The Unstoppable Force Meets, Like, the Most Movable Object Ever: A state of the union before Sixers-Spurs

The Unstoppable Force Meets, Like, the Most Movable Object Ever: A state of the union before Sixers-Spurs

37 games. That's the disparity in win streaks between the Philadelphia 76ers, who have dropped 24 straight, and the San Antonio Spurs, who have rolled through their last 13 games, at the moment. It's a difference in current franchise realities that should be rather prominently on display when the two teams face off tonight in San Antonio in coach Brett Brown's return to the franchise he spent over a decade with. The Spurs are a nightmare matchup for the Sixers: Offensively fluid, with shooters and passers everywhere, capable of playing both at the breakneck open-court pace Philly favors and at the grinding half-court pace in which the Sixers quickly wither, and also defensively opportunistic, able to force teams into playing to their weaknesses and quickly turning mistakes into points at the other end. The results will not be pretty.

However, it might be worth watching anyway. If you've had the stomach to tune in to the last handful of Sixers games, you'll notice that the team has been playing better recently. Not well enough to win, exactly, but well enough to remain competitive, and well enough to see the subtle ways the team is improving, or at least adapting to their new surroundings. They've been defending better, they're finding ways to generate offense, and they might have even found a long-term keeper or two in their endless scrap heap and D-League shuffle.

Michael Carter-Williams is shooting and operating with more confidence, much more liable than at season's beginning to pop off a long two or a runner down the lane if given the space to do either. He's still got to work on the shots to be able to hit either with consistency, but just to see him taking them (and occasionally making) them at all is encouraging. He's also turned into the team's best rebounder, using his length and considerable ups to snare a staggering 8.3 rebounds a game since Evan and Spencer were traded, boarding in the double digits four times in the last eight games after doing so only three times before that this season. He's such a weapon in so many different facets of the game that even when he's shooting below 40% (as he now is for the season), he still manages to keep the team in a lot of these games without, obviously, a ton of help.

Meanwhile, Thaddeus Young has been given the mother of all green lights, and has turned into the league's most unlikely volume scorer, murking his field goal percentage in the process but turning him into an impressively dangerous playmaker on both sides of the ball. Since the trades, Thad is averaging an eye-popping 21.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.8 APG and 2.7 SPG--probably saving more than a handful of fantasy teams in the process--though he's only shooting 41% from the field and 30% from three, despite jacking 21 shots and a half-dozen triples a game. He's not only unrecognizable as the Thaddeus we knew and loved, but is putting up numbers unlike anyone in the league right now. We'll probably be a better team once Thad can get back to his high-efficiency, complementary self, but watching him put up numbers like this on such a depleted team is pretty spellbinding.

Thad and MCW are the only obviously above-average players on the roster right now, but we might have picked up a couple other keepers in big men Henry Sims and Varnado. Sims, a throw-in in the Hawes deal, has been an absolute monster--by Sixers big-man standards, anyway--at center for them, averaging ten points, seven boards and even nearly two assists a game for the size-deprived Ballers. He's a very good interior passer, a solid help defender, and a virtually unmovable presence in the middle of the paint. He's posted impressive double-doubles--16/13 and 18/15--in consecutive games against the Knicks and Bulls, two teams with no shortage of big dudes on the interior, just by being solid down low, outbattling for boards and putbacks with his size and strength.

Sims doesn't exactly have what you'd call a soft touch--he has a 1-12-foot jumper he's willing to unleash and an impressive array of offensive post moves, but not a ton of them seem to end with the ball going in the basket, as he's shooting just 43% from the field. And for a center, he's not tremendous as a shot-blocker--he's got just ten swats total since coming the Sixers, without the elevation to really get to a lot of shots at the basket. But he still manages to score at a decent-enough clip--14 points per 36 minutes--and he's a better shot-affecter than shot-blocker, pushing big guys out of position and at least giving opposing guards something to think about when attacking the basket. His PER of 16.0 is second-best among current Sixers--not saying a ton, but still. He's probably not a starter in this league, but we could do a lot worse for a backup once Nerlens Noel is ready to play.

