No Playoffs for Sixers: How Disappointed Should We Be?

No Playoffs for Sixers: How Disappointed Should We Be?

During his infamous press conference meltdown after the home loss to the
Magic in late February, Doug Collins offered a fairly simple
explanation for downturn the Sixers had taken in the '12-'13 season. "We
made a huge deal and we have nobody playing a part of that deal,"
claimed Collins. "How many teams can give up Andre Iguodala,
Moe Harkless and Nikola Vucevic and have nothing in return playing?
That’s tough to overcome. That’s just the facts. I’m not looking for any
outs. That’s a fact."

This remark of Collins rubbed some people
the wrong way--especially as he went on to isolate Spencer Hawes'
production that night versus Nikola Vucevic, who grabbed 19 rebounds to
Spence's one--and some of those claimed that blaming injuries was a
cheap excuse for a coach who had simply lost his team. But really,
Collins was just stating the facts--the team had traded away its
most important player and its two best prospects, and also parted with
key players like Lou Williams and Elton Brand at least partly in
anticipation of making such a trade, and as of January 18th
(Richardson's last game as a Sixer before his season-ending knee
surgery), they were getting absolutely nothing in return. No coach,
regardless of command over his team, could overcome that without it
taking its toll on the team's win-loss record.

The Sixers dropped to six back of the Milwaukee Bucks Saturday night
with their loss to the Miami Heat, with only six games to go and the
Bucks owning the tiebreaker between the teams--meaning that, officially,
the Sixers will be lottery-bound for the first time in Doug Collins'
three seasons in Philadelphia. It's a sad, but unsurprising way for the
season to end--despite residing in the #9 spot in the East standings for
most of the season, the Sixers haven't really been within striking
distance of the playoff picture since the All-Star break, and for a
while there it seemed a near-certainty the team would drop to the bottom
third of the standings.

One word is likely to appear in just about every story about the
Sixers' soon-ending season: Disappointing. This was supposed to be the
year we took the great leap forward, with an exciting, developing young
core (led by the recently acquired star big man Bynum) pushing the team
into the upper strata of the Eastern Conference, maybe getting a playoff
series win that wasn't injury-assisted, and maybe even winning a game
or two against those damn Miami Heat at some point. It didn't happen,
obviously, and now a team that once seemed like one of the rising teams
in the league goes into the off-season with far more questions than
answers.

Injuries are obviously the primary culprit here, since Richardson
missed more than half season after starting off the year very
promisingly, and of course Bynum never played a minute for the Liberty
Ballers. But even with the injuries, should we still be disappointed
that the team didn't at least make the playoffs? After all, we still
have much of the same core that pushed the Celtics to seven games in the
Conference Semi-Finals last year. We signed veterans that were supposed
to patch some of the holes left by Lou Williams and Elton Brand. And we
did benefit this year from a next-level jump from Jrue Holiday and a
big step up from Thaddeus Young, So could this team have pushed for the
playoffs, even without Bynum and J-Rich contributing anything?

My gut reaction is to say no. We knew we'd miss Andre Iguodala on
defense, but I wasn't really prepared for the way losing him and Lou
Williams would affect our offense as well--without their athleticism and
transition play, we lost a lot of the running element that had made up
our offensive identity the last few years, as the team dropped out of
the top ten in fast break points for the first time since 2006. And of
course, there was the lack of free-throw shooting--Sweet Lou and 'Dre
were far and away #1 and #2 on our team last year at getting to the
line, for a team that already was getting there at a historically low
rate. Without them, only this year's Orlando Magic are saving us from
holding the all-time record for fewest free throws shot in a season.
Without those easy points on the break and at the line, the team has
been a bottom-five offense pretty much all season.

Inconsistency was probably always going to get this team in the end,
as well. Only Thad and maybe Jrue---and you could probably throw J-Rich
in there when he was healthy at season's start--could be relied upon
night-in, night-out to produce for the team, with players like Evan
Turner, Spencer Hawes, Nick Young and even Dorell Wright alternating
extended hot streaks with long, long stretches of going in the tank.
Your team can survive having one or two key guys like that, but when
your team consists of too many of them, it can lead to disaster when a
couple of them start slumping for weeks at the same time, as happened to
the Sixers in early 2013, when they lost 10 of their first 14 games of
the year and basically fell out of post-season consideration.

