Sixers Hold Off Mavericks With Smallest Margin of Victory Ever

Sixers Hold Off Mavericks With Smallest Margin of Victory Ever

Don't let the final 100-98, two-point scoring margin fool you—this 76ers
/ Mavericks game was a whole lot closer than that. Not only was it neck
and neck all the way through, but the game came down to the final
possession (despite the Sixers being up nine with just over three
minutes to go), where the Mavericks got two chances to steal the victory
from the Sixers, both of which seemed nearly inevitable until they just
didn't quite happen. It was a coin flip at best, but the Sixers escaped
with the win, moving to 9-6 on the season.

This thing really
did seem over when Jrue Holiday connected on a long two to put the
Ballers up nine with about 3:20 to go. But an O.J. Mayo three here, a
Vince Carter putback there, and the Mavs had suddenly cut the score down
to two, with Mayo drawing a foul with three seconds left and stepping
to the free throw line to likely send the game into overtime. But the
87% FT shooter missed his first, necessitating him missing the second to
try to get the team a putback. Instead, Mayo's second miss spilled out
to the good-shooting forward Jae Crowder behind the arc, and Crowder
quickly squared up a three for the win. The heave looked good on its
descent—Mark Cuban certainly looked like he expected it to connect—but
somehow it spilled off the rim as time expired. Breathe.

The
Mavs' late surge threatened to turn sour what would have otherwise been a
fairly sweet Sixers victory. Sure, it would've been a tight home win
against a middling Western team, but it was done on the backs of our
core young guys—Jrue, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young—and as Mike Prada of
Bullets Forever tweeted,
the development of those guys (esp. Jrue and Evan) is way more
important for the Sixers than wins and losses. Still, wins remain
infinitely preferable, especially when the game seemed good as wrapped a
couple minutes earlier, so we here at the Level appreciate whatever
divine forces caused that Crowder shot to rim out, thus allowing us to
dwell on the game's positives.

For instance: Evan Turner scored a
team-high 22 points tonight. More notably, he did it in only 12 shots,
hitting eight of them (including two threes) and going 4-5 from the
line. Turner has now scored in double digits for seven straight games,
the longest such streak in his career. (He's also set the longest streak
of his career with multiple threes in a game, with, uh, two.) Courtesy
of Derek Bodner,
here are Turner's numbers over that seven-game stretch: 16.9 ppg, 6.2
rpg, 5 apg, 48.9% FFG. (He's also 41.6% from three and 84% from the
line.) If Evan put those numbers up for a whole season, combined with
the solid defense he's been playing and the Sixers' winning record, he'd
be a borderline All-Star contender.

[RELATED: VIDEO: Evan Turner Hits His 'MJ Move,' Cracks Joke at Doug Collins]

Of course, seven games is
not a whole season, and we've seen Evan play in hot stretches before
only to revert to sloppy, inefficient, haphazard play for equally long
periods immediately afterwards. But the sample size keeps getting
larger, and in 15 games so far this season, only two or three could you
call real duds. And as well as we may have seen him play for a week or
so at a time before, we've never seen him shoot the ball like
this—especially from deep, where he only made 11 threes all last year,
but already has ten in 15 games this year. It's not concrete yet, but
it's very, very encouraging.

And then there's Jrue. The Damaja
didn't have his best game in this one, turning the ball over six times
and coming up short on some big possessions down the stretch, but he
still ended with 18 and 7 on 7-13 shooting, and check out his
numbers over the last seven, again courtesy of Bodner: 18.9 ppg, 9.4
apg, 3.3 TOpg, 46.1 FG%, 41.2 3PT%. And with his 20 and seven tonight,
Thad's numbers over that stretch are pretty damn solid too: 15.8 ppg,
8.3 rpg, 52.1% shooting. Oh, and not coincidentally, the Sixers went 5-2
over that seven-game span.

Of course, as we focus on the
positives, we should probably point out that there's still a reason that
the Sixers are coming so close to giving some of these wins away, and
the primary reason—aside from turnovers tonight, of which we had an
uncharacteristic 17—is a lack of production from the bench and the
center spot. Dorell Wright and Nick Young had some nice moments on
defense, but were relative non-entities on offense, shooting a combined
2-10 and 0-3 from three. Dorell has been particularly disappointing,
since it seems like if he's not squaring up behind the arc, he doesn't
have a clue what to do—opponents are running him off, and when he fakes
and drives to the basket, it almost always seems to result in disaster.
Maalik Wayns scored a career-high ten tonight, but his qualifications as
a backup PG still seem limited, and right now all he can do is play the
homeless man's Lou Williams for about 12 minutes a game as Coach
Collins figures out how to steal minutes on the bench for Evan and Jrue.


