They Had a Chance: Sixers Come Close, But Fall to Derrick Rose and Bulls

They Had a Chance: Sixers Come Close, But Fall to Derrick Rose and Bulls

I probably should be mad, but I'm not, really. This game was over three
times—three times!—before it was actually over for good. Once, when a
trio of Bulls threes and a Luol Deng layup pushed the Chicago lead to 13
early in the fourth. Then, when the Sixers cut the lead to four, only
to see the Bulls expand it to nine immediately out of a time-out on a
Joakim Noah tip and C.J. Watson three with four and a half to go. And
finally, when Derrick Rose laid in a floater with 20 seconds to go to
put the Bulls up four, followed by an Elton Brand offensive foul to give
Chicago the ball right back.

All three times the game should have been over. But the Sixers
battled back—well, the third time it was more the Bulls coughing it back
up by missing three of four free throws—and actually kept the game
close and the crowd emotionally invested, ensuring that we didn't lose
the game FOR REAL for real until Andre Iguodala bombed an air ball on a
potentially game-tying three with five seconds left. Final score,
Chicago 96, Philadelphia 91. All I could do was laugh, and be glad that
the fourth quarter was a hell of a lot more entertaining than I had
expected it to be.

Coach Collins was a little less understanding
after the game. "It just seems like it's been the same old script here
at home against good teams," he lamented. "We just did not come up with
that timely basket." It's true—as many times as it looked like the
Sixers had blown it, they still had a couple chances to tie or take the
lead in this one late. Down two with a little over a minute left, Andre
Iguodala launched an ill-advised three that came nowhere near landing
and bounced out of bounds. Still down two on the next possession, we had
a nice change of pace with Thaddeus Young instead squaring for a
baseline jumper, looking good but sailing it a little long. It was
almost refreshing to see someone besides 'Dre and Lou Williams miss the
biggest shot of the night, but needless to say, the result was about the
same.

Yet as much as we can hate on those two guys for missing their big
shots, we'd be nowhere near even contending in this one without the
Marvelous play of 'Dre in the first half and Thad in the second. 'Dre
was an absolute marvel for much of this one, distributing brilliantly
and coming up with two of his best finishes of the season, a
behind-the-back move that led to a layup in the first and a
posterization put-back dunk over Joakim Noah in the third. Meanwhile,
Thad brought this team back to life in the fourth, scoring 13 of his 17
points in the final seven minutes, including nine straight for Philly in
a 90-second span, several baskets on gorgeous feeds from Jrue Holiday.
As always, good enough to get the team close, but not enough to put them
over the top.

The tough stuff for the Sixers tonight came with the shooting guards.
Lou Williams had a nice night distributing the ball, ending up with
seven assists and zero turnovers, but went 0-7 from the field, providing
further evidence that he is not really a "closer" for this team,
despite the fact that he played well against the Lakers and hit one huge
shot in the playoffs. Evan Turner had some nice moments but more
scattered ones, including an airballed floater that was one of his most
perplexing shots of the season. And the only two memorable plays that
Jodie Meeks had tonight were managing to miss three-pointers from both
short corners ON THE SAME POSSESSION, and slipping and falling on the
team's final play. (Jodie is 8-37 from three over the team's last eight
games, officially in his worst shooting slump since season's
beginning—we could really, really use him back.)

Oh yeah, and also that Derrick Rose guy. As Deron Williams did for the
Nets on their win here, Rose pretty much won this one for the Bulls,
scoring 35 points on 12-23 shooting with eight assists and just three
turnovers. The Sixers played him fairly well, especially once they
switched Andre Iguodala on him and started shading him with a big man,
but he was hitting his jumper when the Sixers were forcing him to take
it, and getting into the lane for layups and drawn fouls at all other
times. No shame in getting beaten by the best, but the point guard's
play again illustrates how other teams have guys like Derrick Rose, and
we do not.