And of course, let's not forget that we didn't exactly have a huge
margin for error last season. The team's surprisingly hot start and even
more surprising (though hardly unqualified) playoff success last year
belied their final regular season record, which was a middling
35-31--they finished as the #8 seed, and looked for a couple of weeks
like they might drop out of the playoffs altogether in favor of an
improving Bucks team that eventually finished four games out. When you
consider that all the front office basically did with that roster was to
subtract from it--of the newcomers on the team, only Dorell Wright has
had any kind of sustained positive impact, and he's not exactly a huge
difference-maker--it's hardly a shock that the team isn't making the
post-season this year.

So no, when you assume the massive losses to injury, I don't think
you can really call it a disappointment that the Sixers aren't making
the playoffs this year. But that said, the real disappointment for
Sixers fans isn't even about this season--it's about the next five, and
beyond. We believed, possibly naively, that Andrew Bynum could become a
foundation piece for this team for the next half-decade, someone for the
Sixers to build around, but now it looks entirely likely that he'll
never play a game for the Sixers, leaving the team confused,
directionless, and just kind of stuck. That's a far bitterer pill to
swallow than not being able to watch this Sixers team play basketball in
May.

There's a ton of important decisions to be made with this team in
the off-season that will dictate the path of this team for seasons to
come, and we'll talk a lot about them in the weeks to come--for better
or worse, it's all we're going to have to talk about soon enough.
But for 2012-13, it was basically over for the Sixers before it even
began. This season was one long succumbing to the inevitable, and as
depressing as that is, it's hard to really call it all that
disappointing.

Team USA overpowers Argentina in 1st Olympic exhibition

Team USA overpowers Argentina in 1st Olympic exhibition

LAS VEGAS -- New team. Same old result.

Full of new star power -- and dominant on the inside -- the U.S. men's basketball team opened its bid for a third straight Olympic gold medal Friday night with a 111-74 exhibition romp over Argentina.

A game that was over almost before it began showed the U.S. has to improve its shooting and conditioning. It also showed that there is plenty of talent among a group of players that seem to want to play well for each other and their country despite the absence of Olympic stalwarts Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

"There's a willingness from these guys to work on anything we need and to work hard," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "These are very good guys."

A U.S. team that hasn't lost a game in 10 years had little trouble with Argentina, which some consider a medal contender in Rio. Paul George scored 14 first-half points, Kevin Durant added 12, and the U.S. blew open the game early before an appreciative crowd on the Las Vegas Strip.

Even with Bryant retired and James taking this Olympics off, there was no real talent drop off on a team heavily favored to win gold once again. The depth of the U.S. showed as coach Mike Krzyzewski rotated players in and out, searching for the right combinations on a team with 10 new players from 2012.

"Nothing is for sure," Durant said. "We want to get this gold and right now we have a job to do. We have to prepare the right way."

Count the Argentines among those who were impressed at the first real game for the Olympic team.

"Obviously, they have the best talent and the best size in the world," Argentina's Luis Scola said. "That's a big difference in their favor."

The game was the first of five exhibitions the U.S. will play before traveling to Rio to defend the gold medal. The U.S. team has spent the last week practicing in Las Vegas in preparation for the tour and the games.

There weren't any opening night jitters, though the U.S. shot only 45 percent and missed all but 14 of 41 3-pointers. With DeMarcus Cousins pulling down 15 rebounds in just 16 minutes, the U.S. dominated inside, outrebounding Argentina 53-30.

"The big thing is getting in shape and they are not there where they will be," Krzyzewski said. "But we really have an inside presence on the boards."

For Durant the game was a chance to play with a pair of his new Golden State teammates, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. It was also a chance for Durant and Carmelo Anthony -- the only two players from the 2012 team -- to demonstrate that this will be their team in Rio.

Both players cheered from the bench as the minutes were spread around, jumping up to clap for teammates. Every U.S. player got quality time, with Green's 12 minutes the least played by any American.