Sims will have competition, however, from his current backup, the young journeyman Jarvis Varnado. The Mississippi State prouct has about the exact opposite skill set of Sims--he has a much more limited offensive skill set and a very odd-looking jump shot, but looks for his own shot so sparingly that he's still averaging 60% from the field, and is much less solid a post defender, but an absolutely dynamic shot-blocker, racking up over two blocks per 36 minutes. Neither exactly profiles as a likely core part of the Sixers' long-term plans, but it's easy to see either player getting minutes for this team next year. At the very least, it's fun to watch these players come along and give the team really good minutes, to make us feel like there's something being gained in all of these games of losing.

But yeah, about that losing. We're at 24 in a row currently, and that'll almost certainly become 25 tonight, and then 26 on Wednesday when we face the Rockets. The next four games will be a lot more winnable, against four sub-.500 East opponents (Pistons, Hawks, Bobcats, Celtics), but it's the first of those games, against Detroit, that the Sixers should really be focused on, since if they win that one, they'll have only tied the record for consecutive losses in a season (26, with the post-LeBron '11 Cavaliers) instead of owning it outright. Hard to be optimistic, considering how the Pistons have thumped them all season and considering some of the terrible teams they've lost to on this streak, but hopefully the Ballers' improved play of late portends a stronger showing this time out.

At the very least, I feel really good about the direction this team is heading in. The Sixers' pick in next year's draft will be a guaranteed top-fiver, and with the Pelicans going on a mini-tear of late, they've fallen to 11th in the tanking rankings--lower than some Sixer fans were hoping to be drafting with that pick perhaps, but mostly safe from somehow ending up winning the lottery and costing us the pick altogether, of late. Meanwhile, it's clear that none of Thad, MCW or Brown have given up on the season, still playing and coaching their hearts out, desperate for just one win to build off of.

I still think they'll get it before season's end, and even if they don't, I don't think they'll let it get them down enough to have any kind of long-term effect on their or the team's psyches. When I watch the Sixers play now, I don't see a team that's tanking, I see a team that just doesn't have enough good players to win games, but is trying like hell to prove otherwise. And I look forward to watching them again in tonight's likely 25th straight L.

NFL Preseason Wrap: Both offenses sluggish in Giants win over Jets

NFL Preseason Wrap: Both offenses sluggish in Giants win over Jets

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a touchdown pass to Eric Decker and the New York Jets' defense stifled Eli Manning and the New York Giants' starters in a 21-20 preseason loss Saturday night.

Both teams' first-string offenses did very little in the last regular-season tuneup for most starters, but Fitzpatrick connected with Decker for a 22-yard score three plays after Darrelle Revis intercepted Manning on a pass intended for Odell Beckham Jr. in Giants territory in the second quarter.

Fitzpatrick finished 9 of 16 for 76 yards with the score and lost a fumble in the red zone before being replaced by Geno Smith just before halftime.

Manning was 10 of 15 for 65 yards and an interception while playing one series into the third quarter. The Giants' starters managed just 61 total yards against Todd Bowles' defense.

The Giants (1-2) didn't get past the 50-yard line until a facemask penalty on Brandon Bostick on a punt return put them at the Jets 47 with 2:36 left in the third quarter (see full recap).

Siemian solidifies QB job in Denver's 17-9 win over Rams
DENVER -- Trevor Siemian threw his first touchdown pass of the preseason and tightened his grip on the Denver Broncos' starting quarterback job in a 17-9 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday night.

After showing off his strong right arm over a first half that included a 1-yard pass to Virgil Green, Siemian accepted hugs from his teammates and gave way to rookie Paxton Lynch, who was also impressive in his half of play.

That left Mark Sanchez as the odd man out on this night and, plausibly, come cut-down day. If he's not on the 53-man roster, the Broncos will save $3.5 million and the seventh-round draft pick they would have owed the Eagles.

It was Sanchez's job to lose when training camp began and he's apparently done just that with a slew of turnovers in the preseason, although coach Gary Kubiak had steadfastly declined to name a starter up to this point.

An afterthought while taking just one snap - a kneel-down - as a rookie last season, Siemian has emerged as the best option to lead Denver's defense of its Super Bowl title with Peyton Manning on the links and Brock Osweiler in Houston (see full recap).

Smith, Chiefs look sharp in 23-7 victory over Bears
CHICAGO -- Alex Smith looked sharp in leading three scoring drives in the first half and the Kansas City Chiefs got a 23-7 preseason victory over the Chicago Bears on Saturday.

