Talking basketball with the voice of the Philadelphia 76ers, Marc Zumoff

Talking basketball with the voice of the Philadelphia 76ers, Marc Zumoff

When the Sixers got off to their ridiculous 3-0 start the season, the people I was happiest for (besides myself) were our long-suffering TV announcers, Marc Zumoff and Malik Rose. Zoo and Malik, who wear their hearts on their sleeves as much as any other announcing team in the Association, seemed to take the anguish of last year's disappointing season harder than anybody, and that made their elation at this year's improbably exciting opening stretch all the more palpable and gratifying.

I had the chance to catch up with the incomparable Zumoff, who's in his 20th season as the Sixers' play-by-play announcer, before the Sixers' game against the Cavaliers on Friday. We talked about those first three games, about the leadership potential of Nerlens Noel, and about his own celebrity as the voice of the Sixers, and much more.

Check out our conversation below, and wish Zoo, Malik and the rest of the 76ers luck tonight at home against Malik's old team (and the defending Western Conference champions), the San Antonio Spurs--they might need all the help they can get. And if anyone does have any good Zumoff drinking games to share, please let me know, otherwise we here at the Level might have to invent one.

So, I think you had my favorite line of the season so far, when Spence hit that shot late in the Bulls game: "Malik Rose, can you stand it??"

And he said "No, that's why I'm sitting next to you!"

Was that just off the top of your head, or was that a long time coming?

No, I mean, it was off the top of my head. Just about everything we do is off the top of our heads. That's what's great about working with Malik, is that if something flies off the top of my head, he's there to grab it and slam dunk it.

What was going through your head when you came up with it?

Nothing in particular. I think this was the third straight game...first of all, they were already 2-0, threatening to go 3-0. This was the second good team they were on the verge of beating. And they came back in every game. So the surprise start, the third straight comeback potential win, and just the way that they were doing it. You know, the Michael Carter-Williams thing...just a lot of surprises through the first three games. So I'm looking at Malik, saying..."What's up with this? Can you stand it?"

You've been covering the team for about 20 years now. Have you ever seen anything like this before, the 3-0 start? Anything this surprising?

[Pauses]. Well...just trying to think, you're asking me to go through a lot of years! Uhh, no, quite frankly. I would say those first three games were about as much fun for a three-game set--good team, bad team, average team--that I've ever experienced.

Was there a moment in the Miami game where you thought "Wow, this could actually happen?" With the fast start, and the Heat come must have thought it was over.

Well, I actually thought throughout the entire game that Miami was going to be Miami! That they were gonna win! And there's no reason to think not, because except for that one playoff game on Easter Sunday, the Sixers had never beaten the Big Three in a regular season game, so I'm just sitting there, like a fatalist, thinking "All right, this is exciting, this is fun, they're playing great, they're hanging in..." And they were I think down nine at the end of three, so...but what a wild game, when you think, up 19-0, they'd made their first eleven shots, then they're suddenly down nine after three, then they come back and win.

Did you see any of this coming with Michael Carter-Williams? I'm sure you got to see a bunch of him in the pre-season, but I don't think any of us really saw him getting of to the start that he did.

Well, I'll tell you that I'm the wrong guy to ask, because I don't watch college basketball. [But] the conventional wisdom was that he needed help with his shot, that he was turning the ball over, that he only had a couple years in college know, he wasn't the top pick of the draft, he wasn't in the top ten, he was the 11th pick. So I think everybody was going to be patient with him, and let him learn the program. The fact that he came out and did what he did was a real special moment.

Evan has gotten out to a hot start this year. Do you see anything different in this game, or do you just think he's hot right now, and he'll come back to earth in a little while?

Yeah, I think his shot selection has been a lot better. I think he made it a point during the off-season to get all the way to the rim, he's been getting a lot of points in the paint. He's been using his body, fortunately he's been taking a lot fewer threes...I think that's really helped him a lot, and that's why he's shooting the way he is.

Have you gotten a chance to spend much time with Coach Brown? Gotten a sense of how he's trying to change the culture around here?

Well, it's funny, we had a talk about that even before the pre-season started, and I'll just quote him saying "It takes a while for that to happen. It takes players, it takes commitment, it takes a certain kind of player that you have to begin to get in here." And I'm not saying that these guys can't be part of that, what I'm saying is that's a process that has to evolve over some time.

So when you look at the situation where [Coach Brown] came from, with the Spurs, that culture was established by two guys who have been there for almost a generation. They've won four titles together. So that is the culture.

