Jrue goes down: We mourn while selfishly celebrating (but not too much)

Jrue goes down: We mourn while selfishly celebrating (but not too much)

The injuries in the NBA are now piling up to near-historic proportions, particularly in the point-guard ranks, where the extended absences of Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe have robbed the NBA at least an eighth of its overall watchability. Now, the lame can add another newcomer to their ranks--Pelicans point guard and former Sixer great Jrue Holiday.

Jrue has been ruled out indefinitely by Pelicans brass with a right ankle injury--a stress fracture in his tibia, if you must know. The loss to injury is tough for Holiday, who has been durable for most of his four-plus-year pro career, not yet missing ten games in a season. It might be even tougher for New Orleans, who was already missing sharpshooter Ryan Anderson for an indeterminate amount of time, and has also seen fellow young core players Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, and future superstar Anthony Davis shuttling in and out of the lineup with various maladies over the young season.

As NBA fans, we hate to see the league lose a talent like Jrue for any time period, and as Sixer fans our heart obviously goes out to our former floor general. However, the latter allegiance also forces us to consider how this news might end up impacting the Liberty Ballers, who own the Pelicans' first-round pick in the upcoming loaded draft, and have reason to wish temporary ill upon the fortunes of New Orleans.

And the impact will likely be rather sizable. Jrue wasn't likely to be an All-Star again this season--more of a comment on the level of elite backcourt talent in the West than anything--but he was still having a very solid year in New Orleans, averaging 14 and eight on 45% shooting and 39% from deep, while developing a particularly nice chemistry with Davis. Without him, the Pellies will have to either shift combo guard/forward Tyreke Evans to the starting lineup, leaving the second unit almost entirely bereft of scoring, or promote either steady backup Brian Roberts or (shudder) one-time prospect Austin Rivers to the first unit, none of which are particularly attractive options compared to the Damaja. The offense, already reeling from the loss of Anderson, will undoubtedly suffer even further.

The Pelicans currently reside at 15-19, and would have the 12th best lottery chances if the season-ended today. Their injury woes seem likely to push them back even further, possibly falling out of the just-outside-the-playoffs tier of the Wolves, Nuggets and Grizzlies and into the when-does-next-year-start? tier of the Lakers, Kings and Jazz. They'd have to do some serious losing to out-tank the dregs of the East, where they currently have a better record then even our seventh-seeded Bobcats, but nothing is impossible in this most unpredictable (and injury-stricken) of NBA seasons.

Good news for the Sixers, right? Well, to a point. Obviously we'd rather have the eighth or ninth pick in this historic draft than the 12th or 13th--though with the Eighth Samurai Sam Hinkie making the final proclamation, you gotta like our chances at either--but it's a slippery slope at that point, because if the Pelicans actually get drawn in the top three on lottery night (or more incredibly, tank their way all the way to the bottom five), we don't get to pick at all, as the selection remains top-five-protected. Ideally, we want the Not-Hornets to slip another rung or two, but tread water from there, to avoid risking anything more than a single-digit-percent chance of the Pelicans getting to hold onto their pick.

The important thing for us is that the Pelicans not get into the playoffs. If they did, it'd probably mean they had a better record than all but two or three of the Eastern playoff teams, which means their pick would fall all the way to the 20s in the draft--still valuable, but not nearly as. As long as we're picking in the lottery, the depth of this draft should allow Hinkie to find us a player to be a valuable contributor on the team for a long time to come. With their recent spate of injuries, we should now be relatively safe on that one, and that is good news.

Most importantly, we don't want karma to come back and bite us on this one. So let us wish nothing but get-well-soon thoughts to our once-and-future boy Jrue, and hope the Pelicans get back on track before too long. We'll bandwagon for you guys super-hard next season, promise.

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

The Sixers (4-15) continue their homestand against the Boston Celtics (11-8) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night (7:30 p.m./CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup.

1. A green giant-sized challenge
Just crumple it up and move on.

That's about the only thing the Sixers can do after getting ran out of the gym by the Orlando Magic on Friday. Instead of looking like a team that hadn't played since Monday, the Sixers appeared flat in a 105-88 loss.

Outside of Joel Embiid's first 20-point, 10-rebound game (he had 25 points and 10 boards) and a strong effort from Jahlil Okafor (16 points and 13 rebounds), not much else went right for the Sixers.

Now Embiid will sit the second game of a back-to-back set and Okafor will be thrust into the starting lineup, as the Sixers try to deal with Boston big man Al Horford. 

