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.

Union goalie John McCarthy ready for 1st MLS start of season

Union goalie John McCarthy ready for 1st MLS start of season

CHESTER, Pa. -- Long after Wednesday’s morning training session ended, John McCarthy remained on the practice field to sign autographs for a bunch of young campers.
 
This is a typical activity for the popular Philadelphia native, who in many ways is a perfect backup goalkeeper for the Union.

But this weekend, McCarthy will be more than just an ambassador for fans. With Andre Blake on international duty with the Jamaican national team, the La Salle alum will be thrust into the limelight and make his first MLS start of the season when the Union face the Chicago Fire on Saturday at Toyota Park (8:30 p.m./TCN).  

“Obviously he’s itching to get his first MLS game this year,” Curtin said. “He’s a professional. This is what he prepares for. It’s similar to a backup quarterback role — you have to be ready when your number is called, and I know Johnny will be. He’s a guy I trust a great deal. He’s a winner. He won big games last year, and I expect him to do the same in Chicago.”

McCarthy indeed had a memorable rookie season last year, starting 11 games in league play while playing a key role in the Union’s run to the U.S. Open Cup final. 

But with Blake overcoming injuries and growing into an All-Star this year, McCarthy’s opportunities for playing time have dried up. So far in 2016, he’s played in just one U.S. Open Cup game on top of the 11 starts he's made for the Union’s USL affiliate, Bethlehem Steel FC.

How has he dealt with such a change?

“You don’t want to change anything up,” McCarthy said. “You just want to be as consistent as possible, keep training the same and keep your mindset the same because it’s the same when you’re sitting on the bench. You’ve got to be ready to play — and the opportunity is here.”

Another international call-up for Blake left the door open for McCarthy to potentially start June 1 vs. Columbus Crew SC. But Curtin instead opted to go with Matt Jones, who gave up two goals but got the win in what's been his only MLS start. Jones has since been dealing with an injury though, which led to McCarthy getting the nod this weekend. 

Despite the competition, McCarthy insists he and Jones — and Blake too — have maintained a great rapport.

“We’re all really good friends,” he said. “We all sit next to each other in the locker room. We can give each other crap off the field, joke with each other and stuff, and then when it comes to [being] on the field, it’s time to work. And we work together as a group because at the end of the day, whoever’s playing, we want the best for them and we want to win.”

McCarthy certainly wants the best for Blake, who is set to start in net for Jamaica in a couple of key games vs. Panama and Haiti as the Reggae Boyz look to advance to the fifth round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. 

Alejandro Bedoya will also be involved in the final two games of the fourth round of qualifying as he joins the U.S. national team. And if he plays in Friday’s game vs. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as expected, it will mark just the second time in club history an active Union player plays for the USMNT.

That’s a big deal, according to Curtin.

“Listen, when kids watch the game and they see who’s on the national team, that’s who they should all aspire to be like,” Curtin said. “I think Alejandro is a player every kid should want to be like. … To have a guy from the Union with this badge represent our country is really powerful. I think that shows the growth of our club. We want more and more of our guys to represent our country.”

At the same time, Bedoya’s absence will naturally create a big hole for the Union, who are dealing with injuries to other midfielders. Blake — who’s usually good for a spectacular save or two — not being in Chicago will be tough for the team to cope with, too.

But Curtin is eager to see some of his bench guys fill important roles this weekend — especially McCarthy.

“All goalies are a little bit crazy in their own way,” Curtin said. “I put Johnny right in that category. So he’s not fazed by pressure. I think he embraces pressure. He’s a fighter. He has a good strong mentality and he works his tail off every day in training.
“He’s one of our hardest working guys. He stays after to take shots, and puts a ton of work in. I’m happy and excited for him to get his opportunity now.”

Phillies to add 3 players Friday; Nick Williams iffy for September call-up

Phillies to add 3 players Friday; Nick Williams iffy for September call-up

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said he expects the club to add three players from the minors on Friday. Rosters expand on Thursday, an off day for the Phils.

“A couple of relievers, maybe a hitter,” Mackanin said before Wednesday night's game against Washington.

Mackanin would not name names because a lot can change in a day or two.

Darin Ruf seems to be a logical choice to be the hitter Mackanin referred to. He opened the season with the big club, but got just 57 at-bats and hit just .158 before being sent to Triple A when Tommy Joseph came up. Since going down, Ruf has hit .298 with 20 homers, 65 RBIs and a .895 OPS in 94 games for Lehigh Valley.

The Phillies will likely add two relievers to fortify the bullpen. Patrick Schuster, a lefty who was recently claimed off waivers from Oakland, could be a possibility. Colton Murray, Luis Garcia, Dalier Hinojosa and Elvis Araujo all could be possibilities, as well. All have spent time in the majors this season.

The Phils can’t completely pick over the Triple A roster because Lehigh Valley’s regular season runs through Monday and that club is likely to be in the International League playoffs.

Once Lehigh Valley’s season is over, more pitching could come. Starters David Buchanan and Phil Klein could be possibilities. Alec Asher, currently serving a suspension for testing positive for PEDs, is expected to be activated by the big club next week and could provide some innings to the starting rotation.

It’s unclear which prospects will come up. Catcher Jorge Alfaro seems to be a shoo-in after Double A Reading’s playoff run. Shortstop J.P. Crawford is not on the 40-man roster and does not need to be protected on it this winter. That could prevent him from coming up as the Phillies look to use the 40-man roster spot on a player that they could lose if not protected. Outfielder Nick Williams seemed to be a lock to come up a month ago, but his performance has slipped at Triple A in recent weeks and he now looks iffy.

Williams, like Alfaro, was acquired from Texas in the Cole Hamels trade last summer. The lefty-hitting outfielder entered Wednesday hitting .265 with 12 homers, 62 RBIs and just a .294 on-base percentage in 119 games. He entered Wednesday hitting just .187 with a paltry .204 on-base percentage in the month of August. He had struck out 34 times and walked just once in 93 trips to the plate in August.

That certainly cannot sit well with a front office that puts a premium on players who "control the strike zone."

AFL rosters announced
The Phillies will send six players to the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. The group includes three pitchers, right-handed relievers Victor Arano and Miguel Nunez, and lefty starter Brandon Liebrandt, second baseman Scott Kingery, third baseman Mitch Walding, and outfielder Aaron Brown. Brown replaces outfielder Andrew Pullin, who recently went on the disabled list at Double A Reading with an elbow injury.

Sixers waive Carl Landry, Tibor Pleiss; officially sign Cat Barber

Sixers waive Carl Landry, Tibor Pleiss; officially sign Cat Barber

The Sixers made some roster tweaks on Wednesday night.

The team waived forward Carl Landry and center Tibor Pleiss, while officially announcing the signing of guard Anthony "Cat" Barber.

The Sixers were expected to cut Pleiss, who was acquired last Friday in a trade with the Jazz. On July 21, Barber and the Sixers reportedly agreed to a partially guaranteed deal.

Landy, a 32-year-old veteran, played one season with the Sixers after being acquired last summer in a trade with the Kings, a deal in which he was essentially a toss-in as it revolved around bringing Nik Stauskas to Philadelphia. Landry, who was under contract for 2016-17 at $6.75 million, battled injury to start 2015-16 and ended up playing in 36 games (12 starts), averaging 9.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.

Barber, 6-foot-3, 173 pounds, will fight for a roster spot at point guard during training camp. The 22-year-old went undrafted in June after declaring following his junior season at NC State in which he averaged 23.5 points per game, seventh most in the country and best in the ACC.