Well, it helps to have Tim Duncan to start with.

Well, that. And you know what really helps? When you get a guy in, and maybe that's Michael Carter-Williams, maybe it's the next guy, who's the alpha male or close to it, who helps him with that locker room. That's going to be key, and I think Gregg Popovich will tell you that with all the players that have come in and out, the fact that he can yell at Tim Duncan, and you're a free agent or a rookie saying "Wow, he's yelling at a hall-of-famer! Well..." THAT'S the culture. And that's something that it's gonna take Brett Brown a while to establish.

Have you gotten to see Michael off the court at all? Do you think he's going to be that kind of leader?

You know, I wasn't quite sure. I have to be quite honest with you, and...he's a while away, and he hasn't even played a minute yet, but Nerlens Noel. When I spoke with him during the off-season and I remarked at the fact that he was going to be traveling with the team, kinda working out and rehabbing on the side. He said "Yeah, it's really important for me to be with the team, because I watch Oklahoma City and Miami, and those guys are together off the court, and I think that's really important." And I'm saying to myself, here's a guy who hasn't played a second in the NBA, who's 19 years old, and he's already...

He gets it.

Right! And he's trying to figure out what makes [these teams] good, other than their talent. And to me, that was something special. Now, can Michael Carter-Williams do it? Well, I love his leadership style on the floor, in that he doesn't seem to be the prototypical kind of scoring guard. He can score, but it seems like he's looking for other guys, he's got great court vision, and I think if he can continue to show that, be unselfish with the ball, that will make him in some ways the de facto leader.

Do you have any idea where the team goes from here? .I think most people before the season assumed that they'd be piling up the losses in an attempt to do better in the draft next year, but do you think this has changed the course at all?

Well, I think it does from the standpoint that if you're a young player, you can hopefully seize on to the fact that you came back against Miami, you came back against Chicago, you came back against Washington on the road, you've done some positive things. Because what happens is that confidence, even in good players, will ebb and flow. So when it's ebbing, a lot of times what they'll do is show you footage of you succeeding so you can kind of remember what it is that you did.

So hopefully they'll be able to latch onto that stuff, and so in those moments when maybe there's a losing streak, or they're struggling, or maybe there's a 5-20 down the road for Michael Carter-Williams, he can say "Yeah, but I played really well against the Heat, I played really well against Derrick Rose, I was able to win a game on John Wall's home court, and hopefully I can recapture that."

Did you get the chance to spend much time with Andrew Bynum when he was a Sixer last year? Get much of a sense of him as a person?

You know what? He seems like a really bright guy. And I would like to think that had he been able to play, he could. I think a lot of Sixer fans were put off by the whole bowling thing. And I think that's what turned a lot of people off, saying "Well, if this dude can go bowling, he can certainly give it a try on the court!" I think the fact that he did get surgery, that he seems to be trying with Cleveland, is some indication that he might have something left, but if his knees cause his's a guy who's had knee problems coming out of high school, the fact that he has them now does not bode well for him.

Last year was pretty hard for all of us, but I felt like it was especially hard for you guys, because you had to watch all these games, with all this expectation, and it was so disappointing. Was that the hardest year you can remember covering?

Well, I've had some difficult years. You have to remember that my first two years, there was a 24-win team and an 18-win team with John Lucas. One year we had 24 least last year, the problem with last year was that Andrew Bynum was a huge distraction the entire year. And because of that, it really cast a pall over the entire season. And people were saying, "This guy isn't going to play!" Which he didn't. "You've really torn up your team!" Which they did, giving up Andre Iguodala, Nik Vucevic turned out to be a really good player, a young guy in Moe really made it rather difficult.

But you know, we kinda hung our hat a little bit on Jrue Holiday, that he was an all-star, we were hoping that Evan Turner would eventually turn the corner like he is this year. But I would have to say quite honestly, that those first two years here with John Lucas were some of the toughest, if not the toughest, that I've had in my career.

So I had a theory that I wrote about, and I'm curious for your take. Which is that all in all, despite all the evidence to the contrary, the Andrew Bynum trade was actually a good thing for this team, because it kind of allowed them to hit the reset button. Whereas they had kinda been spinning their wheels for the last six or seven years, since the Iverson trade, and this forced them to bottom out, take a good hard look at themselves and say "Is this really where we wanna go?"