Horford, the Celtics' prized free-agent acquisition, is coming off his best game so far for his new team. He recorded 26 points, eight rebounds and six blocks in the Celtics' 97-92 win over the Kings on Friday.

2. Little big man
Even with Horford coming off a productive performance, the Sixers' game plan against the Celtics has to focus on slowing down Isaiah Thomas.

The 5-foot-9 guard continues to put up big numbers in the scoring department. Despite his shooting percentages taking a dip this season, Thomas still ranks ninth in the NBA with a career-high 25.7 points per game. 

And even though he is a willing passer (averaging a career-high-tying 6.3 assists), expect Thomas to try and score early and often against the Sixers. After all, the reserve-turned-All-Star has put up 21.5 points per game against the Sixers during his career, his highest mark against any opponent.

3. Dial up the long-distance defense
The Sixers need to be aware of Thomas and just about all of his teammates when they toe that three-point line.

The Celtics rank fifth in the league in three-pointers attempted (31.1), three-pointers made (11.3) and eighth in three-point percentage (36.3) per game.

The C's have four players shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc, and perhaps a bit surprising, three of them are big men. Jonas Jerebko (46.4 percent), Horford (42.4 percent) and Amir Johnson (40.0 percent) have all been on target from long range.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (knee) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are both questionable. Embiid (rest), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

The Celtics have no players listed on the injury report.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost five games in a row overall and eight straight to the Celtics.

• The Celtics rank 25th in rebounding with 42.2 a night.

• Dario Saric had two points Friday against the Magic and has failed to reach double digits in scoring five of his last six games.

Worst loss of the year for excuse-less Sixers against Magic

Worst loss of the year for excuse-less Sixers against Magic

Another new feeling for the rebuilding Sixers: The bad loss with no excuse. For at least one and possibly multiple seasons, there was no real such thing as an inexcusable L, because they were so never the favorite going into any game that their excuse could almost always be "the other team was better." But four wins and one transcendent player into this season, the Ballers actually do need an excuse for dropping a home game against a subpar team by double digits. And if they had one last night in their 105-88 loss to the Orlando Magic, they weren't telling the rest of us.

Really, this game couldn't have been teed up much better for Philly: We were home, well-rested after Wednesday's weird-ass cancellation, against a 7-12 team we nearly beat early in the season, who were on the second night of a back-to-back after ceding a tough one to the Grizzlies -- and we had Joel Embiid for up to 28 minutes. If this one was to be a laugher by early in the fourth quarter, you'd almost have to assume that it'd been the Sixers who put it to bed early. 

Instead, the Sixers slumped horribly from the field in the first quarter, missing bunny after bunny and plenty of open jumpers, as they dug themselves a hole they were never quite able to climb out of. Philly kept it manageable and D.J. Augustin and Nik Vucevic caught fire for Orlando in the third quarter, and the game was suddenly in Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot territory before we could even process what was happening. 

Of course, you can't blame Embiid for this one. Though JoJo was a little out of sorts defensively on this one -- and personally, I really wish he'd stop trapping five feet outside the arc, it may cause panic in the Magic's ball-handlers but it really seems to compromise our own half-court D -- he still finished with a resounding 25-10-4 with three triples, and for the first time in his young career, 0 turnovers. (I coulda swore I saw at least one, but so says the box score, anyway.) Just another game for the Process, though the Sixers (for some reason) needed him to be immaculate last night, and he was merely phenomenal. 

Less phenomenal were the rest of the Sixers' shooters. Our bench in particular was absolutely putrid, going a combined 0-12 from three, with Nik Stauskas's streak of consecutive games with a three snapped at 15 after his scoreless, 0-6 performance. (Five assists for Sauce, at least.) Jahlil posted a dominant stat line of 16 and 13 (on 8-10 shooting) but was again hapless on defense, ending a team-worst -19 for the night. And Dario Saric's slumping continued with a 1-5 shooting outing with no rebounds or assists, likely his worst game of the season. 

It was a surprisingly listless effort from a team that should have looked much sharper, and the most positive non-Joel-related thing to be said about it is that it's (sort of) nice to finally have expectations high enough to have them let down. It'll be a lot harder for Philly to let down tonight against the Celtics, without JoJo, against a pretty good and mostly healthy Boston team. But that's five losses in a row already for the improving Sixers, and it'd be nice to cut off that streak soon, before it starts threatening double digits -- we could certainly do with being done with those for the forseeable future.