Thus Endeth the Winning Streak: Sixers Come Up Short Against Bucks

Thus Endeth the Winning Streak: Sixers Come Up Short Against Bucks

After playing six straight games where one team basically controlled the
game the entire way, the Sixers finally caught themselves in a
back-and-forth tonight against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks started
the game on absolute fire—so much so that even our old friend Samuel
Dalembert hit a fadeaway jumper from the wing that I swear he didn't hit
once in his time as a Sixer—and from there, the pendulum swung back and
forth the entire game, with the Bucks getting out to formidable leads
(as back as 16 just after halftime) and the Sixers battling back. The
Sixers had it at even midway through the fourth, but came up one run
short as the Bucks were able to hold on for a 103-96 win.

The
best and the worst tonight came from our breakout point guard, Jrue
Holiday. At a glance, you'd have to say Jrue had a good game, ending
with 25 points on 10-18 shooting as the Sixers' leading scorer. But the
turnovers, a (mostly forgivable) problem for Jrue all season, were
especially costly tonight, as a couple prospective Sixers runs (the
final one especially) were cut off by Jrue giving the ball up trying to
make a cross-court pass in the lane. The Damaja turned the ball over
seven times in all, and his unusually harried play in the fourth
ultimately did the Sixers in.

Of course, Holiday doesn't
shoulder all the blame in this one. Our top two centers, perhaps
unnerved by the news that they weren't going to be spelled by Andrew
Bynum anytime soon, gave us virtually no production tonight, scoring a
combined six points and grabbing a combined seven rebounds. For the
second straight night, Lavoy Allen didn't register a single point,
looking overmatched and short of confidence. Meanwhile, neither Allen
nor Spencer Hawes gave Jrue any help switching on the pick-and-roll,
allowing dynamic Buck scoring guards Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis to
fire away from range (and fire they did, combining for 54 points, 33
from Jennings).

There were positives for the Sixers. Namely, we
got a big boost from the returned Jason Richardson, who prevented the
Bucks from running away with the game early, scoring ten in the first
quarter and ending with 20 on the game. Richardson and Dorell Wright
combined for seven threes on the night, giving the Sixers that added
offensive dimension they'd largely been lacking while he was recovering
from his ankle sprain. For what it's worth, J-Rich was also the team's
emotional leader on the evening, urging the crowd to get into the game
as the Sixers embarked upon a big third-quarter run to cut the Bucks'
halftime lead to ribbons. You like to see that from the team's elder
statesman, especially when he's helping out on the court as much as he
did tonight.

Worth noting that Coach Collins was evidently so
enamored with Richardson and Wright and what they gave the offense
throughout the game that Evan Turner—who had a solid-but-unspectacular
game with eight points, four rebounds and five assists in just 25
minutes—sat on the bench for most of the fourth quarter. The thinking is
understandable, but the Sixers could've really used Turner's rebounding
in the fourth—a couple of second-chance buckets killed the Sixers
late—and having a second ball-handler on the court as Jrue started to
lose control of the game might not have been the worst thing either.
Tough call for Collins, and one he'll have to make a whole bunch more
times before season's end, so it'll be interesting to see where he goes
down the stretch in future games.

Anyway, I don't want to get on
Jrue too much for his fourth-quarter play, so I'll end talking about
part of his game tonight that really impressed me. Twice at the end of
quarters—the second and the third—Holiday was given the ball on the
team's final possession. Both times he dribbled the clock nearly to its
end, but rather than simply hoist a contested across-his-body three—like
say oh I dunno Lou Williams might have done in the past—at the end of
it, Jrue patiently probed the defense, waited until he got some clear
space, and hoisted a high-percentage look, hitting both times. It was so
calm, cool and collected that you'd never believe either was done in an
end-of-quarter situation.

In other words, they were the exact
opposite of the rushed, sloppy, almost panicked way he ended the game.
But Jrue's young still—not only is he just 22, he's only really been
running this team's offense for seven games now. You'd rather see all
the hits and misses with Jrue at this stage than see no spark at all,
and nothing I saw tonight makes me at all worried about Jrue in the long
term. Without Andrew Bynum, Jrue's being asked to do just about
everything for this team offensively, and so far, he's succeeding a
whole lot more than he's failing. A learning opportunity late in this
one for sure, though.

The loss drops the Sixers to 4-3 on the
season, but they'll have a chance to make up for it with four more
winnable games at the WFC, of which the middling Utah Jazz probably
presents the toughest opponent. Wednesday night they get to go against
the hapless Pistons, losers of each of their first eight, with as good
an opportunity for an easy win as they'll get early this season. Whether
or not the Sixers will pick it up will likely be telling about where
our young team is at right now. I have faith.

