Sixers generously help Jrue Holiday and the Pelicans get back on track with blowout loss

Sixers generously help Jrue Holiday and the Pelicans get back on track with blowout loss

Guess it's no hard feelings between Jrue Holiday and the Philadelphia 76ers after the trade that sent him to New Orleans back in June--on our side, anyway. The Sixers did their old friend the favor of basically laying down for his squad tonight, not only letting Jrue get back on track, but giving the ailing 3-6 Pelicans by far their biggest win of the season, 135-98--also, by extension, the biggest loss of the Sixers' now 5-6 campaign.

In many ways, this was inevitable. The Sixers were on the wrong end of a back-to-back, undermanned with MCW missing his third straight game, and just generally due for a game where they got the crap kicked out of them. And this Pelicans team is just a bad matchup for Philly, with New Orleans exploiting the team's lack of consistent outside shooting by having their emerging superstar Anthony Davis swat just about anything the team tried around the basket. Davis had eight of the team's 14 blocks on the night, while the whole Sixers team ended with just two, both registered in garbage time.

After a pretty mediocre nine games to start the season, Jrue finally had it going on tonight. 14 points (on 6-9 shooting), 12 assists, hitting his jumper and making good decisions, and even playing a little defense on the other end on the likes of Tony Wroten and Evan Turner. And Ryan Anderson, who hadn't played all season (and whose absence probably hurt the Pelicans' offense a good deal), made a pretty dynamite return, scoring 26 on 10-16 shooting in just about 26 minutes. This was exactly the game the Pelicans needed to reverse their season's sagging momentum, and the Sixers were more than happy to serve it up to them.

On the flip side, after going nine games without a single really bad outing, Evan Turner was absolutely brutal tonight. You got the sense early he just didn't have the energy in this one--in the second quarter, he passed the ball right to Anthony Davis in the half-court, and not like Davis made a nice move to intercept it, just that Evan couldn't muster the force to send it past him--and a couple early blocks of his drives seemed to suck the life out of him. He finished with just four points on 2-11 shooting, though at least he only turned the ball over twice this time.

This ET game was bound to happen sooner or later--and given that this was his sixth game in nine nights, sooner was probably a good bet--and probably shouldn't be read into too deeply. Still, it did expose a real weakness in Evan's game, which is his badly flailing jumper from long distance. Evan has been good to focus his energy on getting to the basket this season, but with the Hornets denying any kind of access at the rim--even ex-Sixer Jason Smith had three blocks--and with Evan's tank sputtering a little, it would have been nice to see him getting his from the outside a little.

But outside shooting has really not been Evan's thing this year--his 0-2 from deep tonight makes him a miserable 4-28 for the season--and instead, he was just a total non-entity on offense tonight. In most games, he's been able to get to the basket and to his sweet spots frequently enough to still put up his points anyway, but he'll never be a complete offensive player until he can pull up from 16 feet or longer--or at the very least, connect on a catch-and-shoot--with some degree of regularity. You don't want to see him fall in love with the outside shot, but if he doesn't have it in his arsenal at all, that's a problem.

Turner's struggles were the most pronounced tonight, but nobody on the Sixers had a particularly good outing. Tony Wroten was solid again--19 points, including a couple made threes--and Darius Morris continues to give the team surprisingly solid minutes off the bench, but nobody on this team played defense, and Spencer Hawes particularly was repeatedly victimized by the speed and strength of the Pelicans. The Sixers are gonna give up points, but tonight wasn't a result of pace or style--it was just the Sixers being overpowered by what certainly looked like a much better team.

Oh well. It'll be interesting to see where both squads go from here--whether the loss puts the final nail in the coffin of the Sixers' improbably hot start, and whether the win can help the floundering Pelicans gain some momentum and finally get their head above water. But it's still just one game, and the Sixers will have a much more favorable matchup (though by no means easy) against the similarly up-and-down, defense-eschewing Dallas Mavericks, so hopefully a day's rest will do them some good and they'll at least come out swinging against Dirk and co. It's a long season, and the Sixers will lose a lot--lose big, lose small, lose creatively--before it's all said and done.

5-6 now, then, finally below .500 for the first time this season. If this really is it for the Sixers, and Tankadelphia is slowly creeping up to third gear (tanks probably have gears, right?), no regrets--it's been a great run, and more than enough to sustain us through a long season of losing. If it's almost time to shift our attention to The Other Sixers Season going on in the NCAA right now, so be it. Kentucky's on again tomorrow, FYI.

Jeremy Hellickson set to pitch Saturday — unless he's traded

Jeremy Hellickson set to pitch Saturday — unless he's traded

ATLANTA — Even with the Miami Marlins having filled their need for starting pitching, there remains significant interest in Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson, according to major league sources.

The Phillies have received offers for the 29-year-old right-hander, but none that they have deemed worthy of pulling the trigger on.

Hellickson is scheduled to make his 22nd start for the club on Saturday night. Will he make that start? Time will tell. Talks between the Phillies and interested clubs are ongoing.

