Sixers lose to Wizards in first of hopefully many respectable losses this season

Sixers lose to Wizards in first of hopefully many respectable losses this season

The Golden State loss was embarrassing. Half-hearted offense, quarter-hearted defense, giving up open looks and highlight plays and letting eight-year Sixer Andre Iguodala have arguably his best-ever game on the Wells Fargo Center court wearing another team's jersey...not so good, Al. We want to lose this year, sure, but we don't want to have to lose like that.

Last night, I'd say, was infinitely preferable. Yes, they failed to kill off the ailing Washington Wizards, and yes, they probably could have gotten a hand up on defense or a body back in transition a couple more times than they did--giving up 116 points on your home floor is rarely totally justifiable--but they at least fought back throughout, kept it close for at least three quarters, and ultimately let themselves get beat by a more talented team. In the end, it's all good.

John Wall--the boy can ball. After an exceptional first half against the Sixers last week, the former #1 overall pick (and ostensible Evan Turner rival of sorts) played four strong quarters tonight against the Liberty Ballers, flashing the blinding speed and excellent drive-and-dish instincts that make him so spellbinding in the open court, but also showcasing a shooting stroke rarely seen across his first three seasons in the league, hitting 5-8 from downtown, easily his career high in threes for a game. (For reference, Wall went 3-42 from deep for the entire 2011-'12 season.)

All that said, he didn't outshine Evan Turner all that badly this time. Unlike most of their matchups, in which it's been abundantly clear who went #1 overall in 2010 and who went #2, Evan was equally on his game tonight, showcasing his much-improved mid-range game and not forcing matters in the half-court, ending with 24 points (on sparkling 9-13 shooting, including six free throw attempts and even his first three-pointer of the season), seven rebounds and four assists, with just one turnover. Evan is now shooting a mind-blowing (and likely unsustainable) 61% from two-point range this season, showing just how much he's improved his overall shot selection in Brett Brown's offense.

Evan's production last night was mostly matched by Spencer Hawes, who continued his strong start to the season with 23 points (on 9-16 shooting) with 13 points, five assists and a couple blocks--though he also chipped in six TO's, at least two or three of which were of the worst kind of head-smacking Hawesian quality. Michael Carter-Williams similarly put up big numbers, including 19 points, seven assists and five boards, but his shot selection was a little suspect at times, and he needed 21 attempts for his 19 points.

Perhaps the best sign of the night for the Sixers was that James Anderson finally got himself off the schneid a little, hitting a couple threes and scoring 13 points total, easily his best production in a Sixers game this season, amidst not particularly stiff competition. Really, of the Sixers' main offensive cogs, the only one who couldn't really find a groove last night was previous Wizard-killer Thaddeus Young, who struggled through a 3-11 night and couldn't seem to find himself any room to sneak in around the basket, getting badly outmuscled on both ends by the Washington frontcourt of Nene and Marcin Gortat.

And really, it wasn't the offense that failed the Sixers tonight, it was the defense. Slow rotations, missed assignments and failures to get back in transition were the biggest culprits--though admittedly, much of the latter had to do with the Sixers' 20 turnovers on the evening, which started far too many easy looks back the other way. Seven Wizards scored in double figures, which probably means that the defensive blame is across-the-board for the Sixers for this one.

But whatever. Plenty of teaching points for Brett Brown in this one, and plenty of Big Macs for the folks in attendance. It was a fun game to watch, it further inflated the stats of eventual trade targets Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes, and in the end, we're one loss closer to contending for Wiggins, Randle and Parker. It's all love, and we can only hope for more of the same for the rest of the season.

Sixers-Pelicans 5 things: Joel Embiid takes on dominating Anthony Davis

Sixers-Pelicans 5 things: Joel Embiid takes on dominating Anthony Davis

76ers (4-18) vs. Pelicans (7-15)
8 p.m. on TCN and CSNPhilly.com, Pregame Live starts at 7:30

The Sixers will try to snap their eight-game losing skid when they take on the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center on Thursday night.

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Walking wounded, part II
After the Sixers were limited to nine available players in Tuesday's loss to the beat-up Memphis Grizzlies, things won't be much better in the health department in New Orleans.

Sure, Joel Embiid's expected return after sitting out the second half of a back-to-back set for rest will be a welcome boost. However, the Sixers are still dealing with a host of other ailments that will likely limit them to just 10 healthy bodies on Thursday night.

The Pelicans surely won't shed a tear for the Sixers because they have their own injury issues. New Orleans could have as many as five players sidelined, including former Sixer Jrue Holiday with turf toe.

2. The next big thing
All of the injuries won't decrease the game's intrigue, mainly because of the matchup at center between Embiid and Anthony Davis.

Embiid is coming off a subpar performance in his last outing against the Denver Nuggets, but the big man has still been as advertised this season. The rookie is putting up 18.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 23.3 minutes a game. Embiid is also shooting 46.8 percent from the field and an even 50.0 percent from three-point range.

On the other side, Davis has been an absolute monster for the Pelicans this season, even if it hasn't translated into many wins. 

The three-time All-Star leads the NBA in scoring with 31.6 points per game on 50.3 percent shooting. While carrying the scoring load, Davis has still been able to average a career-high 11.5 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 2.2 assists and 1.8 steals a night.

This should be the first of many meetings between two big men that look to dominate the future of the league.

3. Glass repair
With Embiid out on Tuesday, the Sixers were dominated 69-54 in the rebounding battle against the Grizzlies.

They should find things a little easier in that department against the Pelicans. Despite Davis' best efforts on the boards, New Orleans has allowed a league-high 48.9 rebounds to opponents this season. 