Well, I think that's a great point, and I'll take it a step further and say that not only do I agree with you, agreeing ostensibly with what Sixers management did, but the fans have bought into it. To the point where they're saying, you know...this "Winless for Wiggins" stuff, and all that, which I don't necessarily advocate, but they understand that this is a rebuilding year, that they're going to have to make some sacrifices.

And that's why Brett Brown has been so great through all of this, because all he's really talked about is culture recreation and player development. So if they can accomplish those two things, where you're seeing some baby steps with some of these young guys, and you see the evidence that culture has been changed, it'll be a successful year.

It seems like Malik has really caught on. You had a revolving door there with the color spot for a while...what is it about Malik that you think has made him stick?

Well, there are a lot of reasons. I think first and foremost, he and I have a nice vibe. He's a great guy, without ego, and I'm sitting here saying "This guy played 13 years in the NBA, won two championship rings...what does he care about a 50-year-old guy from Northeast Philly?" But it just so happens that he does, that we connect on a lot of different levels. That's the first thing.

The second thing is that he knows the game, he's very smart, and he's got a marvelous sense of humor. When he comes up with some of the stuff that he comes up with, he lights up Twitter, because people can't believe that he's said some of the stuff that he's said. So I try to just let him be him, because quite frankly I think that if he's successful, then our broadcast is good. And the thing that I like the most is when people come up and say "You and Malik sound good together." I'd rather hear that phrase from somebody than anything else.

And it's clear that you guys really care. You can hear the pain in his voice when the Sixers miss a defensive rotation, don't get out to a three-point shooter, stuff like that.

Right. And I think a lot of that is the fact that he's a Philly guy. And even though he never played for the Sixers, I think the Sixers have always held a special place in his heart. And you know, I go back to the first year of the team. I mean, when I was a kid, my father took me to Convention Hall, and I saw a game when they first arrived from Syracuse, in 1963. So I've seen Sixers games every year, I've followed the team every year, so for pulses through my veins.

Do you get a lot of people coming up to you, reciting your own catch phrases? People asking you to record things on their answering machine?

You know, I do, and it's kind of otherworldly. You have to remember, I was a kid who grew up in Northeast Philly and I had kind of like a low self-concept, and I got picked on by kids, and wasn't the world's greatest what I did was, I would announce games on TV, or  announce games from the stands, and a lot of what I did just sitting by myself in my room, I do now before 50,000 or 100,000 people a night. So to have people coming up to me saying "say this" or "say that," it's surreal.

What's the most frequent request that you get?

Uh, I'll give you the top several. I'll say a lot of people like "We're running tonight!" A lot of people like "[Somebody] for three! YES!"  "Lock all windows and doors" is a very big one, "Hang on Malik, we're coming in for a landing..." So, again, these are just things that are coming off the top of my head, and to think that people are latching onto this is really bizarre.

Have you heard about any drinking games? Anybody ever say "Well, anytime you say [this], take a shot"?

[Laughing] No, none of that! None of that.