The Sixers actually did get some good combined minutes at the
pivot tonight from Lavoy Allen, Spencer Hawes and Kwame Brown, but it's
bullpen by committee for Collins with those three guys, and they're
always giving up something having any one of them on the floor. Hawes
and Allen had some moments offensively, but couldn't keep Mavs center
Chris Kaman from doing damage in the post, so Collins brought in Kwame.
The K-Man did slow down Kaman, and even had a couple putback dunks for a
six-point, eight-rebound final line (season highs, and likely to stay
as such for a while), but also missed a couple easy looks around the
basket, and proved a late-game liability when Dallas coach Rick Carlisle
resorted to Hacking-a-Kwame in the fourth quarter. There's no easy
solution to the team's center problem—at least until that guy with the
big hair decides he's good to lace up—so Collins will have to continue
mixing and matching and hoping at the five and hoping not to get exposed
too badly on either end while doing so.

Next up: The Sixers
visit Charlotte for their first game this season against the
surprisingly decent Bobcats. Not a lot of gimmes remaining on the
schedule for the 2012 calendar year, but a lot of winnable games still.
If Evan, Jrue and Thad can keep up their hot play—I'm gonna resist all
kinds of temptation and not refer to them as any kind of Big Three just
yet—I like our chances in that one.

Tales of Carlos Ruiz’s generosity still coming out of Phillies clubhouse

Tales of Carlos Ruiz’s generosity still coming out of Phillies clubhouse

NEW YORK – A.J. Ellis started (and starred in) his first game for the Phillies on Sunday afternoon (see game recap).
 
Carlos Ruiz has already been in the Dodgers’ lineup.
 
Initial reactions to the swap of backup catchers on Thursday has subsided, but there are still anecdotes worth sharing as it pertains to Ruiz’s impact in the Phillies’ clubhouse.
 
Here are a couple, compliments of Maikel Franco and Freddy Galvis.
 
According to Franco, Ruiz viewed it as his responsibility to help young Latin players learn the ropes in the big leagues.
 
When Franco, a native of the Dominican Republic, came to the big leagues for the first time two years ago, Ruiz, from Panama, immediately reached out to him. Franco was just 22. Ruiz was 35 and had eight major-league seasons on his resume and a World Series ring on his finger.
 
The Phillies were on a road trip and Ruiz told Franco to meet him in the hotel lobby one morning. They got in a cab and ended up at a stylish mall where Ruiz proceeded to purchase Franco some road attire – a suit, some nice shirts and a couple of ties.
 
“It was a beautiful thing he did for me,” Franco said. “Chooch was so good to me. I will never forget that day.
 
“The day he got traded, I called him. He had trouble talking because he was emotional. He almost cried. That boy is different. He’s special.
 
“I still have the suit. It is even more special now.”
 
Galvis also felt the warmth of Ruiz’s generosity.
 
He unexpectedly made the big club out of spring training in 2012 as a fill-in for injured Chase Utley.
 
There’s a lot of learning in your first season in the majors. Ruiz became Galvis’ tour guide.
 
“Every time we went to a new ballpark, he made sure to go with me on the first day so I would know where the entrance was, how to get to the clubhouse, things like that,” Galvis said. “He was always looking out for you.”
 
When Galvis broke camp with the club, he told Galvis, ‘You’re in the major leagues, you have to look good.’
 
“He took me out and bought me four suits, eight shirts and eight ties,” Galvis said with wide eyes.
 
That’s better than Franco did.
 
“Well, I was the only young guy on the team at that time,” Galvis said. “Chooch was good to me. That’s why I was sad to see him go, but also happy because he has a chance to win another World Series.”
 
Galvis, from Venezuela, and Ruiz were like brothers. At the all-star break in 2015, Galvis traveled to Panama with Ruiz for a few days of R&R.
 
In January, Ruiz is planning to travel back to Panama. Ruiz and his wife are expecting a child.
 
“I am going to be the godfather,” Galvis said proudly.