With Embiid back in the lineup, Ersan Ilyasova coming off a 17-rebound game and Richaun Holmes always active, the Sixers should be able to control the rebounding category.

4. Injuries
Jahlil Okafor (illness) is questionable. Robert Covington (knee/illness), Jerryd Bayless (wrist), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

Holiday (toe) and E'Twaun Moore (toe) are questionable. Tyreke Evans (knee), Dante Cunningham (knee) and Quincy Pondexter (knee) are out for the Pelicans.

5. This and that
•  The Sixers are trying to avoid a franchise-record 24th straight road loss.

•  The Sixers and Pelicans split the season series in 2015-16 with each team winning at home.

•  Ilyasova is averaging 16.2 points and 8.2 boards so far in December.

Eagles repeating pattern of digging first-quarter hole in defeats

Eagles repeating pattern of digging first-quarter hole in defeats

It’s a pattern that keeps repeating itself. And it’s not a winning pattern.

Week after week, the Eagles are digging themselves a first-quarter hole. And week after week, they’re too far behind to catch up.

They trailed the Lions 14-0 in the first quarter. They trailed the Redskins 14-0 a minute into the second quarter. They fell behind the Cowboys 10-3 early in the second. The Giants jumped up on them 14-0 just six minutes in. And on Sunday, the Bengals led 10-0 before the first quarter was over.

If football games began at the start of the second quarter? This would be a different season. The Eagles would be 7-4-1.

The Eagles has actually outscored their opponents in the second, third and fourth quarters.

But the first quarter has been fatal.

The Eagles have been outscored by 32 points in the first quarter – 65 to 33. That’s their fourth-worst first-quarter scoring margin in the last 25 years, behind only three other nightmarish seasons – 1998 (minus-52), 2005 (minus-51) and 2012 (minus-75).

It’s also fourth-worst of any NFL team this year, ahead of only the Jets (minus-36), Broncos (minus-37) and Dolphins (minus-56).

Some teams – like the Broncos and Dolphins – have enough firepower to fight from behind.

The Eagles don’t.

They’re 4-0 when leading after the first quarter, 1-1 when tied after the first quarter and 0-6 when trailing after the first quarter.

At 0-6, they share the second-worst record in the NFL when trailing after 15 minutes with the Jaguars and 49ers. The Browns are 0-8 when trailing after the first quarter.

Last time the Eagles didn’t win a game all year when trailing after the first quarter was 1998. Before that 1977.

“It’s tough, especially in this league, to dig yourself a hole,” Carson Wentz said. “Whether the defense is struggling or the offense giving them points with turnovers and different things, it’s been a variation of a lot of those things. 

“It’s tough to dig yourself a hole against anybody, especially against good teams. So we’ve got to avoid that and we’ve got to come out swinging a little better early in games.”

The last time the Eagles won after trailing following the first quarter was the Dallas game last year, when they trailed 7-0 and won 33-27 in overtime.

What does it say about a team when it’s allowed twice as many points as it’s scored in the first quarter?

It sure seems like the Eagles several times this year simply haven’t been ready to play.

“The start to games, it's a mindset,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “It's truly a mindset. It's one of those things where as a team you want to come out and you want to kind of make the first punch, so to speak, or swing first. 

“We did it against Green Bay. We went down and scored, we matched touchdown for touchdown there. And we've done it throughout the course of the season. We've got to be a little more consistent offensively, too. That can also help. And then defensively it's just a matter of working to get off the field.

“It kind of sets the tone for the rest of the game if you can do that early in a football game.”

The Eagles have scored just three first-quarter touchdowns all year (only the Broncos have fewer) and haven’t scored more than seven points in any of their 12 first quarters.

They’ve allowed nine first-quarter touchdowns, and only one team has allowed more – the Dolphins with 10.

Wentz has completed 67 percent of his first-quarter passes but with just one TD pass and four interceptions.

Incredibly, the Eagles have only five plays all year of more than 20 yards in the first quarter – just one in the last four games. Only the Saints, Jaguars and Broncos have fewer.

Why are the Eagles so bad early in games?

“There is no other answer than to execute one play at a time,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “There's no magic formula. I think we've had good energy at practice. I like the way we practice. I feel like we are putting together good plans.

“We're showing flashes of being a good football team. We need to be more consistent. We need to make more big plays. It's hard to sustain 14-play drives. We've missed a few plays here and there. We just all – coaches, players together – need to make it work one play at a time.”

The only teams to outscore the Eagles in the second half are the Cowboys (13-10), Seahawks (10-8) and Packers (13-3).

When a team has outscored its opponents by 61 points in the second, third and fourth quarters combined and it’s 5-7, the focus has to be on the first quarter.

That means preparation. That means being mentally and physically ready. 

“Yeah, I do look at all of that, and that's part of my job is the (pregame) schedule and all,” Pederson said. “But these guys are in a great frame of mind on game day. They're loose; they're energetic; they're ready to go. They're focused. 

“You see it in pregame. It's been unfortunate, but it's something we've got to focus in on a little bit more … and try to strike first.”

The Eagles will try to end their three-game losing streak at 1 p.m. Sunday when they face the Redskins at the Linc.

The Redskins, 6-5-1 but with a two-game losing streak, beat the Eagles 27-20 in Landover, Md., in October.

“I think it just comes down to being focus and locking in,” Wentz said. “You’ve seen us. There’ve been games where we’ve come out and we’re rolling right away.

"We just have to find a way to maintain that and be consistent with that. The goal is to come out swinging right away.”