NSFWFC: Sixers Line Up for the Heat in Season Home Opener

NSFWFC: Sixers Line Up for the Heat in Season Home Opener

Poor, poor Michael Carter-Williams. It was already gonna be a struggle for him in his NBA debut--the 22-year-old rookie has game, we think, but it's gonna take a minute for it to translate on this level--but premiering against the Miami Heat, he might try to re-declare for his senior season at Syracuse before the night's over. The blitzing perimeter D of Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole (and the hard-trapping help D from their forwards and bigs) brought Linsanity to an end, and ruined Derrick Rose's first game back from ACL surgery last night in Miami, holding the former MVP to just 12 points on 4-15 shooting. Against MCW...there will be tears, for sure.

Of course, that's not to say that the rest of the Sixers' lineup will have it that much easier--Evan Turner has had some nice games against the Heat (including his own debut game, on opening night three seasons ago), but the Liberty Ballers have still won just one of their last 20 against the Heat, and even that one took a miracle three from Lou Williams--you remember the one.

No, the Sixers are not gonna have an easy one tonight, though they will be getting a couple breaks in this one--not only are the Heat on the second to night of a back-to-back after an emotional, hard-fought season opener against Chicago, but they'll be without All-NBA guard Dwyane Wade--though really, all that means is that the Heat will be able to spread the floor better with Ray Allen or James Jones in his stead and let LeBron really pick the Sixers apart. One or two breaks isn't nearly enough to make up the gap in quality between these two teams.

All we can really hope for tonight is for early contention and late survival. If the Sixers can at least keep it close for a quarter or two, get nice performances from Evan and Thaddeus Young, and get MCW the hell out of there before the scarring becomes permanent, then that'll have to count as the moral victory for the evening. Not much, but ti's all we're gonna have for at least our first couple games and possibly a lot longer, so get used to it.

Adding insult to injury (and more insult) tonight is that in Cleveland, it appears that our old friend Andrew Bynum will be bucking the odds and actually playing in the Cavs' season opener (supposedly). Bynum has been cleared for game action, though he will not start, and nobody really has much of a clue what he'll look like out on the court. While I don't necessarily wish eternal misery upon the Bynum household, I'm not gonna deny that I'ma be a little salty if he just straight up plays for this Cleveland team and, like, doesn't miss pretty much the entire season for no real reason. Harumph.

Whatever. We have Sixers basketball, real (mostly) professional basketball, and that's enough excitement in itself for me tonight. Get ready for the big ride tonight, guys, and if you are not sufficiently pumped, get yourself there with our 2013-14 Sixers Official Spotify Playlist. Go Ballers.

[spotify id="spotify:user:djstoopendous:playlist:1LIL8lSnNF5vUurccQEq0i" width="300" height="380" /]

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

READING, Pa. — Perhaps the most important issue facing the Phillies as they get set to open spring training is the health of pitcher Aaron Nola.

It won’t be possible to fully gauge the right-hander’s condition until he starts firing pitches against hitters in a competitive situation in February and March.

But less than a month before camp opens, Nola is optimistic that the elbow problems that forced him to miss the final two months of the 2016 season are resolved.

“I feel like the injury is past me,” he said during a Phillies winter caravan stop sponsored by the Double A Reading Fightin Phils on Tuesday night. “I feel back to normal.

“My arm is all good. One-hundred percent.”

Nola, 23, did not pitch after July 28 last season after being diagnosed with a pair of injuries near his elbow — a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and a strained flexor tendon.

Nola and the team opted for a conservative treatment plan that included rest, rehab and a PRP injection. The pitcher spent much of the fall on a rehab program in Clearwater that included his throwing from a bullpen mound. He took a couple of months off and recently began throwing again near his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“All through the rehab, I had no pain,” Nola said. “Probably in the middle of the rehab, I started feeling really good. Towards the end, I started upping the intensity a little bit. I knew after I took two months off I was going to be good. I started back up, throwing after Christmas and it felt really good when I cranked up. I’ve been throwing for a few weeks now. No pain, no hesitation. Not any of it.”

