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: Chiefs S Eric Berry signs franchise tender

NFL Notes: Chiefs S Eric Berry signs franchise tender

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Chiefs safety Eric Berry signed his franchise tender and reported to camp Sunday, though he is almost certain to miss Kansas City's preseason finale against Green Bay this week.

Berry was given the franchise tag early in the offseason but had not signed the deal, which means he could skip all of training camp without being fined. The deal will pay him just over $10.8 million this season, making him the league's highest-paid safety.

Kansas City plays its first regular-season game Sept. 11 against San Diego.

Berry played in every game last season, less than a year after he was diagnosed with cancer. He made 55 tackles, a pair of interceptions and resumed his role as the heart and soul of the defense.

Falcons: 2-time Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson signs
ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Falcons signed veteran free-agent safety Dashon Goldson on Sunday.

The Falcons will be without rookie starting strong safety Keanu Neal, the first-round pick, for at least the first two regular-season games with a right knee injury. He will have arthroscopic surgery on Monday.

Coach Dan Quinn has said that backup Kemal Ishmael would fill in for Neal as the starting strong safety.

Goldson, a 2012 All-Pro with the 49ers, had 110 tackles in 15 starts with the Redskins in 2015. He spent his first six seasons with San Francisco and played with Tampa Bay in 2013-14 (see full story).

Bills: Ryan says standing for anthem pays respect to military
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan believes standing for the national anthem is a way for NFL players and coaches to show respect and give thanks to members of the armed forces.

Ryan says he can appreciate how some players have personal or religious beliefs that lead them to not stand for the anthem. However, he adds people should appreciate the "gift" they have in playing football, which is the result of "the men and women that serve our country."

He was asked about his opinion before practice Sunday, a day after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said he is refusing to stand for the anthem because he believes the United States oppresses African Americans and other minorities.

Ryan did not specifically reference Kaepernick in his response (see full story).

Colts: Former Patroits RB Steven Ridley signs
INDIANAPOLIS -- Free agent running back Steven Ridley signed with the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

Ridley was cut Thursday by Detroit, which had signed the sixth-year veteran in April.

Ridley, 5-11, 220 pounds, has played in 60 career NFL games with 26 starts. He went to a Super Bowl with New England in 2011, his rookie year, when he was a third-round selection, and again in 2014, when he was hurt.

Indeed, he's been injury prone, appearing in six games for the Patriots in 2014 and nine for the Jets last year.

He has 685 carries for 2,907 yards and 22 touchdowns in his career.

Indianapolis also waived wide receiver Justin Berger, safety Alden Darby, guard Eric Herman, defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin, tight end Mike Miller, running back Chase Price, cornerback Winston Rose, defensive end Delvon Simmons, wide receiver Josh Stangby and inside linebacker Junior Sylvestre.

Union's Alejandro Bedoya called up to U.S. national team for key World Cup qualifers

Union's Alejandro Bedoya called up to U.S. national team for key World Cup qualifers

Throughout their seven-year history, the Philadelphia Union have had very few active players called up for U.S. national team duty.

That’s about to change now that Alejandro Bedoya is on the team.

On Sunday, it was announced that Bedoya — Philly’s marquee summer acquisition — is one of 26 players selected for important World Cup qualifiers vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago.

The U.S. travels first to face St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Sept. 2 (3:30 p.m., beIN SPORT) and will close out Group C action against Trinidad & Tobago on Sept. 6 (8 p.m., FS1).

That means Bedoya — who’s started the last four games for the Union, helping the club to a 3-1 mark in that stretch — will miss Philly’s road game vs. the Chicago Fire on Saturday (8:30 p.m., TCN). 

All-star goalkeeper Andre Blake also won’t be available for that contest, traveling with Jamaica for their World Cup qualifiers.

That will leave the Union, who are also managing injuries to midfielders Maurice Edu, Brian Carroll and Ilsinho, a little bit thin as they look to extend their winning streak to three games this weekend. 

But Bedoya’s inclusion on the USMNT roster is something the Union expected. The midfielder has been one of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s steadiest players over the past couple of years, as a starter in the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Copa America Centenario. 

He’s already made 53 appearances with the U.S. national team and figures to make his first as a member of the Union on Friday.

If he does, he’ll be the second active Union player ever to play for the USMNT, following a Maurice Edu appearance in April 2014 in the buildup to the World Cup (he was later cut from the preliminary roster, along with Landon Donovan, before the U.S. left for Brazil). Prior to Edu’s appearance, the closest a Union player had come to earning a USMNT cap was when Jack McInerney was selected to the 2013 Gold Cup squad but didn't play in any games.

Instant Replay: Phillies 5, Mets 1

ap-aj-ellis-phillies.jpg
The Associated Press

Instant Replay: Phillies 5, Mets 1

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK – The Phillies salvaged one win on an otherwise lost weekend in Queens when they beat the New York Mets, 5-1, on Sunday afternoon.
 
A.J. Ellis, acquired from the Dodgers on Thursday in the Carlos Ruiz deal, had the game’s big-hit, a two-run double to break a 1-1 tie in the seventh. It was his first hit with the club.
 
The Phillies lost the first two games of the series by a combined score of 21-5.
 
The win left the Phils at 60-70 for the season. They are three wins shy of last year’s majors-low total of 63.
 
Starting pitching report
Vince Velasquez gave up just one run, but only lasted five innings because he threw 103 pitches. Despite the high pitch count, Velasquez walked just one. He struck out seven. All in all, it was an improvement from his previous three starts when he allowed 19 runs in 17⅓ innings.
 
Mets right-hander Robert Gsellman gave up four runs in six-plus innings in his first big-league start. He allowed just one run through his first six innings but failed to get an out in being charged with three runs in the seventh.
 
Bullpen report
The Phillies' bullpen was excellent.
 
David Hernandez pitched a scoreless sixth inning. Edubray Ramos followed with a scoreless seventh. Hector Neris notched a scoreless eighth and Jeanmar Gomez closed it out.
 
For the Mets, Hansel Robles was brought on to face Ellis with the bases loaded in the seventh and promptly gave up a game-changing double.
 
At the plate
Tommy Joseph, Aaron Altherr and Jimmy Paredes all singled to load the bases for Ellis in the seventh. Parades doubled home the Phillies’ first run in fourth.
 
Health check
Double A Reading outfielder Roman Quinn is back on the disabled list after suffering a concussion Saturday night. Quinn recently returned from a stint on the DL with an oblique injury. His status for the Eastern League playoffs and a possible September call up is unclear.
 
Mets shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera left the game in the first inning with a sore left knee. He appeared to injure himself avoiding a tag at first base. Cabrera had three homers in the first two games of the series.
 
ICYMI
Pitcher Jeremy Hellickson will remain with the Phillies for the rest of the season (see story).
 
Up next
The Phillies return home Monday night to open a three-game series against the Washington Nationals. Here are the pitching matchups:
 
Monday night – RHP Jake Thompson (1-3, 9.78) vs. RHP Tanner Roark (13-7, 2.99)
 
Tuesday night – RHP Jerad Eickhoff (9-12, 3.87) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (14-7, 2.92)
 
Wednesday night – LHP Adam Morgan (1-8, 6.50) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (9-9, 4.25)