Sixers Handle Hawks: What Kind of Team Is This, Anyway?

Sixers Handle Hawks: What Kind of Team Is This, Anyway?

I was watching at halftime of ESPN's broadcast of the Knicks-Celtics
game from Friday on my DV-R, and they were reviewing highlights of the
Heat's close-for-three-quarters-turned-blowout win of the Sixers. One of
the commentators—maybe Jon Barry, I can't remember which one, they all
kind of suck—scoffed to one of the others (maybe Michael Wilbon) about
the Sixers: "I thought you said they were contenders?" Maybe-Wilbon had
no real recourse, except to sigh "Bad matchup."

This is sort of
how I feel right now with the Sixers. Last night, the Liberty Ballers
went to Atlanta to play the 16-7 Hawks, and they won handily, leading by
double digits for almost the entirety of the second half and leaving
with a 98-87 victory. (Sorry Sixers fans chilling at the WFC for some
reason, no Big Macs.) And it wasn't the win that impressed me so much,
but how unsurprising it was—I legitimately expected Philly to fly to
Atlanta on the second night of a back to back and show that they were
the better team. Which they did. Which they are. And then it occurs to
me—how many teams are out there now that I wouldn't feel confident with
the Sixers playing? Sure, I'd be a little nervous against the Thunder or
Clippers (the latter of whom we'll be seeing soon enough), but I'd
still think their chances are decent. Really, there are no teams left at
this point at which a Sixers win could legitimately be seen as
unexpected.

Except for the Heat.

The one test that the Sixers
have yet to pass, one which they don't appear particularly close to
passing anytime soon, is to Beat the friggin' Heat—Philly has now twice
played them about even for 30-36 minutes, yet completely lost their
handle in the final twelve minutes, finishing with final scores that
indicate a pretty wide gap between the two teams. And that gap, while
perhaps exaggerated by the final scores, is certainly no mirage—the Heat
are a better basketball team than we are, and will win the great
majority of the games the two teams play.

And yet—is that really
it? If the Heat are so much better than we are, how come they're just a
half-game higher than us in the standings? How did they lose to the
Bucks twice? How did they blow three straight road games on the West
Coast? Could it really be that, as maybe-Wilbon says, the Heat are just
an unfavorable matchup? It's true that with Wade and LeBron, they
nullify our biggest competitive advantage (our wing defense) somewhat,
and that our biggest weakness (post play, interior defense/rebounding)
is exposed somewhat with Chris Bosh and the team's endless reserve of
tall, high-energy rebounders. (Not to mention that we still haven't even
played them with Spencer Hawes and Nik Vucevic, our team's top two big
men, for a full game, and you saw their value last night, as we have all
season.)

So maybe the Sixers aren't that much worse a
team than the Heat, but just might not ever have much success against
them team-to-team. Does that alone mean that they're not considerable as
contenders in the NBA this year? Well...unfortunately, yeah, sorta.
It's hard to imagine a road to the finals that doesn't in some way lead
through Miami—unless Indiana knocked them off in the second round (or if
Milwaukee can repeat their shocking success in an eight-seed upset),
Philly will undoubtedly have to play them in the second or third round
of the Conference playoffs, assuming they get that far. In the '90s, how
many title contenders might there have been in the East if not for the
Jordan/Pippen/Jackson Bulls? But you can't hide from those guys forever,
and it's hard to consider the Sixers a legit title contender until they
have some legitimate level of success against them.

But anyway,
back to the Atlanta game, which turned out pretty cool. We finally got
both our young centers back, though we had to trade Elton Brand for 'em,
since EB was out with a sore thumb, giving rookie Lavoy Allen his
first-ever NBA start, though he only actually played 12 minutes. Hawes,
Vucevic and Allen between them scored 33 points on stunning 16 of 23
shooting, showing what an impressive roster of skilled big men this team
has assembled. There's still some work to go with these guys—the trio
grabbed just 12 rebounds between them and didn't even attempt a free
throw, which is pretty bad for three frontcourt players in 64 combined
minutes of game action—but man, am I glad to finally have all of them at
our disposal at once.