"We're going to have fun and we're going to enjoy ourselves," Anthony said. "If it's not fun it's not worth it. We're going to enjoy ourselves but at the same time we're going to be focused in trying to get that gold medal."

Durant finished as the game's high scorer with 23 points, while George had 18 and Carmelo Anthony 17. Andres Nocioni had 15 for Argentina, while Manu Ginobili added 11 for Argentina, which lost to the U.S. in the semifinals of the 2012 Olympics.

Though at times little defense was played, there was plenty of offense to keep the crowd at the new T-Mobile Arena happy. The teams combined to put up 70 3-point attempts, 41 of them from the U.S.

Oddsmakers had made the U.S. a prohibitive 29.5-point favorite in what at times looked a lot like an NBA All-Star game. But while the U.S. team is loaded with 12 NBA players, the Argentines had only three on their roster and the talent difference showed.

While the team is full of new players, the gold medal run will be the last for Krzyzewski, the national coach for the last decade. His teams have lost only one game during his reign, which will end after the Olympics with San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich taking over.

Best of MLB: Yankees stay hot with win over sloppy Giants

Best of MLB: Yankees stay hot with win over sloppy Giants

NEW YORK -- Giants Gold Glove shortstop Brandon Crawford made three errors for the first time in his career, with his wild throw in the eighth inning giving the New York Yankees a 3-2 win Friday night that sent San Francisco to its season-worst sixth straight loss.

The Giants held the best record in the majors at the All-Star break, but haven't won since. They also lost catcher Buster Posey, who fouled a ball off his right foot and left with a bruise. X-rays were negative and he was listed as day to day.

Masahiro Tanaka shut out San Francisco for six innings, giving up four singles. Giants ace Madison Bumgarner went seven innings, allowing two runs.

The Giants nicked Dellin Betances in the seventh, pulling within 2-1 on a walk, a double by Denard Span and a wild pitch. That ended a streak of 31 scoreless innings by Yankees relievers.

A double by Giants pinch-hitter Mac Williamson off Andrew Miller (6-1) tied it in the eighth.

But the Yankees bounced back for the fifth win in six games, and didn't need to hit the ball hard to do it (see full recap).

Kemp homers twice in Padres' victory
WASHINGTON -- Matt Kemp homered twice and drove in four runs, rookie Luis Perdomo pitched seven solid innings and the San Diego Padres beat the Washington Nationals 5-3 on Friday night to snap a four-game losing streak.

Kemp hit a solo shot in the first inning and gave San Diego the lead for good with a three-run homer in the fifth. He has six homers in his last six games and the Padres have homered in 20 straight, the longest streak in the National League this season.

Perdomo (4-4) gave up two first-inning runs, then limited the National to two hits over the final six innings of his longest outing. Brandon Maurer pitched 1 1/3 innings for his fourth save.

Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy homered for Washington. The Nationals have lost four of five.

Tanner Roark (9-6) turned in his shortest outing since June 5, lasting just five innings. He allowed five runs on four hits and surrendered two homers in a game for the first time this season (see full recap).

Fowler sparks Cubs' win over Brewers in return
MILWAUKEE -- Dexter Fowler led off the first with a homer and drove in three runs in his first game back from the disabled list, powering the Chicago Cubs to a 5-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday night.

Fowler went 3 for 4 with a walk and scored twice after being sidelined more than a month with a strained right hamstring. His two-run double to left with the bases loaded in the second drew rousing cheers from the bevy of Cubs fans visiting Milwaukee.

Jason Hammel (9-5) allowed four hits and two runs over five-plus innings for his second victory since the All-Star break for NL Central-leading Chicago. He never trailed after Fowler slugged a 3-1 pitch from Jimmy Nelson (6-8) over the center-field wall to lead off the game.

Hernan Perez had a run-scoring double for the Brewers, and Ryan Braun hit a solo homer.

There were so many fans in Chicago shirts that their boos drowned out cheers from Brewers backers when Braun stepped to the plate in fourth. Braun went deep to center on the first pitch of the at-bat from Hammel for his 14th homer of the year.

