No One Goes 82-0, Probably: Sixers Get First L of Season Against Knicks

No One Goes 82-0, Probably: Sixers Get First L of Season Against Knicks

It feels like we were overdue for a game like this, despite the fact
that we've only technically played one game so far this season. The New
York Knicks simply outplayed the Philadelphia 76ers today, in virtually
all phases of the game, largely because at this point in the season,
they're probably a considerably better team. More on that in a minute,
but the end result for this afternoon was a 100-84 Knicks victory that
was never really in question from the first quarter on.

Despite
all the bad moves and worse PR for the Knicks front office that you've
no doubt heard about this off-season—letting Jeremy Lin sign with the
Rockets largely out of spite, trading for a bunch of
past-their-past-their-prime veterans, losing to the Lakers in the Steve
Nash sweepstakes, even losing Amar'e Stoudemire to injury for the first
two months of the season—the end result for New York is a team that,
whether by design or dumb luck, actually makes a lot of sense.

The
team's construction, as currently constituted isn't totally unlike the
Iverson-led Sixers teams of the early '00s, building around Anthony's
transcendent offensive talents with smart, veteran role players that can
play defense, move the ball and hit open shots—the one exception being
J.R. Smith, who's there to play poor-man's Melo with the second unit.
I'm not sure how it'll play for New York against more star-studded
lineups in the post-season, or once nominal secondary star Stoudemire
returns from injury, but so far so good for these Knicks, who have won
two games against playoff teams by a combined 36 points, and appear on
track to win a lot of games this regular season.

Meanwhile, it
might be a bit strong to say that the Sixers never had a chance today,
but the odds were certainly against them, especially with the early-game
loss of Jason Richardson to an ankle strain. (Damn you, front row
photogs!) The team needed Nick Young, Dorell Wright and Evan Turner to
step up in our most consistent wing scorer's absence, and the trio
combined to shoot 9-30, effectively torpedoing the team from the
outside. Nick Young was especially ghastly, adding nothing beyond his
non-existent shooting stroke, killing the team's momentum with a dumb
box-out foul on Jason Kidd just as they were making a run back in the
second half, and ending with a -29 for the game, which seems generous if
anything.

Turner was better than the Swagged One, but not much.
As he'll likely do throughout the season, he was able to contribute via
the defensive boards, actually scraping together a double-double for
the afternoon, and he managed to get to the free-throw line six times (a
team high by far, sadly), hitting all six. But his outside shot was
predictably flat, his ball-handling was sloppy, and he got burned on
defense repeatedly by the likes of Ronnie Brewer and J.R. Smith, closing
late on shooters and failing to switch in time. To say we need more
from Turner to have a chance to stay competitive in Andrew Bynum's
elongated absence would be an understatement, but let's say it anyway:
Evan, you gotta do better than this.

The positives today came
from Jrue Holiday, who kept the team in the game with his outside
shooting, draining five of six behind the arc for 27 points. Still,
Jrue's distribution was off, as his seven assists came with six
turnovers, and his outside shooting belied a passiveness getting into
the paint, as the Damaja took nary a shot from the free-throw line
today. Meanwhile, it was good news, bad news with Thaddeus Young, who
scored 16 points in the paint but needed 14 shots to do it, and who
collected an impressive six offensive rebounds, but didn't grab a single
board on the defensive glass. Spencer Hawes was effective early but got
into foul trouble quickly, largely thanks to some aggressive driving
from Carmelo Anthony.

Oh yeah, speaking of Melo—the Sixers
didn't have a prayer against him. Now, Anthony gets his against all
teams in the end, and he averaged about 20 a game against the Sixers
last year as well, but with All-Defensive stopper Andre Iguodala digging
in against #7, he needed a whole lot of shots to do it, shooting less
than 37% against Philly for the year. He had no such trouble against
today's Sixers, blowing by the likes of Evan Turner and the hopelessly
over-matched Thaddeus Young, scoring 27 points on efficient 10-18
shooting, and sending the ball in its route along the perimeter for an
inevitable open Knicks three-pointer when the team attempted to double.
We here at the 700 Level fully believed it was time to let Andre
Iguodala go when we traded him last off-season, but you don't give up a
player that good without occasionally feeling his absence, and today was
one of those games.

The Sixers will get another chance against
these Knicks tomorrow night at home, and with Melo and the Knicks
hopefully getting a little less love from the refs and with Coach
Collins getting a chance to retool his defensive gameplan, maybe the
Sixers will fare better. But Anthony's dominance today shows us what
we're missing with our star center Andrew Bynum riding the bench, and
what a disadvantage we're going to be at without it against teams with
players like him until Bnum's return. In any event, the Sixers wings are
gonna have to step it up considerably in the team's next few
games—Jrue's not gonna hit five three-pointers too many more times this
season, and he can't make Collins' prediction of being a top-five assist
guy a reality as long as his teammates are clunking their open jumpers.

