More On Big Vuuch's Big Night in Newark

More On Big Vuuch's Big Night in Newark

So by now we're all done popping champagne over the selection of USC power forward/center Nikola Vucevic at #16 in this year's draft and we can come back down to earth a little and talk about what we actually have here. It seems like a lot of fans are pretty down on the guy, and I can't really blame em. At Nikola's first media interview as a Sixer, I couldn't even think of anything good to ask him because the only questions I had for him were insulting ones. How do you think a slow, unathletic guy like you is gonna fit in on a team of run-and-gunners? Do you think you'll be able to beat out Spencer Hawes for the team's position of skilled-but-largely-ineffective white starting big man? Do the names "Samuel Dalembert" and "Shawn Bradley" mean anything to you?

The nation of NBA draft evaluators, biased and unbiased alike, is similarly blase on Vucevic. The guys at Liberty Ballers (who I met at the draft and were also less than gung ho on the Vuch) have a nice little compilation of Sixers draft grades from various sources, and every single one of them is in the C / C- range. The general consensus appears to be that the Sixers desperately needed height, so they reached for the tallest guy out there, without considering whether or not he was necessarily the most talented guy available. Nobody's killing the pick as a franchise-crippler—it's sort of hard to do that with the #16 pick anyway—but it doesn't seem like Young Nikko is lighting the world on fire either.

Still, let's do a little "Benefit of the Doubt" once-over on this pick. We do desperately need front-court help next season, and even if Vucevic can't lock up the starting center position, he should be able to give the team good backup minutes that might otherwise go to another Tony Battie roster-filler type. He posted excellent numbers last year at USC (17-10 on 50% shooting, 35% from 3s and 75% FTs) and has drawn good marks for his basketball IQ. Coach Collins loves him and we saw last year how good he is at using skilled players to maximize their effectiveness. It's entirely possible that Vucevic will play in the Sixers' primary rotation next year, and might be a legitimate contributor for the team moving forward—all you can ask for for a #16 pick, really.

The reason the pick seems so underwhelming is the lack of critical thinking displayed therein. On the one hand, fans might've killed the team if they had picked another wing player for continuing to overstuff the glut we have at those positions while neglecting our team's pressing need for size, but the Vucevic pick goes so far against the team's primary identity as an up-and-down-the-floor bunch of athletes (though with Thad maybe out the door and Dre possibly to follow, perhaps that identity isn't long for the world anyway) that it seems like management keyed on Nikko's height with blinders to all other factors, many of which are arguably more important. But maybe this was just the sort of Nobody Knows Anything draft—evidenced by how two guys the Sixers originally appeared to be in the range for, Tristan Thompson and Jordan Hamilton, ending up going at #4 and #26, respectively—where you reach for the one thing that you know for sure. And in Philly's case, that was the team's need for size.

To me, the most disappointing part of the night is that it ended with Andre Iguodala still on the roster. I know the possible change in ownership complicates things, I know that none of the deals proposed for 'Dre really blew the Sixers' collective skirt up (shudder), but he might never have as much value after the draft (and after the new CBA, or lack thereof), and it really seemed like the team made the decision that they weren't going to send out AI9 for a return of lesser talent, when really any talent at all should have ultimately sufficed. If some other team ends up pilfering Monta Ellis away from Golden State for next to nothing, I feel like we might end up really regret not flipping 'Dre for him and just seeing what would happen. (Or Monta could destroy that team's chemistry and identity and make us realize what a bullet we dodged. But still.)

Ultimately, it wasn't the greatest draft night. But it probably wasn't ever going to be, and at least we have a guy who might be able to help the team out next year with only, uh, modest expectations. And as for Lavoy Allen—totally an unscientific, worthless analysis, but the couple times I saw him play at Temple, I thought he had the potential to be a Brendan Haywood-type player in the league. Everybody seems to think he'll be a total washout with the Sixers, and they know more and better than I do, but just saying.

