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: Cubs 4, Phillies 1

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The Associated Press

Instant Replay: Cubs 4, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs continue to dominate the Phillies with extra-base hits and terrific starting pitching.
 
They beat the Phils for the second day in a row Saturday. The final score at Wrigley Field was 4-1. Right-hander Kyle Hendricks went the distance for the win. The Phils scored in the ninth inning to avoid a shutout.
 
The Phils have been held to two or fewer runs 18 times and one or fewer 11 times. They are averaging just 3.22 runs per game.
 
The Cubs, who lead the majors with 33 wins, have stroked nine extra-base hits in the first two games of the series and four of them have been homers. The Phils have just three extra-base hits, all doubles. One was a misplay by the Cubs’ outfield.
 
The Phillies are 1-4 on this six-game road trip, which started in Detroit.
 
The Phils have lost six of their last eight games and are now just three games over .500 at 26-23.
 
Starting pitching report
Eickhoff was not nearly as efficient as he was in his previous start when he threw just 85 pitches in seven innings in a 5-0 win over Atlanta. This time, Eickhoff threw a season-high 109 pitches over six innings. He gave up eight hits, four for extra bases and four runs. He walked one and struck out seven.
 
Eickhoff was tagged for three extra-bases hits in the first inning, a home run and two doubles. For the season, Eickhoff is 2-7 with a 4.07 ERA.
 
Hendricks held the Phillies to five hits, three of which were singles. He was not overpowering, but his command was exceptional. He did not walk a batter and struck out seven while throwing just 104 pitches.
 
Jon Lester held the Phillies to one earned run in 6⅓ innings Friday.
 
Bullpen report
The Cubs didn’t need one. Andrew Bailey and Elvis Araujo pitched scoreless ball for the Phillies.
 
At the plate
The Phillies had just five hits. Ryan Howard returned to the starting lineup and went 0 for 4 to drop to .154.
 
The Cubs, who hit three home runs Friday, got their power game going early as Dexter Fowler led off the bottom of the first inning with a solo homer against Eickhoff. Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist both doubled in the inning as the Cubs went up 2-0 in the first. Heyward doubled home a run in the second inning.
 
Up next
The Phillies and Cubs close out the series Sunday afternoon. Vince Velasquez (5-1, 2.75) pitches for the Phillies against right-hander John Lackey (4-2, 3.83).
 
The Phillies return home Monday night to open a 10-game homestand that will see Washington, Milwaukee and the Cubs comes to town.

Police: Pelicans guard Bryce Dejean-Jones shot and killed in Dallas

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USA Today Images

Police: Pelicans guard Bryce Dejean-Jones shot and killed in Dallas

DALLAS -- New Orleans Pelicans rookie Bryce Dejean-Jones was fatally shot after breaking down the door to a Dallas apartment, authorities said Saturday.

Officers were called early Saturday and found the 23-year-old player collapsed in an outdoor passageway, Senior Cpl. DeMarquis Black said in a statement. Dejean-Jones was taken to a hospital where he died.

A person living at the apartment was sleeping when he heard his front door kicked open, Black said. The man retrieved a handgun and fired when Dejean-Jones began kicking the bedroom door.

Dejean-Jones was from Los Angeles and it wasn't immediately clear why he was in Dallas.

"We are devastated at the loss of this young man's life (and) who had such a promising future ahead of him," the Pelicans said in a statement.

In his only NBA season, which ended in February because of a broken right wrist, the 6-foot-6 guard started 11 of 14 games and averaged 5.6 points and 3.4 rebounds.

He was part of the 2014-15 Iowa State team that went 25-9, captured a Big 12 title and made a fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. He was fourth on the team in scoring, averaging 10.5 points in 33 games. He shot a career-best 47.6 percent in his lone season as a Cyclone. He also played at Southern California and UNLV.

"This is a very, very sad and tragic day for everyone that's a part of the Cyclone basketball family," Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said.

Former Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg added in a statement that Dejean-Jones was a "passionate and talented player that lived out his dream of playing in the NBA through hard work and perseverance."

Stanley Cup: Offseason moves send Sharks to final after missing playoffs

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USA Today Images

Stanley Cup: Offseason moves send Sharks to final after missing playoffs

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- After watching the San Jose Sharks miss the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, general manager Doug Wilson set out to remake the team last offseason.

Individually, none of the moves sent shockwaves through the NHL. The Sharks hired a coach who made the playoffs once in seven seasons as an NHL coach, traded a first-round pick for a goalie who had been a backup his entire career, added two playoff-tested veterans for depth at forward and defense and signed an unheralded Finnish rookie.

Together, the additions of Peter DeBoer, Martin Jones, Joel Ward, Paul Martin and Joonas Donskoi to a solid core that had underachieved proved to be the right mix to get the Sharks to their long-awaited first Stanley Cup Final appearance.

"I thought this team has a lot of the pieces of that puzzle," Martin said. "Doug did a great job bringing guys in that he did, to make that push for it. I don't think many people would have guessed that we'd be here right now, but I think we believed."

The players all said the disappointment of blowing a 3-0 series lead to Los Angeles in 2014 and then missing the playoffs entirely last season served as fuel for this season's success.

DeBoer also credited former coach Todd McLellan for helping put the foundation in place that he was able to capitalize on. The Sharks became the second team in the past 10 seasons to make it to the final after missing the playoffs the previous season, joining the 2011-12 Devils that pulled off the same trick in DeBoer's first season in New Jersey.

"Everyone was ready for something a little bit fresher and newer, not anything that much different," DeBoer said. "The additions that Doug made, it just came together. I inherited a similar team in New Jersey when I went in there. First time they missed the playoffs for a long time the year before I got there. I think when you go into that situation, when you have really good people like there was in New Jersey when I went in there, like I was with this group ... they're embarrassed by the year they just had, and they're willing to do and buy into whatever you're selling to get it fixed again. I think I was the benefactor of that."

The transition from McLellan to DeBoer wasn't seamless. As late as Jan. 8, the Sharks were in 13th place in the 14-team Western Conference and seemingly on the way to another missed postseason.

But with Logan Couture finally healthy after being slowed by a broken leg early in the season and the move by DeBoer to put Tomas Hertl on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, the Sharks rolled after that and made the playoffs as the third-place team in the Pacific Division.

In-season additions of players like depth forwards Dainius Zubrus and Nick Spaling, physical defenseman Roman Polak and backup goaltender James Reimer helped put the Sharks in the position they are now.

"With the new coaching staff we needed to realize how we needed to play to win," Thornton said. "Once that clicked, and that probably clicked maybe early December, I think after that, we just exploded. I think that's really when we saw the depth of this team. Everybody plays a big part."

That has been especially true in the playoffs when longtime core players like Thornton, Couture, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau got the support that had often been lacking during past postseason disappointments.

Jones has posted three shutouts in the playoffs, including the Game 7 second-round clincher against Nashville and back-to-back games in the conference final against St. Louis. He has proven more than capable of being an NHL starter after serving an apprenticeship as Jonathan Quick's backup in Los Angeles.

Ward scored two goals in each of the final two games of the conference final and has 11 points this postseason. Donskoi exceeded expectations just to make the team as a rookie and has solidified his spot on the second line with five goals and nine points.

Martin's steady play has allowed offensive-minded defenseman Brent Burns to roam at times and given San Jose a strong second defensive pair that had been missing in previous seasons.

Zubrus and Spaling played a big role as penalty killers and on the fourth line, while Polak has been one of the team's most physical players.

"Doug did a great job this summer, this season," Couture said. "A lot of credit needs to go to him for the guys he brought in."