Sixers Blow Out Magic, Somehow Only Win By 5

Sixers Blow Out Magic, Somehow Only Win By 5

Well, it's not quite the feel-good win that it was looking like with
two-and-a-half to go, but it's a win nonetheless, and during a stretch
such as this, we'll certainly take it. In many ways, the Sixers caught
the Magic at the right time—whether you want to attribute it to a
team-wide slump or just a general lack of heart or effort, the Magic
were just straight missing shots tonight (again), including a 1-18
shooting stretch and a nine-point third quarter that had Enrico and I
wondering if the Magic weren't about to break their franchise low of 56
points in a game—set about a week ago in Boston.

But then a weird thing happened—the Magic's garbage time unit started to
surge against the Sixers. All of a sudden, the treys that were clanking
all night starting dropping, including a Glenn "Big Baby" Davis
28-footer that must rank among the more unlikely buckets of the season,
and for two-and-a-half minutes, the Magic could do no wrong on offense.
The Sixers said bye-bye to their streak of winning home games by ten
points or more as Orlando cut the lead to single digits, forcing the
Sixers to make free throws (always an interesting proposition with Andre
Iguodala and Evan Turner) and taking a couple months of Coach Doug
Collins' life. A J.J. Redick three at the buzzer cut the lead to 74-69
as time ran out, resulting in a five-point win that, while never really
in question as of the third quarter, still felt more head-scratching
than victorious.

Much credit must go to the Sixers' defense for shutting down the
Magic—Orlando missed a couple open shots, but mostly their threes (on
which they were 7-22 for the game) were taken on the run, off quick
releases, and/or late in the shot clock, thanks to the scrambling Sixers
D. (Special credit as always must go to 'Dre—opposing small forward
Hedo Turkoglu, having his best season in years, was kept to three points
on 1-9 shooting.)

The defense on Dwight was doubly impressive, considering the Sixers only
had one real center on the roster tonight, Dwight's old teammate Tony
Battie. Tony, Lavoy and especially Elton Brand did a good job of not
giving up anything easy to D-12, forcing him to make legit basketball
moves and/or knock down foul shots to score his points. Sometimes he
did, sometimes he didn't, but his success rate was kept at a sustainably
low level, so that the Sixers weren't forced to double, and could stay
glued to their knockdown shooters. It was about as well as the team
could expect to play the league's most dominant big man, especially with
Spencer Hawes still out and Nik Vucevic an emergency valve on the
bench.

Meanwhile, it wasn't a pretty game for the Ballers on offense—only two
Sixers shot 50% or higher, the 3-5 Battie and the 4-7 Evan Turner—but
they got the job done in a grind-it-out game, with Brand keeping the
team afloat early and Lou coming alive at just the right time in the
third to get the team a little separation. You never want to shoot 38%
for a game, but in the slow-down, half-court style that both teams were
playing here, it wasn't completely unseemly either, and at the least,
the team never stopped moving the ball, ending with 22 assists to the
Magic's 11.

So what do make of those final two-and-a-half minutes, then? Well,
ultimately it was sort of a moot point, since the Magic never really got
into striking distance of the Sixers before the clock ran out. But it
was a little disconcerting to see Collins hollering at the young guys on
the sidelines during timeouts for letting Orlando chip away at what
should have been an unimpeachable lead, and actually making him sweat it
out a little. This might have been a time for DC to show a little
patience with his young team, to remain firm but understanding that the
game was, for all intents and purposes, out of reach for the Magic, and
that the Sixers phoning in the last few after playing impossibly hard
for 46 might not be the biggest crime in basketball. If the team starts
to tune Collins out in a year or two—as his teams have historically done
around that time period—we'll look back on games like tonight as early
warning signs.

Ultimately, though, despite whatever the final score says, the Sixers
were the significantly better team tonight at the Wells Fargo Center,
and we now start the toughest stretch of the season with a one-game
handicap. Next up will be a much tougher challenge: The Chicago Bulls,
they of the best record in the East, on Wednesday night. It'll be the
toughest opponent the Ballers have faced at home thusfar, and will be
another chance for that "statement win" the team has yet to secure this
year. In the meantime, Philly is 15-6, and 4-1 against other Eastern
Conference teams who would be in the playoffs if the post-season started
today. If they're still considered unproven at this point, they're
certainly one of the greatest unproven basketball teams in all of 21st
century hoops.

Some impressive numbers for Joel Embiid's All-Star campaign

Some impressive numbers for Joel Embiid's All-Star campaign

Tonight, the All-Star starters will be announced on TNT. It is unlikely the East's starting five will include Joel Embiid -- he was only third among frontcourt fan voting at last check, and coaches and media will likely go with a safer choice (i.e. one that doesn't rank only eighth on his team in total minutes played) anyway. But I think we're officially at the point where it's absurd to think of JoJo possibly not getting considered at all, so before the reserves are announced a week from tonight, here's some numbers that tell the partial story of Embiid's dominance in his rookie season: 

107.1: The Sixers' overall defensive rating, tenth best in the NBA. 

99.3: The Sixers' defensive rating with Embiid on the court, first-best in the NBA. 

99.7: The Sixers' overall offensive rating, worst in the NBA. 

105.0: The Sixers' offensive rating with Embiid on the court, 15th best in the NBA. 

7.7: Embiid's block percentage, highest in the entire NBA. 

15.4: Embiid's assist percentage, third-highest on the Sixers (behind their two point guards).

10: Embiid's current streak of consecutive games with 20 points or more, longer than any Sixer since Iverson. 

7: Number of games where Embiid has shot more than ten free throws. 

4: Number of games last season where anyone on the Sixers shot more than ten more free throws. 

68: Embiid's (positive) plus-minus for the entire season. 

