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.

Aaron Rodgers tosses 3 TDs to help Packers pull away from Bears

Aaron Rodgers tosses 3 TDs to help Packers pull away from Bears


GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers set a record. The Chicago Bears lost another quarterback.

After a slow start in the red zone, the Green Bay Packers picked up the pace in the second half to overpower their offensively-challenged NFC North rivals.

Rodgers threw for 326 yards and three touchdowns, Davante Adams and Ty Montgomery emerged as playmakers in the second half and Packers beat the Bears 26-10 on Thursday night.

Rodgers was 39 of 56, setting a franchise mark for completions in a game. It was the Packers' first contest without injured running back Eddie Lacy .

"A lot of moving parts, a very satisfying victory at home," coach Mike McCarthy said.

The Packers (4-2) moved effectively on short gains most of the night, but couldn't break into the end zone until Adams caught the first of his two touchdown receptions with 9:11 left in the third quarter for a 13-10 lead.

Rodgers and Adams combined again for a 4-yard score on the first play of fourth quarter for a 10-point lead.

The Bears (1-6) lost quarterback Brian Hoyer to a broken left arm in the second quarter. With Jay Cutler already out with a right thumb injury, Chicago turned to third-stringer Matt Barkley.

An offense that was already 31st in the league in scoring got worse. Barkley was 6 of 15 for 81 yards and two interceptions.

"Well, when you lose your starting quarterback it can be disruptive," Bears coach John Fox said. "It's not an excuse, it's just a reality,"

He tried to lean on the rush against the NFL's third-best run defense. It didn't work either.

Kadeem Carey had 48 yards on 10 carries, including a 24-yarder. Receiver Alshon Jeffery was held to three catches for 33 yards against a Packers secondary without its top three cornerbacks because of injuries.

It got so bad for the Bears that Rodgers had more completions (37) than the Bears had offensive plays (36) by 5:31 of the fourth quarter.

That 37th completion for Rodgers was a 2-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb for a 16-point lead.

Adams, Montgomery and Cobb each finished with at least 10 receptions.

Hoyer hurt
Hoyer left early in the second quarter after getting hit by Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews on an incompletion on third-and-6 from midfield. The right-handed Hoyer looked as if he landed on his left arm . He was attended to by trainers on the field for a couple minutes before going to the locker room. Hoyer was 4 of 11 for 49 yards.

Triple threat
Adams had 13 catches for a career-high 132 yards, making Jordy Nelson-like moves to spin out of tackles for extra yards. Adams had just been cleared earlier Thursday from the NFL's concussion protocol after leaving the loss Sunday to Dallas.

Cobb finished with 11 catches for 95 yards.

Montgomery, who got the start in the backfield with running backs Lacy (ankle) and James Starks (knee) out, finished with 10 catches for 66 yards, and nine carries for 60 yards.

"You do what you have to do, you play the way you have to play," McCarthy said.

Big Floyd
The Bears' only touchdown came from rookie pass-rushing linebacker Leonard Floyd, who forced Rodgers to fumble on third-and-10 from the 15 on a sack. Floyd recovered the ball in the end zone for a 10-6 lead, 30 seconds into the third quarter.

Floyd had been limited in practice this week with a calf injury.

"He's got those kind of abilities. It's been problematic a little bit having him out there, but it was good to have him back out there tonight," Fox said.

The Packers scored touchdowns on their next three drives.

Slow start
The Packers moved effectively with short passes in the first half but stalled on three drives inside the 22. Mason Crosby salvaged two series with field goals, but the Packers went scoreless on another drive when Montgomery was stopped on a fourth-and-goal run from the 1.

Green Bay, which led 6-3 at the half, exploited the Bears' underneath coverage. They also threw short passes as a substitute for the running game.

"It means we threw it a lot. But a lot of times records like these are achieved in losses when you're way behind," Rodgers about his completions record.

Injury report
Bears: Besides Hoyer, RG Kyle Long left in the second quarter with an arm injury.

Packers: RB Don Jackson, who was just activated from the practice squad Thursday to replace Lacy, left in the first quarter with a hand injury.

MLB Playoffs: Cubs beat Dodgers, move one win away from World Series

MLB Playoffs: Cubs beat Dodgers, move one win away from World Series


LOS ANGELES -- One win away. Two chances at home. Seven decades of waiting.

The Chicago Cubs closed in on their first World Series trip since 1945 by beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-4 on Thursday in Game 5 of their National League playoff.

Jon Lester pitched seven sharp innings, Addison Russell hit a tiebreaking homer and the Cubs grabbed a 3-2 lead in the NL Championship Series.

On deck, a pair of opportunities to wrap up that elusive pennant at Wrigley Field.

"The city of Chicago has got to be buzzing pretty much right now," manager Joe Maddon said. "We're not going to run away from anything. It's within our reach right now."

The Cubs' first opportunity to clinch comes Saturday night in Game 6, when Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw faces major league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks.

"That's a game we expect to win," Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said.