Rival Penguins may be what Flyers need to get off to fast start

Rival Penguins may be what Flyers need to get off to fast start

VOORHEES, N.J. – Saturday might be a good time for the slow-starting Flyers to meet their cross-state, arch nemesis.
The Pittsburgh Penguins often bring out the best in the Flyers.
They’re sitting atop the Metro Division with 11 points and their veteran leaders, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel are having an impact.
“Stanley Cup champs, it’s going to be emotional,” Jakub Voracek understated. “Something has to change tomorrow. That team is very fast. If we’re gonna have a slow start, they’ll jump out 2-0, or 3-0 and it will be hard to come back. We can’t afford to do that tomorrow.”
The Flyers had been living off comebacks lately, but fell short against the Coyotes on Thursday during a 5-4 loss.
Since 2014, the Flyers are 4-1-0 against the Penguins at Wells Fargo Center. That’s the good news. 
The bad news is the Flyers have given up 30 goals this season – tied for worst in the league and they’re meeting an offensive machine.
“These are always intense games with a fun atmosphere and we’ve got to be ready for it,” said goalie Steve Mason, whose slot has been under siege with uncontested shots lately. “We don’t want to take them lightly and get off on the wrong foot like we did [against Arizona]. 
“We got to take the play to them and not sit back and let them dictate things. They’re too good for that.”
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said after the Flyers’ poor first period performance against the Coyotes, it shouldn’t matter who they face next, their game start simply has to be better. It’s been a problem most of this season and haunted them early last fall, as well.
“They’re a team that comes out hard and it’s as good a challenge as any for us,” Hakstol said. “After the loss in our building, it shouldn’t matter who we’re playing at the start of the hockey game.”
Interestingly, Mason said following that  loss that the Flyers seem hell bent on trying to outscore their opponents without taking care of their defensive responsibilities. 
Given the influx of speed and some new offensive talent, perhaps the emphasis has switched to offense at the expense of defense.
Offensively, Claude Giroux (9 points) and Voracek (8) are among the top 10 in NHL scoring. Giroux leads the league in three areas: nine assists, six power play assists and six power play points.  
Rookie Travis Konecny is tied for fifth with six assists. Wayne Simmonds’ four power play goals ranks first with Matt Moulson (Buffalo). 
Lotta offense behind the Flyers' 28 goals scored.
“It’s a good question,” Voracek said. “It’s tough to say. It’s still early but if you’re going to get scored on so many goals a game, you’re obviously doing something wrong. Might be the case. It’s hard to answer. 
“We have to make sure even if we have talented players offensively … we have to be responsible defensively. In today’s hockey, everybody can play defense.” 
You never know which direction these games against Pittsburgh will go. They can be very physical and low-scoring. Or they can be wide-open, pond hockey with a goal fest. 
“Bluntly, last year, they played a fast, pressure-type game and I didn’t think we dealt very well with it,” Hakstol said. “That won’t be any different tomorrow. 
“They’ll play a fast, pressure-type game and we have to be ready to deal with it and take advantage of it. That will be a challenge for us.”
Defensive pairs
Hakstol changed his defensive pairs in practice. 
Brandon Manning worked with Radko Gudas; Ivan Provorov worked with Mark Streit; and Nick Schultz was with Shayne Gostisbehere.
Why the changes?
“They weren’t very good [against Arizona],” Hakstol replied. “It’s not all on the d-pairs, that’s for sure. There is some thought process behind … switching the pairs. But ultimately, the goal is to have a more competitive group of six back there playing below the top of our circles.”
Andrew MacDonald, who had several turnovers/miscues this week, will sit against the Penguins.
Hakstol didn’t mince words when asked why he was re-inserting Schultz into the lineup.
“Absolute, competitive, prideful defender,” he said. “I’ll leave it at that.”
As for the lines, it would appear Nick Cousins will be scratched because he centered Michael Raffl and Scott Laughton in practice and both are injury-scratches right now.

Getting reacquainted with the Dallas Cowboys, the Eagles' Week 8 opponent


Getting reacquainted with the Dallas Cowboys, the Eagles' Week 8 opponent

For a team with so many recognizable faces, the Cowboys sure do feel different in 2016. Maybe that's because when the Eagles show up in Dallas to play for first place in the NFC East on Sunday night, they'll be trying to stop this rookie quarterback/running back pairing for the very first time.

That sure changes the makeup of a team, although the rest of the Cowboys roster is largely the same as last year. Even still, injuries and even the surprising development of a key player figure to shake things up as the Eagles renew their long-standing rivalry with the most hated of division opponents.



Quarterback: Dak Prescott

Forgive the comparison, but it's hard not to see a lot of Russell Wilson in Prescott. The way he keeps plays alive with his feet but always seems to keep his eyes downfield looking to pass is such a rare quality and one of the hardest plays in football to defend. Especially when the quarterback in question is as accurate and intelligent with the football as Prescott. Through six games, the Mississippi State product has completed 68.7 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns to only one interception. He's also run for three more scores and lost two fumbles. Much like Wilson as a rookie, Prescott is protected by a strong supporting cast that includes a great offensive line, dominant ground attack and excellent defense. Still, there's no denying the 23-year-old's talent. The kid has been great and should be under center in Dallas for years to come. 

Strength: Offensive line

Hands down, there isn't a better offensive line in the NFL. I'm not sure it's even close. Left tackle Tyron Smith is arguably the best O-lineman in the entire league right now. Zack Martin is about as dominant of a guard as there is too, and center Travis Frederick rounds out the Cowboys' Pro Bowlers up front — for now. Left guard La'el Collins seems destined to join them at some point. As you may recall, Collins would've been a first-round pick in 2015, but wound up going undrafted due to poor timing and unusual circumstances. Now he's living up to the pre-draft hype after just falling into the Cowboys' lap. 32-year-old Doug Free is as close to a weak link as there is on the line, and he's solid at right tackle. It says a lot about this group that Ronald Leary, who helped pave the way for DeMarco Murray's rushing title, is a backup, as is 2015 third-round choice Chaz Green. Unbelievable starters, unbelievable depth, and you better believe the unit is largely responsible for both Prescott's rapid development and Ezekiel Elliott's instantaneous ascension to the number one rusher in the NFL.