224: The Sixers' (negative) plus-minus for the entire season. 

42.5: Embiid's defensive FG% at the rim, highest for any center in the league. 

28.2: Embiid's scoring per 36 minutes, seventh best in the NBA. 

1: Number of other rookies who have ever scored at that rate before (Wilt Chamberlain). 

10: Number of wins the Sixers had all of last year. 

12: Number of wins, after last night's season-highlight win over the Raptors, that they have this year with Embiid in the lineup.

Eagles Stay or Go Part 4: Chase Daniel to Dillon Gordon

Eagles Stay or Go Part 4: Chase Daniel to Dillon Gordon

In the fourth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — Part 4 is Daniel to Gordon.

Chase Daniel
Cap hit: $8M

Roob: Carson Wentz’s backup had a heck of a year — completed all his passes, passer rating of 118.7, averaged 16 yards per attempt. Project that over a full season and Chase Daniel is going to Canton. OK, so he threw only one pass. But that’s two straight years Daniel has been perfect. Last year, he was 2 for 2 for the Chiefs. Most importantly, Daniel has a $7 million base salary in 2017, and that makes him the 25th-highest paid quarterback in the NFL in 2017, and the sixth-highest paid Eagle. The numbers are ridiculous, but Daniel is clearly a good influence on Wentz, a valuable mentor. He’s a solid backup, but that contract is just way too lucrative. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: I know fans don’t understand why Daniel is getting paid this much money to be a backup who doesn’t ever play, and at times I have trouble figuring it out myself.  But here’s the reason. When Wentz arrives to the facility during the season at 5:15 a.m. and starts watching film, he’s not watching with Doug Pederson or Frank Reich or John DeFilippo. He’s watching it with Daniel. So while it might not make sense to pay a backup quarterback this much money, don’t think of Daniel as a backup quarterback. Think of him as an asset to the franchise quarterback. Then it doesn’t sound quite as bad. 

Verdict: STAYS

Anthony Denham

Roob: The Eagles must like Denham because he had two stints on the practice squad this year and they re-signed him to a futures deal when the season was over. But barring an injury, there just isn’t room on the roster for another tight end.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Denham is a tight end who was on the Eagles’ practice squad in 2016. Maybe he’d have a shot to make the roster if the Eagles aren’t able to bring back Trey Burton, but I don’t see that happening. They’ll bring him to camp and let him compete and maybe get another year on the practice squad. 

Verdict: GOES

Jon Dorenbos
Cap hit: $1.08M

Roob: Assuming he’s healthy, Dorenbos isn’t going anywhere. Rick Lovato did a nice job filling in at the end of the season, but until Dorenbos decides he wants to pursue magic full-time, there’s a spot for him on this roster.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: During last year’s training camp, I watched Dorenbos walk along the sideline, shaking hands and kissing babies (not literally). Then I looked on the field and saw his “competition” snapping footballs repeatedly to a goal post. That’s when I realized Dorenbos wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And now he has a new contract. He’ll end up playing more games as an Eagle than anyone in the history of the franchise. 

Verdict: STAYS

Zach Ertz
Cap hit: $5.6M

Roob: Even though he had the second-most catches in the entire NFL over the last 10 weeks of the season, a large segment of Eagles fans have decided Ertz is to blame for everything that went wrong with the Eagles this year. Never mind that he got off to a good start on opening day, then suffered a very serious rib injury, then came back after missing just two games, then after getting healthy finished the season with 67 catches for 685 yards and four TDs in the last 10 games. Not the last one or two or three games. The last 10 games. With a full offseason and preseason with Wentz, I fully expect Ertz to finish 2017 well over 1,000 yards. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: I don’t understand the Zach Ertz hate. He isn’t Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce. So what? He’s a really good tight end. Now, I understood why some people questioned the non-block play. I was one of them. But look at the numbers. Here’s a list of tight ends who had more receiving yards than Ertz in 2016: Kelce, Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, Kyle Rudolph. Not bad company. And some look at his production and say, well, it all came in December. Maybe there will be a year in which his late-season production finally helps the Eagles with a playoff push. And he just signed a new contract, so he’s here for a while. 

Verdict: STAYS

Najee Goode
Unrestricted free agent

Roob: Goode, an unrestricted free agent, is a capable special teamer and emergency backup linebacker, but he would earn $775,000 even on a minimum-wage deal in 2017, and considering the Eagles’ salary cap crunch, they may elect to replace him with a rookie late-round pick or undrafted guy who would earn about $300,000 less. Based on ability, he would stay. But those mid-career veterans with high minimum salaries who don’t play much on offense or defense can be tough to keep around.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: In each of the last two seasons, Goode has managed to be on the team after missing out on the original 53-man roster. Maybe that’s a possibility for this season, but first the Eagles need to re-sign him. It might be time to move on from Goode and find a younger linebacker/special teamer. 

Verdict: GOES

Dillon Gordon
Cap hit: $543M

Roob: Gordon is an intriguing prospect. Like Jason Peters, he was a college tight end who moved to offensive tackle soon after arriving in the NFL. He’s big and strong and athletic, he’s just very new at offensive tackle. The Eagles liked him enough to keep him on the active roster all last year, and I’m guessing they see him as enough of a prospect that they’ll keep him around for at least another year. Especially with so many question marks at offensive tackle.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Gordon was on the Eagles’ roster for the entire season and was inactive in all but one week. He was a college tight end who came to Philly and is learning how to play offensive tackle. (Peters once made the same transition.) Gordon is crazy athletic for his size and the Eagles thought enough of him to put him on the active roster instead of risking losing him by placing him on the practice squad. He’s a project, but one worth keeping. 

Verdict: STAYS