Hellickson is coming off two strong starts in which he allowed just six hits and one run in 14 innings against the Marlins. Another strong start Saturday could add more luster to Hellickson’s stretch-run value and bring the Phillies the package they are seeking. The trade deadline is Monday at 4 p.m.

Miami had interest in Hellickson before making a deal to acquire starters Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea from San Diego in a seven-player trade Friday (see story).

Hellickson is viewed by industry insiders as being a fallback option for a number of teams. Demand for him could grow as trades are made and the starting pitching market thins as Monday’s deadline approaches.

Baltimore, Toronto, Texas, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Houston are among teams looking to add starting pitching.

Though there’s no guarantee that Hellickson will be moved, he is the most likely Phillie to go. Reliever David Hernandez is next on the list. A number of teams are looking for relief help. The feeling around baseball is that the Phils could move Hernandez before Monday’s deadline, but the return would only be marginal.

The Phillies have received some interest in closer Jeanmar Gomez, but not to the degree one might expect for someone with 27 saves. Because Gomez lacks power stuff, rival teams do not view him as a closer on a contending team.

FOX Sports reports that the Rangers have interest in right-hander Vince Velasquez, but the Phils would have to be blown away to move the 24-year-old right-hander. Velasquez started for the Phillies on Friday night.

Ben Simmons spending his summer getting bigger and better

Ben Simmons spending his summer getting bigger and better

Ben Simmons repeatedly emphasized at summer league he wanted to work on “everything” leading up to training camp.

As a point-forward who plays multiple positions, he has more than just one role to address this offseason. But what does “everything” entail? With a wide range of responsibilities on the court, Simmons is honing in on specific areas.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

Shooting
Simmons has been criticized for his reluctance to shoot. During his one season of college ball at LSU, he averaged 19.2 points off 11.7 field goal attempts per game (56 percent made). Over six summer league games (including both Utah and Las Vegas), Simmons took 22 field-goal attempts and shot 32.2 percent. He had less than 10 attempts in four of the games, and attempted 15 in the Sixers’ finale. Simmons attempted one three in summer league action.

While in Utah and Las Vegas, the Sixers encouraged Simmons to be more aggressive. At 6-foot-10, Simmons is able to get to the rim. Once there, many times he passes it off rather than finishing himself. The Sixers don’t expect Simmons to become a 30-point-per-game scorer, but he will be a key part of their offense.

“You always want him to be as good of a shooter as he can be,” Las Vegas summer league head coach Lloyd Pierce said this earlier month. “It’s not going to be his strength. His strength is going to be passing, facilitating, playmaking. That’s going to be an added bonus, whatever the percentage or the number is.”

Dribbling
Simmons averaged 5.5 assists per game during summer league (second on the team by 0.3 dimes to T.J McConnell). Conversely, he committed 3.83 turnovers.

The Sixers signed two point guards this summer, Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez, and McConnell is returning from last season. Head coach Brett Brown said after the draft he does not plan to utilize Simmons as the primary one-guard right away as the 20-year-old learns the league. But early on, Simmons will have the rock in his hands plenty of times given his natural ball-handling abilities, especially when grabbing the rebound and running the fast break.

"I think it's the hardest position to play in the NBA,” Brown previously said. “I think to just give him the ball in that capacity is borderline cruel. He needs to feel NBA basketball. And maybe he evolves there." (See story)

Weight room
After college, Simmons put on 20 pounds from his training and entered the draft at 242 pounds. He stood out among the competition in summer league play with his NBA-ready stature. Simmons said he would like to get up to 246 or 247 pounds this offseason.

“Not too heavy,” he said.

With the size of a forward and the skills of a guard, the Sixers will be able to utilize Simmons to create mismatches both in the backcourt and at the hoop.

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Rupp back behind the plate for Phillies

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Rupp back behind the plate for Phillies

After scoring five first-inning runs on their way to a 7-5 win against the Braves on Thursday, Pete Mackanin decided not to tinker with the Phillies' lineup too much.

In fact, the only change will be at catcher. The struggling Cameron Rupp will get the start on Friday and bat sixth after Carlos Ruiz was behind the plate on Thursday. Rupp, who was one of the few bright spots for the offense in the first half, is just 5 for 31 since the All-Star break. On the season, Rupp is still batting .271 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs.

Aaron Altherr came off the DL with a bang, tallying three hits, including a two-run homer on Thursday. Mackanin has said Altherr will get a long look in right field and Thursday night was a glimpse of why. 

With Altherr's regular presence in the lineup, Cody Asche has been put on notice. After going on a tear from early June to early July, Asche is batting .094 (5 for 53) in his last 17 games. With Altherr and Odubel Herrera entrenched in right and center, Asche will have to get hot to stave off prospect Nick Williams, who seems to be finding his groove at Lehigh Valley.

Here is tonight's lineup:
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Cody Asche, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Vince Velasquez, P