NFL Playoff Wrap: Packers, Steelers off to conference title games after dramatic wins

NFL Playoff Wrap: Packers, Steelers off to conference title games after dramatic wins

ARLINGTON, Texas -- This time it was a catch, and another win for the Green Bay Packers.

Call it a "Half Mary" from Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers threw a 36-yard pass to a toe-dragging Jared Cook on the sideline, and Mason Crosby kicked a 51-yard field goal as time expired, sending the Packers to the NFC championship game with their eighth straight win while thwarting a huge Dallas rally in a 34-31 victory in the divisional round of the playoffs Sunday.

The throw on the run from Rodgers to Cook -- confirmed on review -- wasn't nearly as debatable as Dez Bryant's famous catch that wasn't in the Cowboys' divisional round loss to Green Bay two years ago.

Cook kept both feet inbounds with a knee just above the ground out of bounds.

And it came after the Cowboys tied the game twice in the final 5 minutes behind rookie sensations Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in their playoff debut.

It was the third field goal of more than 50 yards in the final 1:38 -- two from Crosby and one from Dallas' Dan Bailey. And Crosby had to make the winner twice after Dallas coach Jason Garrett called timeout before the first attempt.

Rodgers, who sparked last week's wild-card win over the New York Giants with another Hail Mary before halftime, is headed to an MVP showdown with Atlanta's Matt Ryan next Sunday. It will be his third NFC title game -- all on the road.

Green Bay's win was the first by a road team after 12 straight home victories in the playoffs dating to last season.

The Cowboys (13-4) almost became the third team in the Super Bowl era to win in the playoffs after trailing by 15 points in the fourth quarter. The first was Dallas in 1972, when "Captain Comeback", Roger Staubach, rallied the Cowboys for a 30-28 win over San Francisco.

Instead, Dallas ended up with its fifth straight loss in the divisional round and a 21-year drought in trips to the NFC championship game.

Prescott got the Dallas rally going with a 40-yard touchdown toss in the first half to Bryant, the first playoff TD for the star receiver.

Then he set the stage for the first tying score on a 6-yarder to Jason Witten, also the first postseason touchdown for the 14th-year tight end.

Rodgers led the Packers to a go-ahead 56-yard field goal from Crosby with a big boost on a pass interference penalty against rookie Anthony Brown that wiped out an interception from Jeff Heath, whose pick earlier in the game helped Dallas rally.

The Cowboys answered with a 52-yarder from Bailey (see full recap).

Steelers hold off Chiefs to set up rematch with Pats in AFC title game
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Who needs to reach the end zone when you have Le'Veon Bell chewing up yards and the clock, and Chris Boswell setting an NFL playoff record with six field goals?

Throw in a stingy Pittsburgh defense for most of Sunday night, and a multitude of mistakes by Kansas City, and the Steelers' 18-16 victory sent them into the AFC championship game.

The Steelers (13-5) needed to hold off a last-ditch threat by the Chiefs (12-5) before advancing to face New England next Sunday night for a spot in the Super Bowl. The Patriots won at Pittsburgh 27-16, but Ben Roethlisberger was injured and didn't play.

Spencer Ware's 1-yard touchdown run took Kansas City within 18-16. The Chiefs at first converted the 2-pointer to tie it, but tackle Eric Fisher -- the first overall selection in the 2013 draft -- was penalized for holding. The next try failed.

With 2:43 remaining, Justin Gilbert misplayed the kick return and was tackled at the Pittsburgh 5. Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for 7 yards on third down and Pittsburgh then ran out the clock, securing a ninth straight victory for the Steelers. The Chiefs have not won a home playoff game since 1994, losing five in a row.

The scoring started furiously in the opening minutes, then the game became a kicking exhibition by Boswell, who also had six field goals in the regular season against Cincinnati. And Bell put on a virtuoso running performance, patiently finding holes and then exploding through them. He added a team-record 170 yards rushing to the 167 he had in a win over Miami last week.