The Phillies selected Nola with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft with the hopes that he would be a foundation piece in the rotation for many years. Nola ascended to the majors in the summer of 2015 and recorded a 3.12 ERA in his first 25 big-league starts before hitting severe turbulence last summer. He had a 9.82 ERA in his final eight starts of 2016 before injuring his elbow during his final start.

Nola said he would report to Clearwater on Feb. 1. He does not expect to have any limitations in camp.

Manager Pete Mackanin is eager to see what Nola looks like in Clearwater.

“There's a part of me that’s concerned,” Mackanin said. “When guys don't have surgery and they mend with just rest, that makes me a little nervous. I don't want that to crop up again because then you lose a couple years instead of one year. But I defer to the medical people and believe in what they say and how he feels.”

Mackanin said he expected Nola to be in the five-man rotation along with Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz and Vince Velasquez to open the season. Mackanin also mentioned Zach Eflin and others as being in the mix. The Phillies have some starting pitching depth and that’s a plus because pitchers' arms are fragile. Nola was the latest example of that last season. He said he’s healthy now, but he'll still be a center of attention in spring training.

More seasoning for Quinn
Mackanin acknowledged that the addition of veteran outfielder Michael Saunders probably means that Roman Quinn will open the season in Triple A.

“I don’t think it’s in our best interest or [Quinn’s] to be a part-time player at the big-league level, so I would think if things stay the way they are and if Saunders is on the team, I think it would behoove Quinn to play a full year of Triple A,” Mackanin said. “We have to find out if he can play 120 or 140 games, which he hasn’t done up to this point. We hope he can because, to me, he’s a potential game changer.”

Morgan to the bullpen?
Mackanin suggested that lefty Adam Morgan could be used as a reliever in camp. The Phillies have just one lefty reliever (Joely Rodriguez) on their 40-man roster. If Morgan pitches well out of the bullpen, he could be a candidate to make the club. Non-roster lefties Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos could also be in the mix.

Another chance for Gomez
Jeanmar Gomez saved 37 games in 2016 before struggling down the stretch and losing the closer’s job. Hector Neris finished up in the role.

So how will competition for the job shake out in Clearwater?

“I wouldn’t say it’s wide open,” Mackanin said. “I’m going to give Gomez every opportunity to show that he’s the guy that pitched the first five months and not the guy that pitched in September.”

PFF ranks Eagles' front seven as the second best in NFL

PFF ranks Eagles' front seven as the second best in NFL

At times during the 2016 season, the Eagles' defense looked like the best unit in the league. And at other times … it didn't. 

By the end of the season, the Eagles averaged out to be a middle-of-the-road defense. And the way ProFootballFocus ranked it makes sense.

PFF ranked the Eagles' secondary as the absolute worst in the league, but in it's list of front sevens, released on Tuesday, the Eagles came in at No. 2 behind just Seattle. 

Here's what PFF said about the Eagles' front seven: 

"It was a difficult decision between the Eagles and the Seahawks for the No. 1 spot, as this front-seven propped up a hodge-podge secondary to form one of the league’s most effective defenses for a good portion of the season. Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox finished with the third- and fourth-highest pass-rushing productivity marks at their respective positions. Philadelphia’s front-seven also features a budding star in second-year linebacker Jordan Hicks, who led all players at the position with five interceptions."

Graham received the highest grade among the Eagles' front seven with a 93.3, while Connor Barwin received the worst at 42.1. Graham was the only Eagles player to make the PFF All-Pro team this year. To prove that stats don't always tell the full story, Graham finished with a half sack more than Barwin (6 1/2 to 6). 

While the Eagles' cornerback trio of Leodis McKelvin, Nolan Carroll and Jalen Mills ranked 79th, 107th and 120th out of 120, respectively, their players across the front seven were much, much better. 

Hicks was ranked as the seventh-best middle linebacker and Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks were both top-10 outside linebackers in 4-3 defenses. Graham was the top-ranked 4-3 defensive end and Cox was the fifth-best interior lineman.