Wideouts Rueben Randle, Chris Givens among 8 players cut by Eagles Sunday

Wideouts Rueben Randle, Chris Givens among 8 players cut by Eagles Sunday

The Eagles released Rueben Randle and Chris Givens on Sunday, ending the brief and disappointing Eagles careers of both veteran wide receivers.

The two receivers were among eight players released by the team on Sunday evening.

Randle caught five passes for 26 yards in the preseason and Givens caught one for 19 yards.

The Eagles tried to bolster their receiver corps by adding the two receivers this offseason, signing Randle to a one-year, $1,025,000 contract and Givens to a one-year $760,000 deal.

Randle got $500,000 guaranteed and Givens $180,000 guaranteed, so the two moves will count $680,000 against the Eagles’ 2016 adjusted salary cap of $161,570,362.

The moves leave the Eagles with eight wide receivers: Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham, Josh Huff, Paul Turner, Marcus Johnson, Cayleb Jones and David Watford.

Barring any other personnel moves, Matthews, Agholor, Green-Beckham, Huff and Turner appear headed for the final 53-man roster.

Randle’s decline is fairly astonishing.

Two years ago with the Giants, he caught 71 passes for 938 yards, and last year he caught 57 passes for 797 yards and eight touchdowns. He had four catches of 40 yards or more in 2015, fourth-most in the NFL. In four seasons in New York, he caught 188 passes for 2,644 yards and 20 TDs.

Yet the Giants had no interest in re-signing him. Now the former second-round pick’s career is in jeopardy at the age of 25.

Givens, a fourth-round pick of the Rams in 2012, was with his third team in two years this summer. His once-promising career could be over at the age of 26.

Most notable among the six other players released was offensive tackle Andrew Gardner, who started 11 games in an Eagles uniform.

Gardner, who had also spent time with the Dolphins and Texans, started eight games at right guard and right tackle for the Eagles in 2014 and was the Eagles’ opening-day starter last year at right guard. He suffered a Lisfranc injury in his left foot during a Week 3 game against the Jets at the Meadowlands and missed the rest of the season.

Also released was a member of last year’s draft class, sixth-round pick Randall Evans out of Kansas State. Evans spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad but was activated for the Pat Shurmur season finale against the Giants at the Meadowlands and got into the game on special teams.

The Eagles also released veteran defensive tackle Mike Martin, who played in 46 games for the Titans the last four years, including five starts. Also released were long snapper John DePalma and cornerback Denzel Rice, the latter of who played in five games last year and got 20 defensive snaps in the season finale against the Giants last year.

The Eagles also placed linebacker Joe Walker (knee) and defensive end Alex McCalister (calf), two rookie seventh-round picks, on season-ending Injured Reserve.

Teams have until Tuesday to reduce rosters to 75. The Eagles’ roster is currently at 73, and they have to reduce it to 53 by 4 p.m. next Sunday.

The Eagles finish the preseason on Thursday night at the Linc against the Jets.

Best of MLB: Josh Donaldson mashes 3 home runs to lead Blue Jays past Twins

Best of MLB: Josh Donaldson mashes 3 home runs to lead Blue Jays past Twins

TORONTO -- Josh Donaldson had his first career three-homer game, Troy Tulowitzki also went deep and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Minnesota Twins 9-6 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep.

Donaldson hit a solo homer off Kyle Gibson in the second, then delivered a go-ahead, two-run blast off Pat Light (0-1) in the seventh.

Dozens of fans tossed hats onto the field to celebrate the home run hat trick after Donaldson, the AL MVP in 2015, hit a solo shot off Alex Wimmers in the eighth. Groundskeepers and even the Blue Jays mascot helped clear the hats away.

Donaldson's fourth multi-homer game this season and the 10th of his career also marked the 17th three-homer game in the majors this season.

Jose Bautista had his first three-hit game of the season for the AL East-leading Blue Jays.

Minnesota lost its season-worst 10th straight. The Twins have lost seven straight in Toronto.

Scott Feldman (7-4) earned the win by getting two outs in the seventh. Jason Grilli worked the eighth and Roberto Osuna finished (see full recap). 

Pirates win 8th straight on road, sweep Brewers 3-1
MILWAUKEE -- Ivan Nova threw six sharp innings before leaving early because of a hurting left hamstring and the Pittsburgh Pirates hit three solo homers to rally past the Milwaukee Brewers 3-1 on Sunday for their eighth straight road victory.

John Jaso and Gregory Polanco each homered in the sixth off Brewers starter Chase Anderson (7-11) to complete Pittsburgh's first sweep at Miller Park since 2004. Starling Marte added a solo shot in the eighth.

Nova (4-0) retired 10 of his final 11 batters after allowing Jonathan Villar's solo homer in the third. He scattered three hits and struck out four before being pinch hit for in the seventh.

Tony Watson pitched a clean ninth for his 10th save in 13 opportunities (see full recap).

