No Bigs, No Problem: Sixers Blow Out Wiz at Home

No Bigs, No Problem: Sixers Blow Out Wiz at Home

Well, if we know no other thing definitively about the Philadelphia
76ers this season we do certainly know one thing: They are much, much
better than the Washington Wizards. We fretted in the pre-game about how
the Sixers' lack of size could be a major problem against the Wiz, but
it couldn't have been much less of an issue—the Wizards mostly stuck to
the perimeter, and their big men were all but invisible. (Starting
center JaVale McGee scored two points with two rebounds and two blocks
in 21 unremarkable minutes of game action). The Sixers ran off a 15-0
stretch in the first quarter and never looked back; by halftime the game
was over. The Wiz cut the lead a little in garbage time, but still lost
by 20, 103-83, in a game that was never really even that close. Philly is now 12-5 for the season, and have won their three games against Washington by a combined 64 points.

The player of the game—well, not really, but the guy that most people
are gonna be talking about—was rookie Lavoy Allen. The Temple grad got
17 minutes as the team's backup center without Spencer or Nik in the
lineup, and he responded splendidly, scoring ten points (on perfect 5-5
shooting, including the fourth-quarter basket to put the Sixers into Big
Mac territory.) with six boards and an impressive high-low dime to
Thaddeus Young. We probably shouldn't read too much into Allen's fine
night—it was against the Wizards, with the likes of Andray Blatche and
Trevor Booker as his primary matchups—but for one game, at least, it was
a hell of a step-up job from the first-year player.

Lavoy's fine night also illustrates a strength of this team, which the
coaching staff probably should get some credit for—all of their big men
know how to run the pick-and-pop, and all of them can hit an open
jumper. Andre Iguodala pick-and-popped the Wizards to death in the
first, dropping eight assists to the likes of Elton Brand (17 points on
8-14), Allen, and even once with Tony Battie, getting the Sixers off to
that early lead that they held the rest of the way. Our young bigs have
their deficiencies, especially on the defensive end, but as long as they
can nail those open jumpers, they'll always be able to contribute to
this team while on the floor.

There's not too much else to talk about with this one. Thad was a beast
finishing in the paint in the first half, Jrue Holday was hitting his
jumper all night, Evan Turner played brilliantly in the first half but
got sloppy in garbage time, Jodie appears to have found his stroke for
real this time (10-20 from deep over his last four games), and Andres
Nocioni was kept thankfully bench-ridden throughout. It was another good
team win in which all playing contributed, the kind we've been spoiled
with by the Sixers against subpar competition this year.

Grievances are a little petty with this one, but as long as I have the
floor, two things, only one of which is directed at the team itself. But
here it is: Free throws. The team isn't getting enough of them, and
they're not hitting enough of them when they get them. The former is
slightly more worrisome—as good a scoring game as Jrue had with his 17
points, he only got to the line for an and-one, which he missed. All
he's getting these days are jumpers—he's averaging less than a pair of
free-throw attempts a game this year, unacceptable for as good a
penetrator as The Damaja—and so his scoring is entirely reliant on
whether or not he's hitting. He was tonight, but he won't every night.
He wasn't the sole guilty party this game, either—in a combined hour of
floor time, 'Dre and Evan got to the line four times, and missed all
four FTs. (How Evan, a shooting guard, can still be shooting under 70%
from the line at this point in the season is utterly beyond me.)

My second admonishment goes to the fans, and perhaps just as
importantly, the Sixers owners, for this goddamn McDonald's promotion.
It's one thing to give out free Big Macs to a team whose fans should
need a little extra motivation, but given how good the Ballers have been
at home this year—they're 8-1 ferchrissake, with all eight wins by
double digits—it's embarrassing that the fans continue to fixate so much
on getting the free Big Macs that come with the team scoring 100. It's
time to get rid of the whole thing, and have the biggest cheers of the
night come for the team that's got a five-game lead in their division,
and not for a mediocre fast-food product about 1/100th as good as a
Baconator or Gold Rush sandwich. (And might I suggest that if the
prospect of a free hamburger is really swaying you to buy pro basketball
tickets, you might want to rethink your financial strategy some.)

Anyway, another solid clean-up win for the Sixers, and a hell of a way
to return to the WFC after a tough loss in Miami. New Jersey's up next
on Wednesday, and should be moderately easy pickings for the Sixers, who
hopefully will have at least one of their top two big guys back by then
as well. And in case you still need the reminder of how much better the
Sixers are these year than last year—17 games into this season, they
have three times as many wins as they did at this point last year.
Pretty good, Jeff.

NFL Playoffs: Matt Ryan, Falcons dismantle Packers to reach Super Bowl LI

NFL Playoffs: Matt Ryan, Falcons dismantle Packers to reach Super Bowl LI

The Atlanta Falcons are headed to their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history after routing the Green Bay Packers 44-21 in the NFC championship game.

Matt Ryan threw for four touchdowns, including a 73-yard catch-and-run for a highlight-reel score by star receiver Julio Jones. The defense played just as crucial a role in containing quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense.

Rodgers had 287 yards with three touchdown passes and an interception. But the Falcons got to Rodgers with pressure and forced two Green Bay turnovers. Rodgers was outplayed by Ryan, who even ran for a 14-yard touchdown.

