Sixers Impress in Encouraging Though Largely Meaningless Preseason Win

Sixers Impress in Encouraging Though Largely Meaningless Preseason Win

No Andrew Bynum, no problem—we got Lavoy Allen and Spencer Hawes manning the middle, we got all we need. Okay, even John Mitchell probably wouldn't try to make that argument, but the Sixers put together an excellent pre-season performance against the Boston Celtics tonight (the first televised game of the pre-season) without their eventual starting center, with Allen and Hawes combining for 28 points on 11-16 shooting. The Sixers found separation in the third quarter and secured the win (and some free Big Macs, natch) by a comfortable 107-75 margin.
Of course, the usual caveats stand. Boston, a team that can barely even be bothered to show up to the regular season anymore, weren't exactly playing like it was Game Seven of the conference semis—KG sat, Rajon Rondo sleepwalked through the game, and Paul Pierce only seemed to care about hitting shots when there was a good chance of it pissing Evan Turner off. So all Philly mini-victories tonight must be taken with the necessary grain of salt.
All that said, there were some pretty encouraging moments to be had. Some notes:
- The Spence tonight certainly looks like the one we saw through the first few weeks of the '10-'11 season, with the Big GOPper scoring around the basket, hitting his outside jumper on the pick-and-pop, crashing the boards hard and making smart interior passes. Certainly not to say that we'll see a repeat performance by that Spence at the commencement of '12-'13, but good to know that guy is still in there somewhere. And holy shit, that hair! A mullet so glorious it's instantly impossible to picture Hawes without it—probably the second-best thing to happen to the Sixers this off-season.
- There was a lot of talk in the off-season that Nick Young was signed as a replacement for the ultimately departed Lou Williams, but it's clear to me that if there's a Lou.0 on this Sixers squad, it's Maalik Wayns. Pushing the ball with reckless abandon, taking ill-advised shots on the move, getting Malik and Zumoff inappropriately excited...it's like the Sweetness never left. Inconclusive thusfar on whether or not he'll eventually drive me as nuts as Lou did—the fact that he had eight assists tonight hopefully suggests he's a better distributor, at least—though if Coach Collins eventually ends up giving him the ball in late-game situations, I have a pretty good guess about that.
- Speaking of Swaggy P—who is this efficient, distributing Nick Young and where the hell is the remorseless gunner we were promised? My jaw was agape at some of the passes Young made tonight—not just because they were good (though most of them were), but because he was even attempting to make them. Young's lack of passing game has been a running joke among NBA statheads for virtually his entire career—Young averaged less than an assist a game last year, which as a guard getting big minutes is virtually impossible to do—but he was playing some seriously smart ball tonight, ending with 14 points on 5-7 shooting with two dimes (more if the bigs were able to handle some of his solid interior passes) and zero turnovers. The preseason offers no guarantees, of course, but this is really a sight to behold from our new two-guard.
- Young wasn't the only one doing some nifty passing tonight—an impressive eight players ended with multiple dimes, for 32 total assists on 43 total field goals, with special kudos going to Dorrell Wright for a couple ultra-pretty handoffs inside. Unselfish, high-IQ passing was such an important part of this team's success last year, and it's good to see signs that even with so many new roster pieces and the loss of a ball-handler of Andre Iguodala's capabilities, that might still be a hallmark of the '12-'13 season.   - I still love Evan Turner unconditionally and totally lack the ability to assess his play with any degree of objectivity.
Above all, it was great to see the guys in action on their home floor again, adorned this year with the 50th Anniversary insignia (which at first glance looked like a Dairy Queen "DQ" logo to me, but still), to say hello to the new guys and what's up to the old guys. Just over two weeks until the regular season tips off, and though there's no way to predict what the season's start will be like until we know for sure whether or not Bynum will be in playing condition, it's fun to have the Liberty Ballers back in our lives. Cleveland up next on Wednesday, than to the Barclays Center for a second game against the Nets on Friday. Let's go Sixers. 

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

CLEVELAND -- Stephen Strasburg shut down Cleveland for seven innings and bounced back from his only loss this season, leading the Washington Nationals to a 4-1 win over the Indians on Wednesday.

