Sixers Liftoff Against Red Hot Rockets

Sixers Liftoff Against Red Hot Rockets

Not unlike our own 76ers, the Rockets got off to a rocky start this
season. Yao Ming went all of five games before calling it a season
(injury, natch), and Houston stumbled out to a 5-12 record. Even when
they last met the Liberty Ballers on February 16, the Rockets were
sitting four games below .500, their playoff chances looking remote.

As the saying goes, they've looked like a different team since then.
Since falling to the Sixers 114-105, Houston has been playing basketball
at a .765 clip, winning 13 of their last 17. Their four losses in that
span have been by an average of five points. And don't look now, but the
Rockets are creeping back into the playoff picture, a mere two games
out of the eight seed in the West, with the rest of the field visible in
their rear view mirror.

This is a dangerous, desperate team to welcome into your building as the calendar turns to April.

In their last go-round with the Sixers, Houston was guided by a
somewhat unlikely scoring duo. Villanova product Kyle Lowry, averaging
13.5 points per game for his career, unloaded a career high 36 on the
Sixers. Lowry was six of nine from beyond the arc, his only three misses
en route to a 15 for 18 shooting night from the field. Simply put, that
can't happen again.

Luis Scola, the club's second leading scorer this season at 18.3 per, dropped 26. Only one other player reached double digits.

Despite their inability to contain two guys who accounted for over
50% of the Rockets' scoring, the Sixers won the game on the strength of a
total team effort, as we've become accustomed to seeing. Andre Iguodala
had a tough night shooting the rock, going 20% from the field, but had
12 rebounds and 10 assists to go with his 13 for a triple-double. Jrue
Holiday added 20, while Elton Brand went 10-11 for a double-double.

Yet the stars of the game started the night on the bench. Lou
Williams and Thad Young each scored 19, part of seven total Sixers in
double digits.

Oddly enough, it's Spencer Hawes who may be one of the keys tonight.
The big guy scored a bunch of clutch baskets before fouling out in
Monday night's impressive win over the Bulls, and he had one of his best
nights of the season against the Rockets, going for 17 and 11. Brad
Miller and Jordan Hill, Houston's top big men in lieu of Yao, leave a
lot to be desired—on both ends of the floor.

With only eight games remaining, the Sixers appear to be locking into
the sixth seed. The Hawks continue to hold a comfortable four game
advantage, and barring a Philly collapse or New York surge, Doug
Collins' crew shouldn't be overly concerned with sliding any further.

That doesn't mean there won't be a sense of urgency on the court
tonight. A streaking team like the Rockets are a good test for the young
Sixers, whose play has been a little up and down of late. If they
intend to compete in and perhaps win a playoff series or two, they're
going to need to be able to beat quality teams back-to-back at some
point.

AP Photo

Ben Simmons working out with LeBron James

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Ben Simmons working out with LeBron James

Ben Simmons' fellow NBA rookies may not think too highly of him, but when the best basketball player on the planet is giving him pointers, he must be doing something right.

On Tuesday, a photo of Simmons and LeBron James dribbling side by side started making the rounds on Instagram. That's right. The Sixers' number-one overall draft pick and franchise savior is apparently training with the four-time league MVP and reigning world champion.

#Klutch @klutchsports

A photo posted by Ben Simmons (@bensimmons) on

Those workouts continued on Wednesday, when 12-time All-Star Dwayne Wade posted a photo of himself, Simmons and James, as well as Richard Jefferson and Jordan McRae. That's some good company for a first-year player to keep.

Good day of work!

A photo posted by dwyanewade (@dwyanewade) on

What does all of this mean for Simmons and the Sixers? Hard to say, but it can't be a bad thing that the rookie point-forward is spending time with a pair of future first-ballot Hall of Famers. Surely he must be learning something.

That's good news for the Sixers, who hope that Simmons can even come close to living up to the lofty comparisons some have drawn to James already.

Tonight's Lineup: Tommy Joseph starts for 1st time against Gio Gonzalez

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Tonight's Lineup: Tommy Joseph starts for 1st time against Gio Gonzalez

Tommy Joseph is back in the starting lineup … as he's expected to be for most of the final month of the season. Joseph bats fourth behind third baseman Maikel Franco.

Joseph did not start Tuesday night in the Phillies' 3-2 loss to the Washington Nationals. The 25-year-old is hitting .251 with 17 home runs and 34 RBIs.

The slugger has a significantly higher average against left-handed pitching than righties, despite clubbing 12 of his 17 homers against right-handed pitchers.

Joseph has yet to faced Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez.