Archer strikes out 10, Rays hit 3 HRs in 10-4 win vs Astros
HOUSTON -- Chris Archer struck out 10 in seven innings, Corey Dickerson hit a three-run homer and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Houston Astros 10-4 on Sunday.

Matt Duffy and Nick Franklin also went deep for the last-place Rays, who have homered in 21 of their last 24 games.

Houston, in the hunt for an AL wild card, had won three straight.

Archer (8-17) gave up three runs and four hits with two walks. With his strikeout of A.J. Reed in the sixth, the right-hander joined David Price and James Shields as the only Tampa Bay pitchers with multiple 200-strikeout seasons.

The Rays jumped out early against Doug Fister.

Fister (12-9) allowed four runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings, the fourth time in his past seven starts he has permitted four or more runs (see full recap). 

Calming presence behind plate, A.J. Ellis provides offensive spark in Phillies' win over Mets

Calming presence behind plate, A.J. Ellis provides offensive spark in Phillies' win over Mets

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- A.J. Ellis’ first game as a Phillie certainly went a lot better than Carlos Ruiz’s first game as a Dodger.

Ellis’ first hit with his new club helped the Phils salvage one game of a weekend series with the New York Mets on Sunday afternoon. The Phillies won it, 5-1 (see Instant Replay), behind a solid start from Vince Velasquez, excellent bullpen work and Ellis’ big hit, a tie-breaking, two-run double in the top of the seventh.

The Phillies had lost the first two games of the series by a combined score of 21-5. Their pitchers gave up eight homers in the first two games.

On Sunday, Velasquez and a quartet of relievers held the Mets to seven hits, all singles.

Ellis joined the Phillies just 24 hours earlier after being traded from the Dodgers on Thursday. He had been with that club his whole career.

Ruiz, of course, had been with the Phillies his whole career.

Ruiz’s first game with the Dodgers did not go nearly as smooth. The veteran catcher had trouble handling the pitches of closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning Friday night and that contributed to the Dodgers blowing a one-run lead and losing to the Chicago Cubs in 10 innings.

Leaving the Dodgers was difficult and emotional for Ellis. He was able to bury himself in the game Sunday and came away feeling pretty good.

“It’s just great to be playing baseball again,” he said, standing in front of his locker, a blue Dodgers equipment bag (that will soon be swapped out for a Phillies bag) at his feet. “You kind of lose yourself in the competition and then just play again.

“Regardless of what’s happened in the last four days, it feels good to drive in runs, feels good to help put your team ahead and help contribute to a team win.”

During his 24 or so hours with the Phillies, Ellis has immersed himself in learning a new staff of pitchers. He caught starters Jerad Eickhoff and Jake Thompson in the bullpen before Saturday’s game and warmed up several relievers during that game.

On Sunday morning, he arrived at Citi Field, saw his name in the lineup and immediately began prepping to catch Velasquez, the hardest-thrower on the Phillies’ starting staff.

Velasquez bounced back from three poor outings in which he gave up 19 runs in 17 1/3 innings and held a hot Mets lineup to a run over five innings. The only negative was that Velasquez could not pitch deeper into the game because his command was poor and needed 103 pitches to complete the five innings.

Nonetheless, Ellis, who was the personal catcher for Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles, liked what he saw of Velasquez.

“His pitch count got elevated the first two innings and he was able to grind through the last three,” Ellis said. “The stuff is electric. He has so many weapons, so many options. When he keeps growing and keeps polishing that gift up, it’s going to be really, really special.

“So I’m excited to be able to continue to work with him, excited to work with him and (pitching coach) Bob McClure and (No. 1 catcher) Cameron Rupp, kind of talk to them about things, things he sees, things we see, and together we can build a plan for him going forward in his career.”

Two things are going to help the 24-year-old Velasquez reach his potential.

First is good health. He’s had arm problems in the past and there remain concerns about his long-term durability. That’s why the Phillies are closely monitoring his workload as this season winds down.

Second is command, control, economy of pitches – whatever you want to call it. Velasquez needs to be more efficient. Too many times he’s left games in the middle innings because of a high pitch count.

“Definitely,” he responded when asked if lowering his pitch counts and working deeper into games was the key to his improvement. “It’s going to help the longevity, it saves the bullpen, it helps out everybody. Not just on my end, but the whole team in general.

“And,” he joked, “then I can also work on my swing by getting some more at-bats.”

Despite the high pitch count, Velasquez walked just one. He struck out seven. He is up to 129 innings for the season. That includes five innings in a rehab game at Double A Reading. The Phillies will look to keep him at about 150 innings for the season. That could be three, four or five more starts, depending on how long the right-hander lasts. He’s averaged just over five innings in his starts this season.

“I think that would be the right move,” Velasquez said of the 150-inning target.