The bench was the big story last night,
as all four subs (including Vucevic with a team-high 15) scored in
double-digits. Evan Turner had a very nice game after some uninspiring
outings against Miami, Chicago and Orlando, scoring 11 points on 5-7
shooting—including a chuckle-worthy three that started out as an
alley-oop pass—with six rebounds and five assists. Perhaps more
importantly, he seemed to learn his lessons on defense from the team's
last game against Atlanta, where Tracy McGrady abused him one-on-one,
getting cheap fouls on The Extraterrestrial and out-maneuvering him for
easy buckets. This time, he played back on T-Mac and turned him
primarily into a distributor, holding him to seven points on 2-6
shooting, and not letting him impose his will on the game. Encouraging
moments from our second-year project.

Elswehere on the Night
Shift, Thaddeus Young continued his run of tremendous offensive play
with 14 points, five boards and even three assists, and Lou Williams
also contributed 14 and five dimes, hitting the game-clinching shot with
just over a minute to go. And also due some cred to two members of our
starting lineup—first, Jodie Meeks, who connected on a pair of threes
and now has hit multiple treys in seven of his last eight games, on pace
for a better year shooting from deep than any Sixer has had since Kyle
Korver. And then, of course, Andre Iguodala, whose All-Star push
continues with another near triple-double—nine points, eight rebounds
and ten assists, with just a single turnover. 'Dre is probably happier
than anyone to have Vuc and Hawes back, since both bigs play the
pick-and-pop so beautifully with our point forward, and his feeds were
damn on the money last night. (We'll let the 3-15 shooting slide for
now, since it wasn't really needed last night anyway).

So yeah, a nice road win for the Sixers, who 24 games into the season,
have still yet to lose consecutive games—a real testament to the team's
character and toughness, and one that the
increasingly-difficult-to-please Coach Collins had to salute after the
game. ("This was our fourth game in six nights and with the emotional
game with
Miami last night, I can't tell you how proud I am of the guys.") But as
good as the win is, it doesn't shake the pall cast from Friday's
discouraging home loss to the Heat, and no matter how they do on the
remainder of this tough stretch (even though by starting 3-1, they've
already done better than many might have predicted beforehand), the only
thing that's going to completely erase that bitterness is a win—or at
the very least, four good quarters of play—when they meet the Heat for a
third time on March 16th. Until then, it's still a great season, but
it's not one that anyone will mistake for being championship-bound.

Next up for the Ballers: Monday night at home against the Los Angeles
Lakers. A win over Kobe and co. will exorcise a couple demons, even if
it might not mean as much as it would have a couple years back when the
Lake Show was at the peak of its powers. All we can do now is play the
games on our schedule, keeping posting good results against good times,
and hope that the sting of the two tough Miami losses fuels the team to
an even more determined level of play. We'll see 'em again soon enough.

NFL notes: Jordan Reed, Trevor Siemian ruled out for Week 13

NFL notes: Jordan Reed, Trevor Siemian ruled out for Week 13

ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed will miss Sunday's game at the Arizona Cardinals with a sprained left shoulder.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden announced Friday that Reed would sit out. It'll be the third game missed this season by Reed, who leads the Redskins with 59 catches. He has 630 yards receiving and five TDs.

Reed hurt his shoulder in Washington's Thanksgiving Day loss at Dallas, then was sidelined for practice all week.

Gruden said he hopes that with an extra week of treatment, Reed would be available to play at NFC East rival Philadelphia on Dec. 11.

Also out for Washington (6-4-1) against Arizona (4-6-1) is defensive end Anthony Lanier (lower leg).

Starting offensive linemen Brandon Scherff and Ty Nsekhe, cornerback Bashaud Breeland, defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois, running back Chris Thompson and long snapper Nick Sundberg were all listed as questionable for Washington.

Broncos: Trevor Siemian ruled out against Jacksonville
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos ruled out Trevor Siemian for Sunday's game at Jacksonville, meaning rookie Paxton Lynch will make his second start.

Siemian had hoped to return to practice Friday but the training staff put him right back in his walking boot and informed coach Gary Kubiak the second-year pro was a no-go against the Jaguars (2-9).

Lynch lost to Atlanta in Week 5.

The Broncos (7-4) are scrambling for a playoff spot after their loss to Kansas City in which Siemian threw for a career-best 368 yards with three TDs and no interceptions but was sacked six times.

The Broncos also promoted speedy punt returner Kalif Raymond from the practice squad with rookie fullback Andy Janovich going on injured reserve following ankle surgery.

Bills: Sammy Watkins expected to play against Oakland
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills receiver Sammy Watkins is expected to play in his second consecutive game though questions persist about the severity of his left foot injury.