The Steelers became first team to win a playoff game without a TD since eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis in the 2006 AFC divisional round at Baltimore.

Using a no-huddle attack almost to perfection early on, the Steelers drove deep into Kansas City territory. But they bogged down inside the 5 and Boswell made a 22-yard field goal.

The Chiefs were just as efficient on a six-play march capped by receiver Albert Wilson lining up in the backfield, then slipping uncovered into the end zone for a 5-yard score.

Pittsburgh's answer came on a 52-yard heave to All-Pro Brown, who somehow was covered by linebacker Justin Houston. That led to Boswell's second field goal, a 38-yarder. He added a 36-yarder to cap a 14-play drive on which Pittsburgh again barely huddled.

A clean game up until then turned to, well, turnovers, on successive series. Bud Dupree pounded Alex Smith, whose pass shot high into the air and was caught by linebacker Ryan Shazier.

The Steelers got to the Kansas City 5, where Frank Zombo leaped to deflect Roethlisberger's throw, and All-Pro safety Eric Berry -- burned for 26 yards on the previously play -- picked it off in the end zone.

Boswell's fourth field goal, from 45 yards, made it 12-7 at the half. His 43-yarder, setting the franchise record for a postseason game and tying the league mark of five, came on Pittsburgh's first series of the second half. A 43-yarder midway in the fourth quarter gave Boswell the NFL record.

Kansas City's Cairo Santos got in on the kicking act with a 48-yarder to make it 15-10. At that point, 10 seconds from the end of the third quarter, the Chiefs were outgained 333 yards to 150 (see full recap).

Best of NBA: James Harden's 12th triple-double paces Rockets' rout of Nets

Best of NBA: James Harden's 12th triple-double paces Rockets' rout of Nets

NEW YORK -- James Harden had 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in his 12th triple-double of the season and the Houston Rockets easily ended their first losing streak of the season by beating the Brooklyn Nets 137-112 on Sunday night.

Held to 105 points in losses to Minnesota and Memphis, the Rockets bounced back with 104 after three quarters and handed the Nets their 10th straight loss.

Eric Gordon led the Rockets with 24 points and Trevor Ariza added 23. Houston made 21 3-pointers and had five players with at least 16 points.

Houston shot just 40.8 percent during its two losses, well below its 46.8 season average, while being held nearly 10 points below its season scoring average. But the Rockets had no trouble bouncing back against the Nets, who allow an NBA-worst 114.3 per game (see full recap).

DeRozan leads Raptors past Knicks
TORONTO -- DeMar DeRozan had 23 points, Norman Powell added 21 and the Toronto Raptors used a dominant third quarter to beat the New York Knicks 116-101 on Sunday.

DeRozan also had five rebounds and five assists before coming out late in the third quarter.

The Raptors improved to 27-13, taking the lead for good late in the first quarter. They led by 38 points in the third in winning their third straight game overall and fifth in a row against the Knicks.

DeMarre Carroll added 20 points, and Jonas Valanciunas had 12 points and 16 rebounds.

Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 18 points, Justin Holiday had 17, and Derrick Rose added 16. The Knicks are 2-10 in their last 12 to drop to 18-23 (see full recap).

Hawks stay hot by beating Bucks    
ATLANTA -- Kent Bazemore scored 24 points, Mike Dunleavy added 20 and the Atlanta Hawks beat the Milwaukee Bucks 111-98 on Sunday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 33 points and was a tough matchup in the paint for Milwaukee, which dropped 2 1/2 games behind the fourth-place Hawks in the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta has won eight of nine. The Bucks have dropped three of five.

Dunleavy, in his second game since arriving in a trade last week with Cleveland, had his first 20-point performance since a first-round playoff game for Chicago on April 30, 2015.

Antetokounmpo has scored at least 30 points in eight games in a breakout season (see full recap)