Sixers back tomorrow against the 14-23 Bucks in Milwaukee. Not an easy
game but not a particularly challenging one either, and at the very
least, the Bucks have no one on their team named Rose or Westbrook or
Love or Nowitzki. We'll take our chances in that one, and continue to
wonder what it's going to take for the Sixers to win a close game
against a good team like this—if they're in fact capable of it at all.

In the meantime, enjoy 'Dre's dynamite hand-switching layup. Fun game, you gotta give 'em that.

Today's lineup: Ryan Howard batting fifth again

Today's lineup: Ryan Howard batting fifth again

In his second-to-last game in a Phillies uniform, Ryan Howard will man first base and bat fifth against the Mets on Saturday afternoon (1:05/FOX).

Howard went 1 for 4 Friday night with a double. The first baseman has three home runs and five RBI in 44 at-bats against the Mets this season. 

Andres Blanco takes Freddy Galvis’ starting spot at shortstop and bats second. Galvis left Friday night's game with hamstring tightness. Blanco has not made a start since Sept. 16, but is batting .294 against the Mets this year.

Cameron Rupp catches and bats sixth for the second day in a row. Rupp went 2 for 3 on Friday night with an RBI. Jimmy Paredes and Aaron Altherr follow Rupp in the lineup and man the corners in the outfield.

Here's the Phillies' full lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Andres Blanco, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Jimmy Paredes, LF
8. Aaron Altherr, RF
9. Phil Klein, P

And the Mets lineup:
1. Jose Reyes, 3B
2. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
3. Yoenis Cespedes, LF
4. Curtis Granderson, CF
5. Jay Bruce, RF
6. T.J. Rivera, 2B
7. James Loney, 1B
8. Travis d'Arnaud, C
9. Bartolo Colon, P

Love Isn't Always on Time: Approaching the Ben Simmons injury rationally

Love Isn't Always on Time: Approaching the Ben Simmons injury rationally

Does it hurt? Yeah, it hurts. 

You know when the last year the Sixers went into the preseason without a devastating injury to a frontcourt player hanging over their heads was? 2011. Back when LMFAO was big. Since then, it's been:

2012: Andrew Bynum
2013: Nerlens Noel
2014: Joel Embiid
2015: Joel Embiid
2016: Ben Simmons

Even the Blazers, heretofore the NBA franchise with the most cursed big-man luck, got years, decades in between the NBA tragedies of Bill Walton, Sam Bowie, and Greg Oden to grieve. The Sixers seem unprecedently determined to get their bad juju all out of the way at once. 

The last item on that list was, of course, announced last night - Simmons has a fractured fifth metatarsal in his right foot -- and is especially tough, mostly because it was so unforeseeable. Andrew Bynum had a long history of injury. Nerlens Noel was ruled out for the season before draft night, as was Joel Embiid. But as far as we knew, Ben Simmons had lived a long and healthy life that, failing a Shaun Livingston-type freak injury, was just going to continue in its elongated healthiness. Foot trouble was definitely not in the plan. 

It's also tough because it proves we're not out of the woods yet. Not like anyone thought Philly was gonna win 40 games and challenge for the playoffs this year, but certainly most of us allowed ourselves to believe that the worst was over, and that karma was gonna finally owe us for a little while. Turns out, we may be through with the past, but the past isn't through with us. Doug Collins musta really sold this team's soul to get us to that Game 7 against Boston in the conference semis four seasons ago. 

But we can deal. For better and worse, Sixers fans have developed a hard-earned resilience to news of such maladies, and this revelation isn't nearly as bad as some other casually-in-crisis press releases we've had to deal with in recent years (yet). So once we're done processing the initial sorrow that comes with hearing we're not going to get to see our No. 1 overall pick play meaningful basketball as soon as we deserve, let's make our parents proud by being good little Process Trusters, and approaching this situation rationally: 

This is only a two-month injury. 

This isn't yet, and shouldn't be, a season-ender. ESPN estimates Simmons will be out eight weeks; a wise bet would probably have him staying sidelined a little longer than that Just to Be Sure. Christmas seems like the reasonable mental goalpost for his return, which means -- barring setbacks -- at most he'd miss the team's first 30 games. 