Of course, the Cubs were in the same favorable position 13 years ago -- heading home to Wrigley with a 3-2 lead in the NLCS.

But even with ace pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood starting the final two games, Chicago collapsed against the Marlins in one of its most excruciating failures.

More than a decade later, the franchise is still chasing its first World Series championship since 1908.

"We've heard the history," center fielder Dexter Fowler said, "but at the same time we're trying to make history."

Budding star Javier Baez was in the middle of everything for the Cubs, a common theme this October. The second baseman made a sensational defensive play when the game was still close in the seventh, and his three-run double capped a five-run eighth that made it 8-1.

After busting out of his postseason slump Wednesday, Russell hit a two-run homer for the second straight game. This one was a sixth-inning drive off losing pitcher Joe Blanton that gave Chicago a 3-1 lead.

"Just rounding the bases, it was pretty exciting," Russell said. "Pumped up, not only for myself but for the team and that little cushion that Jonny had to go forward from that."

Baez had three of Chicago's 13 hits, matching the team's total in Game 4, when the Cubs snapped a 21-inning scoreless streak and won 10-2.

Lester allowed one run and five hits, improving to 2-0 in three playoff starts this year. He has given up two runs in 21 innings.

The left-hander struck out six and walked one in a slow-paced game that lasted 4 hours, 16 minutes.

"These guys won the game for us," Lester said, nodding toward Russell and Baez. "I was just kind of along for the ride."

Anthony Rizzo's run-scoring double gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead in the first.

Los Angeles tied it in the fourth on Adrian Gonzalez's RBI groundout.

Russell homered on an 0-1 pitch from Blanton, who gave up a single to Baez leading off the sixth. Baez stole second before Russell's shot to left-center put the Cubs ahead on another unusually hot night at Dodger Stadium.

Blanton took his second loss of the series. The veteran right-hander gave up consecutive homers in the eighth inning of Game 1, including a tiebreaking grand slam by pinch-hitter Miguel Montero.

"Our confidence hasn't wavered," Roberts said. "This series certainly isn't over."

With the Dodgers trailing 3-1 in the seventh, Gonzalez found himself on the wrong end of a replay review for the second consecutive night.

With Baez playing way out on the outfield grass in shallow right, the slow-footed Gonzalez tried to take advantage with a drag bunt leading off the inning. Baez rushed in for a barehanded scoop and off-balance throw, but Gonzalez initially was called safe by first base umpire Ted Barrett. The Cubs challenged and the ruling was overturned.

In Game 4, Gonzalez was tagged out at home to end the second after diving with his left hand stretched toward the plate while catcher Willson Contreras applied a tag. The Dodgers challenged, but the video review upheld umpire Angel Hernandez's out call.

Chicago jumped on struggling Dodgers rookie Kenta Maeda from the start. Fowler singled leading off the game and scored on Rizzo's double to right two batters later.

Maeda gave up one run and three hits over 3 2/3 innings. The right-hander has allowed eight earned runs in 10 2/3 innings this postseason.

The Dodgers' defense fell apart in the eighth.

Gonzalez tried flipping Russell's slow roller to reliever Pedro Baez, who came over to cover first and bobbled the ball for an error.

Contreras followed with a pinch-hit single, and the runners moved up on pinch-hitter Albert Almora Jr.'s sacrifice bunt. Fowler reached on an infield single to first, with Gonzalez losing a foot race when Fowler slid into the bag as Russell scored.

Kris Bryant reached on an infield single to third, with the Dodgers unsuccessfully challenging the call that he was safe.

The Dodgers thought they'd finally escaped the inning when Rizzo lined out to second baseman Kike Hernandez, who nearly doubled up Fowler at second. But the Cubs challenged the call and it was reversed, prolonging the inning.

Baez got yanked after walking Ben Zobrist to load the bases. Ross Stripling came on to face Baez, who doubled to deep right, driving in three more runs.

"We can grab that momentum by one name: Kershaw," Gonzalez said. "We don't want to put it all on him, but if we score a couple of runs, we'll feel real good."

Scully returns
Vin Scully was back at Dodger Stadium for the first time since ending his 67-year career behind the microphone earlier this month.

The 88-year-old Hall of Fame announcer attended as a spectator and proclaimed, "It's time for Dodger baseball!" from an upstairs suite.

Cubs outfielder Matt Szczur isn't on the NLCS roster, but he's contributing. A day after his bat was borrowed by Rizzo to hit a home run, Szczur revealed during an in-game TV interview that Russell wore a pair of his underwear leggings Wednesday after leaving his own at home.

Up next
Dodgers: Kershaw takes the mound in Chicago on an extra day of rest. The left-hander is 2-0 with a 3.72 ERA in three starts and one relief appearance this postseason. Overall, the three-time Cy Young Award winner is 4-6 with a 4.39 ERA in 17 career playoff appearances.

Cubs: Hendricks' 2.13 ERA was tops in the majors this season. The right-hander allowed a solo homer in 5 1/3 innings of Game 2, his longest career postseason start. The Cubs lost 1-0 to Kershaw.