Look Out Below: Three-Game Losing Streak Could Be Tip of Iceberg for Crashing Sixers

Look Out Below: Three-Game Losing Streak Could Be Tip of Iceberg for Crashing Sixers

On their own, none of the three games the Philadelphia 76ers lost last
week can be considered all that tragic. The first was against a tough
Bulls team that's won four of their last five games and always seems to
play the Sixers well, the second was against an improving Pacers squad
whose oversized frontcourt is a matchup nightmare for the undersized
Sixers, and the third was against a rebounding Lakers squad that
couldn't miss from downtown, and was led by Kobe Bryant with his typical
all-around scoring brilliance. All three were winnable games, but
especially with leading scorer and distributor Jrue Holiday missing the
last two, they're forgivable losses.


However, by failing to steal a single one of the three, now the
Sixers are really in trouble. Throughout their first 24 games, we've
been espousing the importance of the Sixers picking up as many wins as
possible while their schedule was still soft on road games and tough
opponents, because that's about all they have coming up—10 of the
Ballers' next 11 are on the road, including games against likely
playoff-bound squads like the Nets, Grizzlies, Spurs, Thunder and
Warriors. A couple of the games might be winnable, but none of them will
be cupcakes, and the Sixers haven't shown much recently to make you
think they'll be able to handle any opponent easily.


Fact of the matter is, the Sixers a little lucky to even be 12-12
right now. Not only have they played one of the NBA's easiest
start-of-season scheduled, their point differential over their 12 wins
and 12 losses is a dismal -66, more indicative of a team several games
under .500. They've been held under 100 in seven of their last eight
games, and they haven't won a game by double digits since early
November. The Sixers are still in the top ten in defensive efficiency—or
at least they were before last night's 111-point Laker performance—but
their offensive efficiency is in the bottom ten, and their true shooting
percentage in the bottom five. This team just can't score enough to win
a lot of games.


So what happens if the Sixers go 3-8 or 2-9 in their next 11, a
possibility that's disturbingly real at this point in the season? That's
not to say that the Sixers are doomed to so much losing—they should
hopefully be getting Holiday back any game now, and in his absence a
couple of the Sixer reserves (namely Nick Young and Spencer Hawes) have
started to regain their stroke, so it's possible that the team at full
strength will be playing at their best for the season. But then again,
maybe Holiday misses a couple more games, maybe Hawes and Young go back
to bricking, maybe even Evan Turner finally cools off significantly and
shoots the team out of a couple games. Betting on everything to go right
is rarely a smart proposition, and the Sixers have a much slimmer
margin of error this year than we previously thought.


Anyway, if they do go on such a losing tear, what does that mean for
the rest of their season? If they approach the trade deadline well
under .500, does that mean that rather than trying to make a trade to
plug a couple of their roster holes this season (a starting-caliber big
man, a competent backup point guard), they go into sell mode, trading
away non-core pieces like Jason Richardson, Nick Young, Dorell Wright or
(if anyone's dumb enough to take his contract) Spencer Hawes? Will that
inspire the Sixers to wave the white flag for this year?


Tanking is pretty antithetical to the Doug Collins experience, so
I'd be surprised to see the team pack it in before they absolutely have
to this year. But it is worth keeping in mind that the Sixers'
first-round draft pick next year is the lottery-protected property of
the Miami Heat, so the Sixers only get to use it if they land outside of
the playoffs. Next year's draft is said to be pretty weak, but even in
the mid-late lottery of a weak draft, you still have at least a decent
shot at adding a cheap player that could end up being a core piece, and
the Sixers could certainly use an extra one of those moving forward. If
the season looks like a lost one anyway, no Sixer fan will be
heartbroken at missing an opportunity to grab an eighth seed and get
bounced in the first round again.


Of course, there's still a very large wild card at play here, and
one whose role will hopefully become clearer this Thursday, when Andrew
Bynum goes in for an MRI, which should determine whether Bynum and his
gimpy legs are on track to return at some point in 2013, or whether he
needs to have season-ending injury. If it's the latter, then there
almost seems to be no point in pushing for the playoffs this season, and
a partial rebuild really might be the answer.


If it's the former, though, and Bynum might actually make it back to
the Sixers sometime in February or March, then that complicates things,
since the Sixers will want to give Bynum as much an opportunity as
possible to play with the existing Sixers core and prove his worth (and
more importantly, his health) before Philly potentially re-signs him in
the off-season. Naturally, we'd kill for that kind of complication, if
it meant a chance to see Bynum in action. But if the news on Thursday is
bad—and given recent history, we certainly can't write off that
likelihood—and then the Sixers struggle to grab wins on this upcoming
roadtrip, then this season could become an afterthought by New Year's.


Even if so, the long-term future for this team is looking bright, if
not overly so. Jrue Holiday is still playing at an All-Star level,
Thaddeus Young is posting career highs across the board, Evan Turner has
scored in double-digits for 16 straight games after not doing so more
than five games in a row anytime before that. If the worst is true about
Bynum and he's destined never to play a game in a Sixers uniform, we'll
still have a good deal of cap space this summer to add an impact free
agent, and possibly a decent draft pick to throw into the mix as well.
It'll just mean another year of waiting for relevancy for the Sixers,
and for better or worse, we're pretty used to that by now.

Instant Replay: Mets 5, Phillies 3, Oct. 1

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Instant Replay: Mets 5, Phillies 3, Oct. 1

BOX SCORE

Ryan Howard gave the fans a treat with a two-run home run in his penultimate game in a Phillies uniform, but that was the extent of the highlights Saturday afternoon as the Phils suffered a 5-3 loss to the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park.

With the victory, the Mets clinched a spot in the NL playoffs as a wild-card team.

The Phillies clinched their sixth straight loss and eighth in the last nine games.