Smith completed 20 of 30 passes for 181 yards before Nick Foles came in to start the third quarter. The defense strangled Chicago's offense, and the Chiefs (1-2) came away with the win after dropping their first two exhibitions.

Kansas City has one more tuneup against Green Bay before opening against San Diego on Sept. 11. But in what is generally the final dress rehearsal for the starters, the Chiefs dominated.

"I certainly feel like we're ready as far as game speed, as far as getting the trials, getting enough plays," Smith said. "I felt like we got in a lot of different situations - the goal line, short yardage, red zone, got a little two-minute today. That's kind of what you want, I feel like, in the preseason."

Kansas City got two second-quarter field goals from Cairo Santos and a 1-yard touchdown run by Spencer Ware in the closing seconds of the half to take a 13-0 lead. But the score didn't reflect just how lopsided the game was (see full recap).

Mariota, Carr both sharp in Titans' 27-14 win over Raiders
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Marcus Mariota and Derek Carr look ready for the season to start after a successful preseason dress rehearsal.

Mariota led Tennessee to scores on all four drives he played and Carr threw two touchdown passes for Oakland and the Titans beat the Raiders 27-14 on Saturday night.

"All in all, guys have put in the work," Mariota said. "We've built a pretty solid offseason in the preseason. Now it's just putting it all together once the season starts."

With the starters getting their most playing time in the third week of the preseason, the offenses looked in midseason form while both first-team defenses struggled mightily.

That left Raiders coach Jack Del Rio frustrated, especially about a first-team run defense that couldn't slow down DeMarco Murray or Derrick Henry on the ground (see full recap).

Sam Bradford, first-team offense roll in preseason win over Colts

Sam Bradford, first-team offense roll in preseason win over Colts

INDIANAPOLIS – After the Eagles’ 33-23 preseason win over the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday night, Sam Bradford was asked one question he didn’t quite know how to answer.

What didn’t go right for the offense?
 
“It’d be tough (answer),” Bradford said. “I think I could probably give you a better answer after we watch the film.”
 
It wasn’t a tough question to answer just because he hadn’t yet watched the film. It was a tough question to answer because it didn’t seem like much went wrong for Bradford or the first-team offense on Saturday night (see Instant Replay).
 
Bradford was incredibly efficient, completing 17 of 20 passes for 167 yards, two touchdowns and an interception that clearly wasn’t his fault. Aside from the end of the half, the first-team offense scored on its last four possessions.
 
Thanks to the offensive line, Bradford stayed clean. The running backs – Ryan Matthews and Kenjon Barner – averaged 10.3 and 6.5 yards per carry, respectively. And the wide receivers actually made some big-time plays (see 10 observations).
 
“Obviously, tonight, to come out, to execute the way we did, it was nice,” Bradford said. “I was really happy with the communication up front, with the line of scrimmage. I thought our tempo in and out of the huddle was really good again tonight, getting to the line quickly. Overall, I thought the execution tonight was great. It’s obviously something that we can build on moving forward.”
 
Bradford finished the game with a passer rating of 114 and he was probably even better than that. He didn’t have a bad throw on the night. The interception was a bobbled drop from Nelson Agholor, one pass soared over Dorial Green-Beckham’s head after the wideout stopped running the route and the third was a pass broken up by a nice play in the third quarter.
 
Bradford averaged just 9.8 yards per completion, but was clearly on his game in Indy, even outplaying Andrew Luck.
 
“I thought tonight obviously culminated everything, his hard work that he's put in all through the offseason and through training camp,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Again, I made the decision way back in OTAs to split all the reps three ways all the way through training camp. This was the first week that Sam's had 100 percent of the reps and it showed tonight.”
 
Of course, playing well in the third preseason game isn’t anything new for Bradford. No one can forget his magical 10-for-10 performance last year against the Packers, when the Eagles were very prematurely crowned Super Bowl champs.
 
So Bradford and the offense looked good on Saturday night … but it’s just the preseason.
 
Now, they turn their attention to the Browns and the opener on Sept. 11.
 