Jahad Thomas to lead crowded Temple backfield

Jahad Thomas to lead crowded Temple backfield

The way Jahad Thomas remembers it, the football culture in Elizabeth, New Jersey, was vibrant. Friday night meant flocking to Williams Field to watch Elizabeth High School play. In Elizabeth, football dominates while basketball and baseball take a back seat.

Elizabeth has produced several NFL players, including former Eagles defensive coordinator and Jets head coach Todd Bowles, but two that came to mind for Thomas are linebacker Khaseem Greene and running back Raymond Graham, both of whom he watched growing up.

"You know, every Friday night, we looked forward to going to them games after Pop Warner practice," Thomas said. "And just knowing that we were going to be in those shoes one day … just knowing that we had some big shoes to fill, we just loved it. We grasped the opportunity and took advantage of it."

Thomas, Temple's top offensive weapon, finds himself in a position where the Owls will have to find someone to fill his shoes soon enough. Now, the senior tailback is among the Owls' core leadership group with three sophomore running backs behind him who are expected to receive their fair amount of touches in 2016.

Both Thomas and head coach Matt Rhule said Temple will be employing a rotation in the backfield with Thomas, Ryquell Armstead, Jager Gardner and David Hood. Rhule called Armstead a "co-starter," Hood a "jack-of-all-trades" and also praised Gardner.

"They are game-ready now," Rhule said of the sophomores. "They're battle-tested a little bit more, so we'll put them in there and not even think about it."

As for Thomas, the plan still is to use him as the feature back, but move him around the field to create mismatches and other creative ways to get him the ball in space. With the depth Temple has at running back, it allows offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas the opportunity to put Thomas in the slot and not lose much by not having him in the backfield.

For Thomas, who was hurt a bit last season, the committee also allows him a chance to make plays but also help preserve his body without having to carry the ball 20 times per game.

It'd be easy for Thomas to be selfish after rushing for 1,262 yards and 1,677 all-purpose yards, third most in program history, and scoring 19 total touchdowns last season. But with Rhule asking more from him in a leadership role, he's embracing guiding Armstead, Gardner and Hood and wants to set a standard for the trio to follow.

"Just being a mentor to them guys," Thomas said. "Just show them how guys before me showed me when they were here, just lead by example, show them what a leader is. I've been here four years. I've seen a lot, I've been through a lot here. Just try to be those guys' older brother. That's what I try to be for those guys."

Last season, while Thomas was the star of the group, Hood, a redshirt sophomore, did contribute when called upon. Against Tulane, a Temple blowout victory, the 5-foot-9 tailback ran for 47 yards on 16 carries, mainly in mop-up duty, while adding a 10-yard touchdown reception.

When Thomas, dealing with some bumps and bruises, struggled against Memphis, Rhule turned to the hot hand in Hood, who rewarded the head coach with a 14-61-1 day on the ground.

Hood described Temple's backfield as group that brings a little bit of everything. Both Armstead and Gardner are power backs, Hood said, while Thomas and himself can do it all.

"We just got a lot of guys who are ready to go attack," said Hood, who had 272 all-purpose yards and two total touchdowns in 2015. "We got a lot of depth, so there's always competition every day, just fighting for a spot. Everyone is talented and able to be a starter, so every day it's lace up and play your best to get the spot."

The Owls' offense lost a dimension with the loss of lead wideout Robby Anderson, who went undrafted but is currently enjoying a fine preseason with the New York Jets.

While the younger players such as Ventell Bryant and Adonis Jennings will be relied on to help out the passing attack, the running game is the heart of the offense Rhule wants to deploy. And the Owls know how dangerous they can be on the ground with what senior quarterback Phillip Walker, a longtime teammate of Thomas' dating back to as far back as high school, called a "four-headed monster."

"At any moment, any one of them can have a big game," said Walker, who himself remains a key compenent of Temple's offense (see story). "Jager had a big game last year vs. SMU. Ryquell was just consistent each game every time he played last year. Jahad just had a great season. And David Hood stepped in when Jahad got hurt vs. Memphis and played well and blocked very well on third down.

"You don't know what you're going to get from those guys each week. You just come to expect that they're all going to play good. I think we have a good group of guys and they're all consistent."

Dave Zangaro predicts Eagles' 53-man roster 3.0

Dave Zangaro predicts Eagles' 53-man roster 3.0

The Eagles are down to one final preseason game before they’ll have to figure out their final 53-man roster. 