On Thursday, Bills offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said Watkins still has a broken bone in his left foot. Watkins returned from injured reserve last week after missing two months of action.

Watkins spoke with reporters Friday but was vague when pressed about Lynn's comments. Asked if he still has a broken bone in his foot, Watkins responded: "Not necessarily. You hear a lot of things."

Buffalo's top receiver had surgery in April to repair a stress fracture in the injured foot. It was aggravated in Week 3 when a teammate stepped on Watkins' foot at a walk-through.

Watkins returned against Jacksonville on Sunday and provided a major spark to the league's worst passing attack, catching three passes for 80 yards. He missed Wednesday's practice due to foot soreness but participated on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday.

"Playing the game, you come out a little bit sore being out for eight weeks," Watkins said. "So we expected that, I expected that myself. I'm fine. I got through the game last week, I felt pretty good, didn't have any hiccups, and really just keep doing the things in the training room."

Watkins said the soreness did not come until after the game against the Jaguars, not during. He's expected to again be on a snap count this Sunday at Oakland.

Watkins was also asked about the possibility of a second surgery, along with his status for the rest of the season.

"Right now I'm really just focusing on the Raiders," Watkins said. "After the season, if I need to get that done then we will, and if I don't we'll be fine."

The Bills are depending on Watkins to contribute due to reduced personnel at wide receiver. Robert Woods (knee) and Percy Harvin (illness) are out. Marquise Goodwin is expected to play after suffering a wrist injury in practice Thursday.

Starting cornerback Ronald Darby (concussion) is out. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus is expected to play after leaving Sunday's win over Jacksonville with an abdominal strain.

Dismissal deal done in Johnny Manziel's domestic case
DALLAS -- Prosecutors say they have an agreement with Johnny Manziel to dismiss a domestic violence charge against the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback.

The Dallas County District Attorney's Office said Friday that Manziel will have to meet certain conditions for a year before the misdemeanor charge will be dismissed. The former Cleveland Browns player was accused of hitting and threatening former girlfriend Colleen Crowley during a night out in January.

Brittany Dunn, a spokeswoman for the prosecutors, said the agreement was filed Friday without Manziel present.

Details of the agreement weren't immediately available. A spokeswoman for the former Texas A&M star didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.

Judge Roberto Canas said at a hearing last month that the sides had reached a tentative deal on a conditional dismissal (see full story).

Jaguars: Ivory, Hurns ruled out; Thomas doubtful vs. Denver
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars will be without two offensive starters Sunday against Denver and maybe a third.

Coach Gus Bradley ruled out running back Chris Ivory (hamstring) and receiver Allen Hurns (hamstring) on Friday. He also listed tight end Julius Thomas (back) as doubtful to play against the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos (7-4).

Receiver Rashad Greene (Achilles tendon) and defensive end Jared Odrick (shoulder) also are out, leaving the Jaguars (2-9) with four healthy receivers heading into the game. Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee will start, with Arrelious Benn and Bryan Walters serving as backups.

Without Ivory, T.J. Yeldon is expected to handle the bulk of the carries. But Yeldon (ankle) was limited in last week's game and again in practice this week.

Phillies DFA OF Cody Asche, claim LHP David Rollins off waivers

Phillies DFA OF Cody Asche, claim LHP David Rollins off waivers

Cody Asche's time with the Phillies has come to an end.

The Phillies claimed LHP David Rollins off waivers from the Texas Rangers on Friday. To make room on the 40-man roster, Asche was designated for assignment. The Phillies had until 8 p.m. on Friday to tender a contract to the outfielder, but they instead chose to free up the roster spot for Rollins.

Asche played four seasons with the Phillies from 2013-16 after he was drafted in the fourth round in 2011. The St. Charles, Mo. native had a .213/.284/.350 batting line this past season over 71 games. His best season with the Phillies came as their starting third baseman in 2014, hitting 10 home runs and driving home 46 runs in 121 games.

Rollins has been on four different rosters this offseason. He pitched 31 games in relief for the Seattle Mariners over the last two seasons, sporting a 7.60 ERA over 34 1/3 innings. He was claimed off waivers by the Chicago Cubs 15 days after the World Series and then subsequently claimed again by the Rangers. 

Rollins was a 24th round draft pick by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2011 MLB Draft and was traded a year later to the Houston Astros. Prior to the 2015 season, the Mariners picked Rollins in the Rule 5 draft after the Astros chose not to protect him.