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.

National champion Villanova to be honored at White House next week

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USA Today Images

National champion Villanova to be honored at White House next week

It's been nearly two months since Villanova won the National Championship in one of the most memorable games in NCAA Tournament history.

Since then, the Wildcats have been honored by the city (parade), the New York Stock Exchange (opening bell), the Phillies (first pitch), the Flyers and the Union. Earlier this week, head coach Jay Wright addressed the Eagles.

But that will all pale in comparison to where the Wildcats will be next Tuesday, when they become the latest championship team to visit the White House and meet President Barack Obama.

The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 4:10 p.m. and will be streamed on www.whitehouse.gov/live.

In his pool, President Obama had Villanova finally advancing past the second round — "I know that eventually they're going to break through. They've had some bad luck over the last couple of years," Obama told ESPN.com — but had the Wildcats falling to Kansas in the regional semifinal.

He then had Kansas beating North Carolina to win the title.

After surviving the first weekend for the first time since their Final Four run in 2009, Villanova ousted Kansas, 64-59, before shocking Buddy Hield and Oklahoma in the national semifinal, winning by 44. The Wildcats then won one of the most memorable championship games in NCAA Tournament history when Kris Jenkins hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to beat the Tar Heels, 77-74.

Union transfer contract of Michael Lahoud to Miami FC

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Union transfer contract of Michael Lahoud to Miami FC

The Union have cashed in on Michael Lahoud.

After terminating his loan to the New York Cosmos on Tuesday, the Union recalled Lahoud and officially sold the 29-year-old midfielder to Miami FC of the NASL for an undisclosed amount.

“Mike always served the club in a professional manner during his time here,” said Union sporting director Earnie Stewart, who loaned Lahoud to the Cosmos this offseason. “We thank him for his service and want to wish him the best of luck in Miami and in his future endeavors.”

Lahoud, whose prorated $115,637.50 guaranteed salary comes off the Union’s salary cap, was acquired in 2012 in a trade with Chivas USA for defender Danny Califf. He made 58 appearances with the Union before being loaned out.

Eagles' left guard job is Allen Barbre's, but backups are pushing

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Eagles' left guard job is Allen Barbre's, but backups are pushing

Allen Barbre is the Eagles’ starting left guard.

For now.

The 31-year-old offensive lineman started all 16 games at left guard in 2015, and as of Tuesday at OTAs, he was still a starter for Doug Pederson’s new-look offense.

But that could change.

There are several players pushing for the left guard spot. Among them are Stefen Wisniewski, Malcolm Bunche, Isaac Seumalo and Andrew Gardner.

“I definitely am trying to start somewhere,” said Wisniewski, a free-agent signing. “I think I would be a good starting left guard.”

Wisniewski, 27, signed a one-year prove-it deal in early April to join the Eagles (see story). After being taken in the second round of the 2011 draft, Wisniewski has started 77 of 80 possible games in the NFL. He clearly views himself as a starter in the NFL.

For the last two weeks, he’s been working with the second team at guard and center.

“Yeah, it’s weird. It’s definitely weird,” Wisniewski said. “I haven’t spent much time with the twos in five years. Probably a week or two. So it’s definitely different, but I’m just looking at it as a temporary thing, though.”

This offseason, the Eagles added veteran Brandon Brooks to play right guard, taking over for Matt Tobin, but Barbre is still slotted on the left side. In fact, to hammer the point home, the starting offensive linemen have their lockers in a row in the deep corner of the locker room, from left to right: Jason Peters, Barbre, Jason Kelce, Brooks, Lane Johnson.

So, as of late May, Barbre is still the starter.

“I really like where we're at. I like the depth at that position right now,” Pederson said last week. “But yeah, Allen Barbre is my guy and he's our starter.”

Wisniewski is the most accomplished of the backups pushing for that starting left guard spot, but he’s not alone.

Bunche, who was on the Eagles’ practice squad in 2015 after going undrafted out of UCLA, has been working with the second team at left guard during practice. And the second-year player thinks he has a shot at the starting job too.

“Oh yes. But not just that one,” Bunche said. “Throughout the season, anything can happen. That’s one thing that [offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland], he talks about it a lot, you never know when you’re number is going to be called. You just gotta stay in tune with what’s being called, the play-calling, the different techniques going into certain games. I feel I have an opportunity to take that spot if I wanted to. My mindset it to come in and get better each and every day.”

Another possible starting left guard isn’t with the team right now. Third-round pick Seumalo, from Oregon State, is back at school because of the NFL graduation rule and Oregon State’s quarters system. He would be a logical choice to compete for that starting job, but he’s missing valuable time at OTAs.

Meanwhile, Barbre, who had started just eight total games in his seven-year career before 2015, is trying to stave off his competitors. The veteran knows the team brought in a bunch of new offensive linemen this offseason (they have 17 on the roster). He just doesn’t care.

“Honestly, I wasn’t really worried about that,” Barbre said Tuesday. “Honestly, I thought I played fairly decent (in 2015), if you studied the film and you understood what went on. There was a lot of stuff that was tough on the O-line, so it made it kind of tough on us.”

The criticism of the offensive line last season was loud, especially criticism of the guard positions, but Barbre did his best to avoid it.  

“I don’t even read it,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t even care. You guys got your jobs and I have my job. We all have different things we have to do.”

Right now, Barbre’s job is to hold onto that starting spot, while Wisniewski and the rest try to steal it away.