Strasburg (14-1) began the season with 13 straight wins before he was beaten by the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 21. The powerful right-hander shook off that blemish, holding the Indians to only three hits as the Nationals recovered after blowing a two-run lead in the ninth and losing on Tuesday night.

Washington rookie Trea Turner drove in three runs and Daniel Murphy hit his 20th homer off Carlos Carrasco (7-4), who nearly matched Strasburg but was done in by one bad inning.

Nationals reliever Blake Treinen stopped Cleveland's threat in the ninth, getting a game-ending double play for his major league save.

Strasburg walked one and struck out seven (see full recap)

Cardinals snap Familia's saves streak, rally past Mets 5-4
NEW YORK -- Yadier Molina and pinch-hitter Kolten Wong each stroked an RBI double in the ninth inning, and the St. Louis Cardinals ended Jeurys Familia's streak of 52 straight saves in rallying past the New York Mets 5-4 on Wednesday night.

Yoenis Cespedes hit a go-ahead homer off Adam Wainwright to cap a three-run comeback in the seventh that gave the Mets a 4-3 lead. But then Familia, who hadn't blown a regular-season save opportunity since July 30 last year, finally faltered.

Jedd Gyorko drew a one-out walk in the ninth and was replaced by pinch-runner Randal Grichuk. Molina hit the next pitch to deep center field, and Grichuk scored standing up to tie it.

Molina was thrown out at third by Familia (2-2) on pinch-hitter Jeremy Hazelbaker's comebacker, but Hazelbaker stole second and scored when Wong lined a double just inside the left-field line.

Familia's franchise-record saves streak was the third-longest in major league history behind Tom Gordon (54) and Eric Gagne (84).

Jonathan Broxton (3-2) tossed a scoreless eighth and Seung Hwan Oh got three quick outs for his sixth save (see full recap)

Padres hit 3 HRs to extend streak, beat Blue Jays 8-4
TORONTO -- Adam Rosales hit a two-run home run, Alex Dickerson and Brett Wallace each hit solo shots and the San Diego Padres beat the Toronto Blue Jays 8-4 on Wednesday, avoiding a three-game sweep.

San Diego extended its club-record streak of games with at least one home run to 25. It's the longest run since the 2002 Texas Rangers set a major league record by homering in 27 straight.

Luis Perdomo (5-4) allowed four runs and six hits in 5 2-3 innings to win back-to-back starts.

Wallace reached base three times. He was hit by a pitch and scored on Rosales' homer in the third, connected off R.A. Dickey in the fifth and hit an RBI single off Joe Biagini in the sixth.

Dickerson homered for the fourth time in four games when he connected off Franklin Morales in the eighth. He is first Padres rookie to homer in four straight games.

Dickey (7-12) allowed seven runs, six earned, and four hits in 5 2-3 innings. The knuckleballer is winless in three starts and has allowed six home runs in that span (see full recap).

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Earlier this week, Doug Pederson admitted cornerback Eric Rowe had some “hiccups” during the spring, and seemed to indicate they stemmed from learning a new defense. 

Rowe says that wasn’t the problem at all.

“It wasn’t the new defense that was giving me whatever hiccups [Pederson] was talking about,” Rowe said on Wednesday as he reported for his second training camp (see Day 3 observations). “It was just, I was having trouble breaking on top of the routes, specifically the curl routes. But fade ball, deep post, digs, I didn’t have any trouble there. It was just curl routes. I just knew I had to work on it after the OTAs.”

Rowe, 23, said the problem was technical; he just needed to get his feet down quicker.

Whatever the problem, whatever the hiccups, it seems as though Rowe’s standing within the organization and on the depth chart isn’t what it once was.

Many thought he would be a starter in 2016, like he was at the end of 2015, but that wasn’t the way things were in the spring. Instead, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks took those positions, and it looks like Nolan Carroll, returning from an injury, and rookie Jalen Mills, who hasn’t yet practiced in pads, are vying for playing time, too.

In back-to-back days earlier this week, Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz failed to mention Rowe’s name while listing players at the cornerback spot. Coincidental omissions or a vocalized unofficial depth chart?

Rowe could possibly go from starter to deep bench player, but that’s not what he’s planning on.