Still, we knew the undermanned Sixers were gonna lose some
games like this early, so there's no reason to panic about one such
defeat. Split the early season-series tomorrow night, and we can
certainly live with the loss today. Too early in the season to start a
losing streak already, anyway. 

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

CLEVELAND -- Stephen Strasburg shut down Cleveland for seven innings and bounced back from his only loss this season, leading the Washington Nationals to a 4-1 win over the Indians on Wednesday.

Strasburg (14-1) began the season with 13 straight wins before he was beaten by the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 21. The powerful right-hander shook off that blemish, holding the Indians to only three hits as the Nationals recovered after blowing a two-run lead in the ninth and losing on Tuesday night.

Washington rookie Trea Turner drove in three runs and Daniel Murphy hit his 20th homer off Carlos Carrasco (7-4), who nearly matched Strasburg but was done in by one bad inning.

Nationals reliever Blake Treinen stopped Cleveland's threat in the ninth, getting a game-ending double play for his major league save.

Strasburg walked one and struck out seven (see full recap)

Cardinals snap Familia's saves streak, rally past Mets 5-4
NEW YORK -- Yadier Molina and pinch-hitter Kolten Wong each stroked an RBI double in the ninth inning, and the St. Louis Cardinals ended Jeurys Familia's streak of 52 straight saves in rallying past the New York Mets 5-4 on Wednesday night.

Yoenis Cespedes hit a go-ahead homer off Adam Wainwright to cap a three-run comeback in the seventh that gave the Mets a 4-3 lead. But then Familia, who hadn't blown a regular-season save opportunity since July 30 last year, finally faltered.

Jedd Gyorko drew a one-out walk in the ninth and was replaced by pinch-runner Randal Grichuk. Molina hit the next pitch to deep center field, and Grichuk scored standing up to tie it.

Molina was thrown out at third by Familia (2-2) on pinch-hitter Jeremy Hazelbaker's comebacker, but Hazelbaker stole second and scored when Wong lined a double just inside the left-field line.

Familia's franchise-record saves streak was the third-longest in major league history behind Tom Gordon (54) and Eric Gagne (84).

Jonathan Broxton (3-2) tossed a scoreless eighth and Seung Hwan Oh got three quick outs for his sixth save (see full recap)

Padres hit 3 HRs to extend streak, beat Blue Jays 8-4
TORONTO -- Adam Rosales hit a two-run home run, Alex Dickerson and Brett Wallace each hit solo shots and the San Diego Padres beat the Toronto Blue Jays 8-4 on Wednesday, avoiding a three-game sweep.

San Diego extended its club-record streak of games with at least one home run to 25. It's the longest run since the 2002 Texas Rangers set a major league record by homering in 27 straight.

Luis Perdomo (5-4) allowed four runs and six hits in 5 2-3 innings to win back-to-back starts.

Wallace reached base three times. He was hit by a pitch and scored on Rosales' homer in the third, connected off R.A. Dickey in the fifth and hit an RBI single off Joe Biagini in the sixth.

Dickerson homered for the fourth time in four games when he connected off Franklin Morales in the eighth. He is first Padres rookie to homer in four straight games.

Dickey (7-12) allowed seven runs, six earned, and four hits in 5 2-3 innings. The knuckleballer is winless in three starts and has allowed six home runs in that span (see full recap).

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Earlier this week, Doug Pederson admitted cornerback Eric Rowe had some “hiccups” during the spring, and seemed to indicate they stemmed from learning a new defense. 

Rowe says that wasn’t the problem at all.

“It wasn’t the new defense that was giving me whatever hiccups [Pederson] was talking about,” Rowe said on Wednesday as he reported for his second training camp (see Day 3 observations). “It was just, I was having trouble breaking on top of the routes, specifically the curl routes. But fade ball, deep post, digs, I didn’t have any trouble there. It was just curl routes. I just knew I had to work on it after the OTAs.”

Rowe, 23, said the problem was technical; he just needed to get his feet down quicker.

Whatever the problem, whatever the hiccups, it seems as though Rowe’s standing within the organization and on the depth chart isn’t what it once was.

Many thought he would be a starter in 2016, like he was at the end of 2015, but that wasn’t the way things were in the spring. Instead, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks took those positions, and it looks like Nolan Carroll, returning from an injury, and rookie Jalen Mills, who hasn’t yet practiced in pads, are vying for playing time, too.