Weakness: Receivers

Until Dez Bryant returns and shows what he can do with that hairline knee fracture that's kept him sidelined since Week 3, there's at least some uncertainty as to the two-time Pro Bowler's effectiveness. If he's 100 percent, there are few more dominant receivers in the NFL than the 6-foot-2, 220-pound specimen with three 1,000-yard/double-digit-touchdown seasons to his name. If Bryant isn't himself, he's just another guy in an okay receiving corps. To call them a weakness might be going a bit far, as Cole Beasley is an outstanding slot receiver and Terrance Williams can stretch the field. Both Beasley have and Williams are building a nice rapport with Prescott as well, which is dangerous. These aren't typically thought of as gamebreaking receivers though. Tight end Jason Witten is getting a little long in the tooth at 34 years old as well. It all comes back to Bryant's health. As long as he's good, it elevates everybody else. Otherwise, you'll ask yourself why the Eagles can't cover these guys.



Strength: Bend, don't break

The Cowboys defense is very good, much better than it gets credit for anyway, but admittedly isn't dominant in any particular area. What the group does well, not to load this section up with cliches, is stick to their assignments and play well together as a team. That's how a defense can rank seventh in the NFL in points allowed, yet only 16th in yards, or 20th or worse in both running yards and passing yards per attempt. Dallas doesn't create an extreme number of turnovers either, currently tied for 12th with nine. The scheme isn't anything fancy and might give up some ground between the 20s, but points are hard to come by, as the unit has held four straight opponents to 17 or fewer, and no more than 23 all season. How? Solid players at every level: Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence up front, Sean Lee at linebacker and Barry Church, Brandon Carr and Byron Jones in the backfield.

Weakness: Pass-rush

If there is one area where the Cowboys could really benefit from more consistency, it's getting to the quarterback. The unit is tied for 24th in the NFL with only 11 sacks, and it's a big reason why opposing quarterbacks are posting a 95.0 passer rating, 10th-most efficient in the league. Lawrence is the defense's best rusher off the edge, but he's only played in two games this season after serving a suspension and has been limited by a back injury in those. Crawford is an underrated presence along the interior, yet while tied for the team-lead with 2.0 sacks, he can't carry the entire front four in this aspect. Lawrence should be healthier coming out of the bye, which helps, but that's not suddenly turning this into a group that instills a lot of fear.

X-factor: Morris Claiborne

The sixth-overall pick in 2012, Claiborne seemed destined to be a bust. Heck, you probably thought as I did that had already been well established. Well, it turns out that's not the case. After years of disappointment, the former SEC Defensive Player of the Year is actually performing at a fairly high level for the Cowboys, with 22 tackles, one interception and a team-leading five pass breakups. It's difficult to say where exactly the cornerback's suddenly improved play is coming from, as it often seemed like he was regressing the previous four seasons. Maybe it's simply that Claiborne is healthy for the first time since he was a rookie, as he's missed a total of 24 games over his career. Whatever the case may be, the 26-year-old is suddenly getting his hands on a lot of footballs, so Carson Wentz would be wise to be careful throwing in his direction.



Dan Bailey hasn't been automatic this season, missing two field goals, but that probably has something to do with the back injury he was fighting a few weeks back. He seems to be healthy now, quickly regaining his status as one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL. The Cowboys' longest punt return is 14 yards and longest kick return 33, so it's safe to say they haven't been getting much from this phase of the game.



Jason Garrett (50-44, 1-1 playoffs)

Say what you want about Garrett, and how it often seems like he's just a puppet for Jerry Jones. I still can't put my finger on exactly what his responsibilities are after all the high-profile hires that have been made to prop him up. Nonetheless, two things are true here: first, he's managed to make it seven seasons with Jones in Dallas, which is a feat in itself and second, his teams play for him. The bottom fell out in 2015 when Tony Romo and Dez Bryant were both hurt, but one year prior, Garrett had the Cowboys a reversed catch away from the NFC Championship game. Rod Marinelli is an excellent defensive coordinator as well and leads a very talented and underrated defense. Jones still meddles far too often, and who knows what Garrett would do in a different situation, but this seems to be working for everybody somehow.