In other lineup notes, Tyler Goeddel gets the start in left field and will hit eighth, while A.J. Ellis gets his second start as a Phillie. He'll catch Adam Morgan.

Here is the full lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Freddy Galvis, SS
7. A.J. Ellis, C
8. Tyler Goeddel, LF
9. Adam Morgan, P

For more on tonight's game, read Steven Tydings' game notes.

Villanova season preview: It's Zach Bednarczyk team now

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Villanova Athletic Media Relations

Villanova season preview: It's Zach Bednarczyk team now

VILLANOVA, Pa. — When star quarterback John Robertson suffered a season-ending injury early in Villanova’s 2015 campaign, Zach Bednarczyk was thrown into a difficult spot.

How could an inexperienced redshirt freshman be expected to replace the reigning Walter Payton Award winner? Could the Wildcats still accomplish all of their lofty preseason goals?

In the end, Bednarczyk probably handled it as well as could be expected, performing admirably in some spots (like when he spearheaded a late comeback against rival Delaware just after Robertson got hurt) and poorly in others (like when Penn upset Villanova for the first time in a century the very next week).

But now, after getting almost a full year of experience under his belt, Villanova head coach Andy Talley is expecting Bednarczyk to become a better, smarter player — and, most of all, someone who can lead the Wildcats into the FCS playoffs in Talley’s final season.

“I think the thing that he did last year was that he was a little bit of a gun-slinger,” Talley said. “He threw the ball around a little bit. Now he’s more judicious with where he throws the football, his outlet receivers. He’s not trying to gun the ball in all of the time and make a play.”

While Talley would certainly like his QB to cut down on some mistakes — he threw seven interceptions last season — he does appreciate that Bednarczyk possesses some of the same playmaking skills that made Robertson such a star at ’Nova, including the ability to gain yards on the ground.

In his first season last year, Bednarczyk led the Wildcats in rushing with 515 yards and five touchdowns while throwing for 1,396 yards and 10 touchdowns en route to nabbing CAA co-Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

This season, which begins for Villanova Saturday at Pittsburgh, Talley hopes he can match those running totals while becoming a 2,000-yard passer with fewer interceptions.

“Last year he was rookie of the year in the CAA but he really could have been an all-league player if he didn’t throw the ball in some bad spots,” Talley said. “I think he learned the hard way by having the ball go against him. In the last game of the year, we had a chance to tie for the championship and go to the playoffs if we had beaten JMU. And he threw two picks that went back for touchdowns. So he’s sort of learned his craft the hard way.”

That season-ending loss to James Madison still stings for the Wildcats, who finished with a 6-5 overall record and missed out on qualifying for the FCS playoffs for just the third time in eight years.

That’s something they hope to reverse in 2016 under the growing leadership of Bednarczyk, who agrees with his coach that he needs to become a smarter player.

“Last year I definitely took too many risks,” the sophomore QB said. “This year, although I still want to throw the ball around because that’s my strong suit, I definitely don’t want to force anything. I’ll try to cut back on my turnovers. If it looks like it’s too tight of a window to squeeze it this year, I’ll just tuck it and run.”

Bednarczyk will certainly need to be poised in the pocket with Talley admitting that the Wildcats aren’t as deep at receiver as they’ve been in years past. 

At the same time, he may not have to put too many points on the board, considering how good Villanova’s defense can be. Although the unit graduated star linebacker Don Cherry, who’s been in preseason camp with the Eagles, they still boast a veteran unit that includes linebacker Austin Calitro and defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon.

Kpassagnon, a 6-foot-7, 290-pound NFL prospect, is an especially intriguing player for the Wildcats.

“I think all the pro teams have been through to see him,” Talley said. “He can run. He’s tough. He diagnoses well. He’s in our business school, so he’s smart as can be. And he carries that over to the field.”

Kpassagnon, who was named to the CAA preseason all-conference team, is excited for his senior season but admitted that helping the Wildcats rise to the top of a loaded league won’t be easy. Villanova, which opens league play Sept. 17 vs. Towson, was picked fourth behind Richmond, William & Mary and James Madison.

“There’s no dropoff in competition throughout the CAA,” Kpassagnon said. “In some other leagues, there are a couple of teams that you know will obviously win the conference. But with ours, you never know.”

Of course, Villanova has aspirations beyond just winning the league. As always, the Wildcats — who check in at No. 23 in the STATS preseason Top 25 — will look to make a deep run in the FCS playoffs and, perhaps, try to send Talley out with his second national title.

“The goal is definitely a national championship,” Kpassagnon said. “We all believe we can do it. It’s something we have in the back of our heads.”