But no need to wait, I have it right here. Or at least what I think it will look like after watching all of OTAs, training camp and the most important preseason games. The team made it a little easier with several key cuts on Sunday (see story)

Let’s jump right in: 

Quarterback (3): Sam Bradford, Chase Daniel, Carson Wentz 
With apologies to the law firm of McLeod Bethel-Thompson, this was pretty easy. 

Running back (4): Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Kenjon Barner, Wendell Smallwood
I toyed with the idea of taking Smallwood off the roster. I thought perhaps the team will try to stash him on IR – that quad could always act up again – and instead take Byron Marshall on the 53. But I just couldn’t pull the trigger. For now, the team will have to hope Mathews and Barner can carry the load while Smallwood gets caught up. 

Receiver (5): Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Josh Huff, Dorial Green-Beckham, Paul Turner
I’m only taking five because the unit hasn’t been very strong. The team’s decision to cut Rueben Randle and Chris Givens on Sunday wasn’t very surprising to me. They were on prove-it deals and had only proven what the Eagles probably feared. Instead, the rookie Turner is on the roster, which is an important message for the team: that effort matters. Still, expect the team to keep a watchful eye on the waiver wire here.  

Tight end (4): Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton, Chris Pantale
Pantale isn’t nearly as good a tight end as the other three, but Doug Pederson seems determined to have him on the roster as a fullback and special teamer. Four tight ends and four running backs is tough to swallow in terms of roster spots available, but I think that’s the way it’s going. Look for Burton to have an increased role in the offense this year too. 

Offensive line (9): Jason Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Allen Barbre, Stefen Wisniewski, Matt Tobin, Halapoulavaati Vaitai, Josh Andrews
I left Lane Johnson off this list because he’ll probably be suspended by the season opener and won’t count against the 53-man roster. Wisniewski will be the backup at all three interior line positions. After cutting Andrew Gardner on Sunday, the team will keep Tobin and Andrews as reserve linemen. Andrews played guard on Saturday – likely a chance for him to prove he’s not just a center. Keep an eye on tight end-turned-tackle Dillon Gordon too. He has an outside chance to make the roster and a very good shot to stick on the practice squad; very athletic and versatile player. 

Defensive end (6): Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham, Steven Means, Marcus Smith, Bryan Braman
Six defensive ends is a lot, but at this point, Braman isn’t really a defensive end. He’s just a special teams ace. And with the rotation at DE, I think it’s more important to have ends than it is to have extra players in the secondary. If the team is able to trade either Means or Smith, then this number could be down to five. 

Defensive tackle (4): Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Beau Allen, Taylor Hart
During training camp, Jim Schwartz said to not count out Allen and Hart just because they didn’t seem to be scheme fits. Both have proven him right this preseason. Sure, undrafted rookies Destiny Vaeao and Aziz Shittu have looked good, but they won’t be able to contribute as much this season as the veterans. At least one of those rookies should hold down a practice squad spot. Mike Martin was the third defensive tackle for a long time but was released on Sunday, after a few weeks of a knee injury. 

Linebacker (6): Jordan Hicks, Mychal Kendricks, Nigel Bradham, Stephen Tulloch, Najee Goode, Quintin Gause
Tulloch will be the primary backup at the MIKE, while Goode and Gause, the undrafted rookie from Rutgers, get the nods at the backup outside ‘backer positions for now. But expect the Eagles to take a good look at the waiver wire for linebackers. 

Cornerback (5): Leodis McKelvin, Nolan Carroll, Ron Brooks, Jalen Mills, Eric Rowe
If the Eagles keep five, I think these will be the five. Rookie C.J. Smith has been impressive but could use a year on the practice squad. I thought Denzel Rice, thanks to his special teams contributions, had an outside shot, but he was cut on Sunday. 

Safety (4): Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Chris Maragos, Jaylen Watkins
A little light at safety, but Mills or Rowe could probably move back there if needed. Really, Jenkins and McLeod aren’t going to come off the field much as long as they’re healthy; there won’t be a rotation. If there were to be five safeties to make the team, sixth-rounder Blake Countess would be the next one up. I think Ed Reynolds is a longer shot at this point.  

Specialists (3): Donnie Jones, Jon Dorenbos, Caleb Sturgis
After an impressive training camp, Sturgis takes down Cody Parkey for the kicker job. 

Practice squad: Destiney Vaeao, C.J. Smith, Dillon Gordon, David Watford, Marcus Johnson, Darrell Greene, Myke Tavarres, Blake Countess, Aaron Grymes, Byron Marshall.