Atlanta will play either New England or Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl on Feb. 5 in Houston.

The only other time that Atlanta made the Super Bowl was in the 1998 season. The Falcons lost 34-19 to the Denver Broncos.

The Packers fell in the NFC title game for the second time in three seasons.

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jonathan Isaac has a banner week

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jonathan Isaac has a banner week

Two of the country's top prospects faced off in the Pac 12 this week while a top 10 forward saw his season come to a premature close. However, we begin this week with the breakout performance by Jonathan Isaac.

Jonathan Isaac, forward, Florida St. (6-11/205)
Isaac's potential had everyone in the basketball world's curiosity. Now his play on the court has their attention. The Seminoles hosted No. 15 Notre Dame, which had yet to lose in ACC play before the Wednesday game. 

The freshman forward dominated in the 83-80 win. He had 23 points on 7 for 9 shooting from the field. He made both his threes, all seven of his free throws and also had one assist. His other stats were also otherworldly. He picked up 10 rebounds and had seven(!) blocks, including one on a late Notre Dame shot to get back into the game after he'd put the Seminoles ahead with a three. All this was in just 25 minutes

He followed it up with a similar game against Louisville. In 28 minutes, he had 16 points on 4 for 7 shooting, making one three and, again, all seven free throws. Add in two assists and two blocks to aid in the 73-68 win. Isaac has shown himself to be an athletic freak, a potential stretch-four at the next level and one with tremendous defensive potential, displayed with his nine blocks this week.

OG Anunoby, forward, Indiana (6-8/235)
Anunoby has had an uneven season, but he, at the very least, showed flashes of the ability that make him a top player for this year's draft class. However, a knee injury suffered on Wednesday finished off Anunoby's season, forcing him to undergo surgery that will keep him off the court for the rest of Indiana's schedule.

This may knock him out of the 2017 draft entirely. As a freshman last year, his NCAA Tournament performance was enough to make him a lottery pick in an even weaker draft field than the upcoming one. He chose to remain in school and it isn't farfetched to believe he will return to Indiana for his junior year to get more seasoning, a better draft field and another year of education.

Lonzo Ball, guard, UCLA (6-6/190)
There are going to be quite a few marquee matchups in the Pac 12. One of the first this year came in the form of UCLA-Arizona in Los Angeles on Saturday. The No. 3 Bruins lost, 96-85, but that had nothing to do with Ball's standout performance (more on the Wildcats below). He pushed the ball in transition, drove to the hole with ease and made 4 of 8 threes with his quirky shot. 

He had 24 points on 10-for-15 shooting and had eight assists, six rebounds, two steals and a block. When you watch Ball score so naturally, it's easy to forget his potential as a point guard, but then he whips up beautiful assists as he did many times on Saturday. The freshman has everything you want in a point guard.

Lauri Markkanen, forward, Arizona (7-0/225)
The No. 14 Wildcats picked up their biggest win of the year, moving to 7-0 in conference play. As you can expect, Markkanen had a big game to push Arizona past UCLA. He had 18 points on 6 for 10 shooting, was 3 for 3 from three and made three free throws, all which grabbing seven boards. Like Isaac, he is a tantalizing talent as a stretch-four, hanging out around the perimeter and spotting up for threes well.

He now has 16 made threes in his last four games and has averaged over seven boards in that stretch. He's not unbelievably thin like many fours his age. The freshman really can battle down low and get his shot, and he justifies his prospect status on a game-by-game basis with his ability.

Markelle Fultz, guard, Washington (6-4/195)
Washington lost on Saturday, moving to 9-10 and 2-5 in conference. But it's worth talking about Fultz's standout Wednesday night. The freshman willed his team back from 17-points down with a 37-point performance en route to an 85-83 OT win over Colorado. In 43 minutes, he was 13 for 24 from the field and 11 for 15 from the free throw line.

Don't think he's just a scorer, though. He had eight assists, five rebounds, three steals and three blocks, doing it all for the Huskies as he usually does. The freshman sensation was 0 for 2 from three, but he is normally efficient from beyond the arc. He alone is the reason to watch the under .500 Huskies.

While the 9-10 Huskies are unlikely to make a late run towards March Madness, the strong Pac 12 should provide many marquee matchups for Fultz. He faces off vs. a stout Arizona team next Sunday afternoon. Six days later, the long awaited matchup between Fultz and Ball up in Seattle goes down with presumably many scouts in attendance.

Quick Hits

Malik Monk, guard, Kentucky (6-4/185)
Twenty-seven points on 9 for 14 shooting, 4 for 7 from three, 5 for 6 on free throws, three rebounds, one assist, two steals and four turnovers in an 85-69 win over No. 24 South Carolina.

Josh Jackson, guard/forward, Kansas (6-8/203)
Fifteen points on 6 for 14 shooting, 2 for 5 from three, 1 for 3 on free throws, five rebounds, two assists, four steals and six turnovers in a 79-67 win over Texas.

Jayson Tatum, forward, Duke (6-8/204)
Fourteen points on 4 for 9 shooting, 1 for 4 from three, 5 for 6 on free throws, three rebounds, one assist, three turnovers and five fouls in a 70-58 win over Miami.