“I think everyone in that locker room realizes that before Week 1 gets here, we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” he said. “Obviously, this is a big week coming up for us to get a jump on Cleveland, try to get some extra work in. I think it was nice to execute the way we did tonight. We can build on that, but I think we all realize the regular season is a different animal and we’re going to have to take it to another level.”

Best of MLB: Rookie Gary Sanchez hits another HR, Yankees rout Orioles, 13-5

Best of MLB: Rookie Gary Sanchez hits another HR, Yankees rout Orioles, 13-5

Best of MLB: Gary Sanchez hits another HR, Yankees rout O's, 13-5

NEW YORK -- Rookie Gary Sanchez kept up a most remarkable run, homering for the third straight game as the New York Yankees routed the Baltimore Orioles 13-5 Saturday.

Sanchez hit a drive that bounced off the top of the right-center field wall and over in the fourth inning. He reached 11 career home runs faster than anyone in major league history -- 23 games, including two hitless games last year.

After the switch-hitting catcher connected, the crowd of 38,843 emphatically chanted his name. Mark Teixeira stepped out of the batter's box, pausing the game, allowing the 23-year-old to tip his batting helmet to the fans from the top of the dugout steps.

Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks also homered as the Yankees won their fourth in a row. A day after trouncing the Orioles 14-4, New York moved within 2 1/2 games of them for the second AL wild-card spot.

Chris Davis homered twice and Mark Trumbo hit his big league-leading 39th home run for Baltimore, which has dropped three straight (see full recap).

Pedroia falls short of record, Red Sox beat Royals 8-3
BOSTON -- Dustin Pedroia had four hits to extend his streak to 11 straight at-bats before bouncing into a double play with a chance to tie the major-league record and the Boston Red Sox beat the Kansas City Royals 8-3 on Saturday night.

Pedroia's streak, which stretched over three games, ended in the eighth inning. The big league mark of hits in 12 straight official at-bats is shared by Walt Dropo for Detroit in 1952, Pinky Higgins of the Red Sox in 1938 and Johnny Kling of the Cubs in 1902.

Xander Bogaerts homered and drove in three runs, and Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez hit consecutive homers for Boston, which snapped a three-game losing streak.

David Price (13-8) won his fourth straight start, giving up two runs in six innings.

Danny Duffy (11-2) gave up three homers and seven runs in five innings, halting a personal 10-game winning streak.

Salvador Perez hit two solo homers for the Royals, who lost for just the fourth time 20 games (see full recap).

Harper ejected as Nats lose 9-4 to Rockies in 11 innings
WASHINGTON -- Charlie Blackmon hit two home runs, including the go-ahead shot in the 11th inning, as the Colorado Rockies beat the Washington Nationals 9-4 Saturday to snap a four-game losing streak.

Blackmon connected in the third off starter A.J. Cole, then hit a two-run drive off Yusmeiro Petit (3-4). Blackmon has 23 home runs this season and five multihomer games.

Carlos Gonzalez also hit a two-run homer off Petit, his 24th of the season and 200th of his career.

Jake McGee (1-3) got the win by pitching a perfect 10th, which included a strikeout of Bryce Harper that led to the reigning NL MVP being ejected.

Called out on strikes, Harper immediately began yelling at plate umpire Mike Winters and threw his helmet to the ground before getting tossed.

Rockies second baseman D.J. LeMahieu went 3 for 5 to pass the Nationals' Daniel Murphy for the NL batting lead (see full recap).

Julio Urias' strong start guides Dodgers past Cubs, 3-2
LOS ANGELES -- Julio Urias allowed one run over six innings, Corey Seager set a Dodgers franchise record for a shortstop with his 23rd home run and Los Angeles defeated the Chicago Cubs 3-2 on Saturday to even the series between NL division leaders.

Urias (5-2) pitched better at home than the last time he faced the Cubs. The rookie left-hander made his second career start in Chicago on June 2 and gave up six runs -- five earned -- and eight hits in five innings while serving up three homers.

This time, he allowed six hits and tied a career high with eight strikeouts and two walks. He is 4-0 in six games (four starts) since the All-Star break.

Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his 38th save a day after allowing a run on a wild pitch in the ninth in a 6-4, 10-inning loss.

The Cubs' four-game winning streak ended behind the shortest outing of the season from Jason Hammel (13-7) (see full recap).