“I know I had a little ups and downs in OTAs, but now the pads are coming on,” Rowe said. “I feel like it’s a fresh start for me and I’m just ready to get out here.”

Pads go on Saturday.

“Right now, I think I still stand in a good position (with the team),” Rowe said. “Football is about the game with pads on. Now we’re really about to see in a couple days when we put the pads on.”

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

He looks like a small back. He's built like a small back. He wants to play like a big back.

Wendell Smallwood, trying to make the Eagles as a reserve tailback, stands 5-foot-10, 208 pounds, but he said he’s got a surprise for defenders that think he’s one of those itty-bitty backs that dances around looking pretty … until they get hit.

“I think that’s what most people expect,” he said Tuesday. “But when I actually put my head down and fight for those extra yards and get under guys, guys start to say, ‘Hey!’ They start to feel me a little bit.

“So I definitely think that started to show my last year in college, and I started becoming more of an inside zone type of runner instead of an outside runner.”

None of this should be a surprise considering Smallwood’s position coach is Duce Staley, who during his 10-year NFL career was much more interested in running over people than around them.

Smallwood is nowhere near as big as Staley, who played at about 235 to 240. But that’s the kind of back he wants to be.

“It’s definitely important to me and it’s definitely what Duce wants me to do,” Smallwood said. “He wants me to hit the holes and hit ‘em hard and that’s the reason he got me here.

“Duce, he doesn’t like small backs. He doesn’t. I don’t think he believes in those guys. He was a big boy. Running dudes over left and right. That’s what he wants.”

Smallwood played sparingly as a freshman at West Virginia, shared time with Rushel Shell as a sophomore, then took over last year when he led the Big 12 with 1,519 rushing yards and added nine touchdowns, 26 catches and a 6.4 rushing average.

The Eagles plucked him out of Morgantown in the fifth round, and in an uncertain running back picture, he’s got a realistic chance to not just make the team but also play a role.

Just don’t expect him to play like a typical guy his size.

“I don’t consider myself a small back anymore,” he said. “People have always said that and I kind of started to agree, but then I looked at some of the guys who are around and I’m not a small back at all.

“I’m not little and the running style I like to do is suited for a big back, and my catching kind of throws people off. I definitely think I’m a mixture of both.”

Smallwood ranked 13th in Division I in rushing yards last year, and his 6.4 average was tied for ninth among backs with at least 200 carries.

He said a lot of defenders expect him to be a finesse back, a guy who likes to juke safeties and linebackers instead of bowling them over.

“Get me going downhill and I’ll get you what I can get you,” he said. “A lot of [defenders] kind of take the easy route and think it’s going to be easy and then the rest of the game they’re going low and trying to take my legs out.”

Look at the Eagles’ running back picture.

The starter is Ryan Mathews, who is talented but injury-prone. The backup right now probably is Kenjon Barner, who has 34 career carries. Then there’s Darren Sproles, whose 3.8 average last year was his lowest since 2009 and second lowest of his 11-year career.

With a strong camp, there’s no reason Smallwood can’t work himself into that picture.

The last frontier for the Northern Delaware native is blitz pickup. Something he was never asked to do at WVU.

“I don’t think I did basically any in college,” he said. “They didn’t ask me to block at all. I was mainly running routes.

“But as soon as I got here, Duce emphasized, ‘If you want to get on the field, you’re going to block. If you’re not going to block, you’re not going to play.'”

Staley’s No. 22 wasn’t available, but Smallwood is happy to wear the jersey number of another one of his favorite backs growing up, Correll Buckhalter’s No. 28, who he seems quite similar to.

It’s not fair to compare Smallwood to Staley, Buckhalter, Brian Westbrook or any other former Eagles back until the pads go on and we see what he’s really made of.

But Smallwood said he’s thrilled Staley is his coach and said there’s nobody he’d rather be playing for.

“I think he’s a great fit for me as a coach,” Smallwood said. “I need a kind of guy who drives me, tough guy, who’s not going to let up, who’s going to keep his foot on my back. I definitely need that kind of coaching.

“Just being around him growing up and seeing what he did when he was here and how he runs and him being one of my favorite backs, I was kind of star-struck to be around him, and now he’s my coach. It’s definitely a great situation for me.”