They are 70-91 heading into the final day of the season.

Starting pitching report
Phil Klein worked four innings for the Phillies and gave up one run.

Mets starter Bartolo Colon went five innings and gave up just two runs. Both runs came on Howard’s homer in the fifth.

Bullpen report
Patrick Schuster and David Hernandez gave up runs in the sixth as the Mets broke a 2-2 tie. Hernandez allowed a two-run homer and took the loss.

The Mets’ bullpen pitched four shutout innings. Jeurys Familia closed it out for his 51st save.

At the plate
Howard’s homer was his 25th of the season, tying him with Maikel Franco for the team lead. It was the 382nd homer of his career, tying him with Jim Rice and Frank Howard for 67th on the all-time list.

Howard has six doubles, 13 homers and 32 RBIs in 47 games since July 3.

Darin Ruf smacked a pinch-hit homer in the seventh inning.

The Mets scored single runs in the fourth and fifth innings. James Loney put them ahead for good with a two-run homer in the top if the sixth. It broke a 2-2 tie. Asdrubal Cabrera drove in an insurance run with a single in the top of the ninth.

Up next
The Phillies close out the season Sunday afternoon against the Mets. Jerad Eickhoff (11-14, 3.72) pitches for the Phillies. Noah Syndergaard (14-9, 2.60) is the Mets’ scheduled starter.

The game will start at 3:05. The Phillies will honor Howard at 2:30.

Instant Replay: Temple 45, SMU 20

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Instant Replay: Temple 45, SMU 20

Recent history suggested that Temple and SMU would display some offensive fireworks Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field
 
The Owls lived up to their end of the bargain with a potent first-half attack, while the Mustangs are still wondering what hit them.
 
Temple began its defense of the AAC East crown by overwhelming SMU with 368 yards of total offense and sprinkling in a fumble recovery touchdown en route to a 45-20 thrashing of the Mustangs in both teams’ conference opener. All but 10 of the Owls’ points came in the first half.
 
The Owls’ defense kept the Mustangs’ uptempo offense in check most of the day, allowing 288 total yards and recording four sacks and two interceptions. SMU came into Saturday’s game averaging 448 yards of offense per game.
 
Temple (3-2, 1-0 AAC) effectively set a tone for the rest of conference play at the expense of the overmatched Mustangs.
 
SMU (2-3, 0-1 AAC) won’t be forgetting its first trip to Philadelphia since 1946 anytime soon.
 
Turning point
After Walker threw a pick-six to SMU’s Jordan Wyatt on the game’s opening drive, the Owls came back out with another uninspiring, fruitless offensive effort. The Mustangs had every ounce of the early momentum. But then the Owls unleashed their secret weapon in punter Alex Starzyk, who uncorked one of his trademark rugby-style punts. The ball bounced off a SMU player’s leg and Temple recovered at the SMU 42-yard line.
 
Seven plays later, Jahad Thomas scampered in from 12 yards out for a touchdown to tie the game. Temple went on to score 35 straight points and never looked back.
 
Injury report
Temple junior safety Sean Chandler was a sudden scratch Saturday with what the team called a knee injury. Redshirt senior Nate L. Smith started in Chandler’s place and recorded a pick in the second quarter. Thomas took over the punt return duties for the day.
 
Senior linebacker Avery Williams was a game-time decision with an ankle issue. He started but didn’t see his usual helping of snaps. Redshirt freshman Chapelle Russell and redshirt sophomore Jared Folks saw the field most in place of Williams.
 
Owls sophomore wideout Ventell Bryant, the team’s top returning receiver from last season, returned to action after missing the last three games.
 
Big men on campus
Sophomore Ryquell Armstead carried the rock 15 times for two touchdowns and a career-high 159 yards. It was his first career 100-yard rushing game. Those 159 yards are the most by an Owl since Thomas rushed for 199 against UCF last October.
 
Another game, two more rushing touchdowns for Thomas. He now has six touchdowns in three games since returning from a dislocated left thumb that forced him to miss the first two games of the year. He finished the day with 80 yards rushing and those two scores.
 
Romond Deloatch continues to do it all for Temple. Not only did the versatile senior have a 34-yard catch, he scooped up a fumble and brought it back for a defensive touchdown after lining up at defensive tackle in the second quarter. He palmed the ball off the ground like a basketball and trotted in easily from eight yards out.  Haason Reddick forced the fumble when he decleated SMU freshman quarterback Ben Hicks. Reddick had another sack and forced fumble on a huge hit of Hicks later in the game. The quarterback will be seeing Reddick in his nightmares.
 
Bryant made an impact in his return with a 43-yard touchdown reception.
 
Ugly day for Walker
For all the good things Temple did on Saturday, Walker, the Owls’ senior quarterback, didn’t have a game to brag about.
 
He wasn’t sharp at all as he went 7 for 18 for 124 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions on awful decisions. He stared down his receiver and forced the throw on Wyatt’s pick-six. He forced another throw along the sideline later in the game that was picked and led to a touchdown for the Mustangs. SMU defender Rodney Clemons dropped another easy pick in the third quarter.
 
Rough field conditions
The playing surface at Lincoln Financial Field was not in great shape Saturday, to put it politely. It was brown and torn-up from 30-yard line to 30-yard line. Beware. This is what happens when you mess with the combination of Beyoncé and Mother Nature.
 
Style watch
Temple broke out some sharp new black jerseys for Saturday’s game and paired them with white helmets and white pants. It was the first time the Owls wore black jerseys in two years.
 
Up next
There won’t be much rest for Temple this week. The Owls have to travel to Memphis for a nationally televised Thursday night matchup with the Tigers at the Liberty Bowl.
 
SMU heads to Tulsa next Saturday night.