Hammel departed after allowing a leadoff double to Scooter Gennett in the sixth with the Brewers trailing 4-2. Reliever Carl Edwards Jr. then retired the Brewers' 3-4-5 hitters in order, capped by strikeouts of Jonathan Lucroy and Chris Carter on six pitches total (see full recap).

Zach Eflin tosses 1st shutout in Phillies' win over Pirates

Zach Eflin tosses 1st shutout in Phillies' win over Pirates

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH — Zach Eflin wasn’t the normal youth pitcher while growing up in Oviedo, Florida.

Though the lanky right-hander had the arm strength to overpower hitters, he concentrated more on pitching inside and keeping the ball low in the strike zone than trying to blow his fastball by everybody.
 
“I didn’t start throwing a slider or curveball until I was 16 or 17,” Eflin said. “I was taught at an early age that establishing the inside part of the plate allows you to throw your changeup effectively and opens things up so you can throw all your pitches. I wanted the changeup to be an effective pitch for me.”
 
The Phillies' rookie is showing in the early part of his major-league career that he learned his lessons well.
 
The 22-year-old had his best outing yet Friday night when he pitched a three-hit shutout — the first of his nascent career — to lead the Phillies to a 4-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the opener of a three-game series at PNC Park (see Instant Replay).
 
Eflin struck out six, had no walks and used an efficient 100 pitches to notch his second complete game. He also went the distance July 5 against the Atlanta Braves when he pitched a six-hitter and threw 92 pitches.
 
“One of the most exciting things about this season has been seeing the improvement of so many of our young pitchers,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “Zach has made such great strides in a short period of time.
 
“I’m happy for him. He’s a hard worker and a personable kid. He’s done a really good job.”
 
Eflin made his sixth straight quality start and is 3-3 with a 3.40 ERA in eight outings since being recalled from Triple A Lehigh Valley. The consistency Eflin is showing at such a young age is quite surprising in light of getting rocked for nine runs in 2 2/3 innings in his major-league debut by the Blue Jays on June 14 at Toronto.
 
“What impressed me the most after that debacle in Toronto is that Zach came back the next day and knew exactly what he needed to do in order to be successful and that was keep the ball down,” Mackanin said. “He’s been keeping the ball down ever since.”
 
Mackanin then smiled.
 
“He’s becoming one of my favorite pitchers,” the manager said.
 
Coming off a 2-5 homestand, the Phillies started a stretch in which they play 16 of 19 games on the road. Elfin got them off on the right foot at a venue where the Phillies were a combined 0-6 during the previous two seasons.
 
“It was great to pitch a shutout, a lot of fun,” Elfin said. “Having been out on the mound in the ninth inning before really helped. I knew I could finish the game.”
 
All-Star centerfielder Odubel Herrera broke out of his slump with three hits and two runs scored and catcher Cameron Rupp hit a two-run home run.
 
Herrera had two singles and a double after going 4 for 41 in his previous 11 games.
 
Herrera singled to lead off the sixth inning and scored the game’s first run on a single by Rupp. Herrera then doubled and scored on Andres Blanco’s single in the seventh to make it 2-0.
 
Rupp’s two-run shot, his 10th of the season, off Jon Niese in the ninth inning capped the scoring. Rupp had two hits and three RBIs.
 
Second baseman Freddy Galvis also had two hits, as did Blanco, who replaced third baseman Maikel Franco in the bottom of the third inning.
 
Franco was hit in the left wrist in the first inning by a pitch from Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole (5-6). He then singled in the top of the third before undergoing X-rays that were negative.

Eflin hit Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen in the rear end with a pitch in the bottom of the first inning, causing home plate umpire Tony Randazzo to warn both teams. There were no further incidents.
 
Franco had his hand wrapped after the game and said he did not know if he would be able to play Saturday afternoon. The ball hit Franco in the same spot where he suffered a fracture last August that caused him to miss most of the last six weeks of the season.
 
“I was scared at first because it was sore and was getting puffy,” Franco said. “I felt better [after getting treatment], though. I think everything will be fine.”