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.

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH --- Vince Velasquez wasn’t able to stand the heat Sunday afternoon.

The game-time temperature was 89 degrees with humidity to match at PNC Park. The Phillies' right-hander admitted he didn’t handle the weather well.

"You're going to go through various conditions, and it's something that you've got to really take into consideration -- to really lock in, stay hydrated because it can mentally drain you,” Velasquez said. “It kind of took a toll on me but I have to make the best of what I've got.”

Velasquez wound up pitching six innings in the blistering heat but did not factor in the decision as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Phillies 5-4 on pinch-hitter Adam Frazier’s leadoff home run in the seventh inning, his first in the major leagues, off fellow rookie Edubray Ramos (see Instant Replay).

Velasquez had his worst of his five starts since coming off the disabled list June 26, allowing four runs and seven hits while walking four and striking out five. He threw 107 pitches, 64 for strikes.

In his first four outings after begin activated, he was 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA to raise his record to 8-2.

“Just looking at his body language, he showed that he was struggling to find the strike zone,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “He didn't have his best location. He did a good job; he just made a couple bad pitches when they scored the two runs. Obviously, he wasn't at his best, but he kept us in the game.”

While that kind of outing can breed confidence in a 24-year-old pitcher, Velasquez took no consolation in it. He was bothered about not being able to hold a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, giving up a tying two-run home run to Matt Joyce.

“I knew it was my last inning when I went out there and I have to be able to close it out there,” Velasquez said. “I’m disappointed in that. I need to be better in that situation.”

Joyce’s blast came on pitch after Starling Marte doubled on an 0-2 pitch. That, too, annoyed Velasquez.

“That's just a matter of finishing at-bats,” Velasquez said. “You've got to lock in on 0-2 counts when you're ahead. You've got to finish the at-bat. Knowing that that was my last inning, that's where you have to bear down and give it all you've got.”

Ramos then gave up the game-winning homer to Frazier an inning later, the first long ball given up by the 23-year-old right-hander in 14 career outings. The Phillies wound up losing two of three games in the series and are 3-7 since the All-Star break to drop to 10 games under .500 at 45-55 through 100 games.

“It’s a game we should have won but I put us in position to lose it,” Velasquez said.

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

KINGMAN, Ariz. -- Four people were killed Sunday when bus carrying Dallas Cowboys staffers but no players collided with a van on a northwestern Arizona highway.

The fatalities were passengers in the van, Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Quentin Mehr said. But the bus occupants emerged uninjured.

"All on the bus came through OK with some bumps and bruises," Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple (DAHL'-rimp-ul) said in an email.

Dalrymple said the bus was only carrying members of the franchise's staff but would not say how many. There were no players on board.

The two vehicles collided in the afternoon on U.S. 93, about 30 miles north of the city of Kingman, according to DPS.

The crash shut down at least one lane of the highway that serves as the main route between Phoenix and Las Vegas.

The bus was on its way to a Dallas Cowboys fan event in Las Vegas. Charles Cooper, manager of GameWorks entertainment center in Vegas, said the session with 50 to 75 fans was scheduled for 3 p.m. PDT. People were already waiting when the president of a Las Vegas Cowboys fan club called to relay news of the accident. The event was subsequently canceled. Cooper says the team mascot was supposed to appear.

After the Las Vegas stop, the bus was scheduled to go on to Oxnard, California for the team's training camp. Members of the organization typically take a bus two weeks before the camp starts and make stops along the way.

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Jeremy Hellickson may be staying in the NL East past the trade deadline. 

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Phillies are scouting the Marlins' minor league teams in advance of a possible Hellickson deal. 

This comes on the heels of a report from a radio host in Miami that Marlins starter Wei-Yin Chen may need Tommy John surgery. Chen left with an elbow sprain during Wednesday's loss to the Phillies and was placed on the disabled list. Ironically, Chen was starting against Hellickson, who will face Jarred Cosart in place of Chen on Monday.

Hellickson's value rebounded significantly this season after struggling in Arizona and Tampa Bay the last few seasons. After dealing with a shoulder injury, Hellickson pitched to ERAs above 4.50 in each season from 2013-15, leading to the Diamondbacks trading him to the Phillies for limited value. 

However, in 20 starts, Hellickson, who will be a free agent after the year, has anchored the Phillies' rotation, bringing a 3.84 ERA over 119 ⅔ innings into Monday's scheduled start. He also has a nearly career-best strikeout rate and has regained his signature command that made him a strong performer with the Rays.

The Phillies are aided this trade deadline by a lack of starting pitching options available on the market. With many teams in contention looking for an additional starter, Hellickson is an attractive piece who could help a team in a pennant race.