In back-to-back days earlier this week, Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz failed to mention Rowe’s name while listing players at the cornerback spot. Coincidental omissions or a vocalized unofficial depth chart?

Rowe could possibly go from starter to deep bench player, but that’s not what he’s planning on.

“I know I had a little ups and downs in OTAs, but now the pads are coming on,” Rowe said. “I feel like it’s a fresh start for me and I’m just ready to get out here.”

Pads go on Saturday.

“Right now, I think I still stand in a good position (with the team),” Rowe said. “Football is about the game with pads on. Now we’re really about to see in a couple days when we put the pads on.”

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

He looks like a small back. He's built like a small back. He wants to play like a big back.

Wendell Smallwood, trying to make the Eagles as a reserve tailback, stands 5-foot-10, 208 pounds, but he said he’s got a surprise for defenders that think he’s one of those itty-bitty backs that dances around looking pretty … until they get hit.

“I think that’s what most people expect,” he said Tuesday. “But when I actually put my head down and fight for those extra yards and get under guys, guys start to say, ‘Hey!’ They start to feel me a little bit.

“So I definitely think that started to show my last year in college, and I started becoming more of an inside zone type of runner instead of an outside runner.”

None of this should be a surprise considering Smallwood’s position coach is Duce Staley, who during his 10-year NFL career was much more interested in running over people than around them.

Smallwood is nowhere near as big as Staley, who played at about 235 to 240. But that’s the kind of back he wants to be.

“It’s definitely important to me and it’s definitely what Duce wants me to do,” Smallwood said. “He wants me to hit the holes and hit ‘em hard and that’s the reason he got me here.

“Duce, he doesn’t like small backs. He doesn’t. I don’t think he believes in those guys. He was a big boy. Running dudes over left and right. That’s what he wants.”

Smallwood played sparingly as a freshman at West Virginia, shared time with Rushel Shell as a sophomore, then took over last year when he led the Big 12 with 1,519 rushing yards and added nine touchdowns, 26 catches and a 6.4 rushing average.

The Eagles plucked him out of Morgantown in the fifth round, and in an uncertain running back picture, he’s got a realistic chance to not just make the team but also play a role.

Just don’t expect him to play like a typical guy his size.

“I don’t consider myself a small back anymore,” he said. “People have always said that and I kind of started to agree, but then I looked at some of the guys who are around and I’m not a small back at all.

“I’m not little and the running style I like to do is suited for a big back, and my catching kind of throws people off. I definitely think I’m a mixture of both.”

Smallwood ranked 13th in Division I in rushing yards last year, and his 6.4 average was tied for ninth among backs with at least 200 carries.

He said a lot of defenders expect him to be a finesse back, a guy who likes to juke safeties and linebackers instead of bowling them over.

“Get me going downhill and I’ll get you what I can get you,” he said. “A lot of [defenders] kind of take the easy route and think it’s going to be easy and then the rest of the game they’re going low and trying to take my legs out.”

Look at the Eagles’ running back picture.

The starter is Ryan Mathews, who is talented but injury-prone. The backup right now probably is Kenjon Barner, who has 34 career carries. Then there’s Darren Sproles, whose 3.8 average last year was his lowest since 2009 and second lowest of his 11-year career.

With a strong camp, there’s no reason Smallwood can’t work himself into that picture.

The last frontier for the Northern Delaware native is blitz pickup. Something he was never asked to do at WVU.

“I don’t think I did basically any in college,” he said. “They didn’t ask me to block at all. I was mainly running routes.

“But as soon as I got here, Duce emphasized, ‘If you want to get on the field, you’re going to block. If you’re not going to block, you’re not going to play.'”

Staley’s No. 22 wasn’t available, but Smallwood is happy to wear the jersey number of another one of his favorite backs growing up, Correll Buckhalter’s No. 28, who he seems quite similar to.

It’s not fair to compare Smallwood to Staley, Buckhalter, Brian Westbrook or any other former Eagles back until the pads go on and we see what he’s really made of.

But Smallwood said he’s thrilled Staley is his coach and said there’s nobody he’d rather be playing for.

“I think he’s a great fit for me as a coach,” Smallwood said. “I need a kind of guy who drives me, tough guy, who’s not going to let up, who’s going to keep his foot on my back. I definitely need that kind of coaching.

“Just being around him growing up and seeing what he did when he was here and how he runs and him being one of my favorite backs, I was kind of star-struck to be around him, and now he’s my coach. It’s definitely a great situation for me.”