That's a lot, but not really: Jahlil Okafor missed 29 games last season, and I don't think most of us even remember injuries as being a particularly notable part of his rookie year. By this point, the Sixers are used to going entire seasons without proof of life from our star rooks. Two months? We can do that standing on our heads. 

This doesn't necessarily mean anything for Simmons' long-term prospects. 

Feet-related injuries are rivaled only by head stuff as the scariest thing you can see on an NBA medical report — especially for big men, as memories of giants like Walton and Yao having their careers plagued by such maladies continue to reverberate. In Simmons' case, his injury is reminiscent of Nets center Brook Lopez, who lost the better part of several seasons to recurring problems stemming from an initial foot fracture. 

But as that above list shows, the great majority of NBA players to have suffered this injury -- presumed to be an avulsion fracture, not the ghastlier Jones fracture -- have bounced back from it pretty quickly, and not been subsequently effected. Pau Gasol and Mike Bibby both went on to have long, productive, mostly health-drama-free-careers -- hell, Pau just averaged 19 and 13 in 72 games as a 35-year-old. C.J. McCollum suffered the injury as a rookie just three years ago, and I'd already forgotten it was even part of his story. Our Once and Always Dark Lord-willing, it doesn't have to be part of Simmons', either. 

The Sixers — and Simmons — were gonna be bad anyway. 

Not like this much hurts the Sixers' playoff chances, which were basically 0 to begin with. As much excitement as we could have expected from the early parts of this season, "wins' was not gonna be part of the deal just yet — Vegas set our over-under at 27.5, and most of our local experts have logically taken the under. Hopefully we actually get at least one of our first 17 this year, but with a poorly balanced rotation consisting mostly of rookies and free agents, W's were always gonna be slow-coming. 

And I personally believed that Simmons was gonna take a while to blossom himself. We'd get some gorgeous passes and fun full-court shenanigans, sure, but we'd also get a lot of clanked jumpers, missed rotations, and soul-sucking isos that take up 18 seconds of the shot-clock and still finish where they started. He'll still have that rough adjustment period two months or so later, but at least with the season already underway and the rest of the squad maybe finding their footing a little, hopefully there'll be less pressure on him to do everything immediately. 

Simmons can still put in work while sidelined. 

Remember how horrific Nerlens Noel's shooting form was coming into the NBA? The upside of him missing a year with his torn ACL was that he was able to spend a good portion of his should've-been-rookie season rebuilding it. He's still not Kevin Garnett on offense and likely never will be, but he was able to reach Respectably Bad at the free-throw line, and that alone will make an enormous difference in the arc of his NBA career. 

Simmons' jumper isn't nearly so broken, but he could also use the work. Time spent perfecting his mechanics while he doesn't have any other aspects of the game to really worry about could be huge for Benny's early development, and hopefully will give him the confidence to take -- if not yet make -- those open jumpers when first presented to him. 

We still have the two other guys. 

Truth is, Simmons was only the rookie I was third-most-excited about on the Sixers this year, and the other two -- Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, who we've waited a combined four seasons for -- are still on track to play. Of course, putting all (or at least half) our eggs in Emiid's basket is never gonna be a particularly secure feeling, and the mind goes even catatonic considering the possibility of Embiid also getting hurt before season's start. But if (knock on lumber-yard) this as bad as the preseason news gets for the Sixers, and we enter with just the two mega-hyped rooks, with a third on the way shortly... that's still cupcakes and sprinkles as far as I'm concerned. 

So yeah, this is a bad weekend, and a rough development for a fanbase who'd finally begun to let their guard down the teensiest amount. That said, it's not the end of the world, the end of the season, or really the end of anything besides our foolishly unbridled optimism. A valuable lesson in hoping for the best and always fearing the worst, but just because we're not floating in the clouds anymore doesn't mean we're plummeting to the ground yet, either.