players making plays. … Sproles did his thing and wiggled down there, and it was fun to watch.”

That’s what Agholor should have done. Just watch.

"I was trying to chase him down and almost pulled my hamstring," Agholor said. 

"You see those moves he put on them? Pffft. And DGB (Dorial Green-Beckham) ran downfield — that downfield block. Think about that. We were having a lot of fun tonight man, and I'm very happy about that."

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