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.

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.

No. 24 Penn State at Purdue: Nittany Lions seek 1st road win

No. 24 Penn State at Purdue: Nittany Lions seek 1st road win

Penn State (5-2, 3-1) vs. Purdue (3-4, 1-3)
Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Ind.
Saturday, noon, ABC/ESPN2

Scouting Penn State
The Lions upended the Buckeyes, 24-21, when safety Marcus Allen blocked a field goal and cornerback Grant Haley returned it 60 yards for a touchdown with 4:27 left in the game. The Lions, who rallied from a 21-7 deficit after three quarters, earned their third straight victory.

Allen and Haley were named Big Ten co-Special Teams Players of the Week, and linebacker Brandon Bell, who had a career-high 19 tackles in the game, earned the conference’s Defensive Player of the Week honor.

Running back Saquon Barkley has rushed for 681 yards, fifth most in the Big Ten, and is tied for the conference lead in touchdowns with nine.

Scouting Purdue
Purdue fell to Nebraska last week in the debut of Boilermakers interim coach Gerad Parker, who replaced the fired Darrell Hazell on Oct. 16. Quarterback David Blough leads the Big Ten in passing yardage (2,065) and total offense (300.7 yards per game), and has thrown 14 touchdown passes (albeit with 11 interceptions).

The Boilermakers are, however, last in the Big Ten in rushing offense (120.3), total defense (441.0), turnover margin (minus-8) and red-zone offense (15 for 23, 11 touchdowns) and next to last in rushing defense (249.0) and passing efficiency.

The Lions lead 13-3-1 and have won the last seven meetings, the most recent a 45-21 victory in 2013.

Storyline to watch
This is the ultimate trap game for PSU, and the Lions’ approach to it will say a lot about their leadership and maturity. They have also dropped their last four road games dating back to last season, including both this fall. Their last victory away from home came last Oct. 24, against Maryland in Baltimore.

What’s at stake
The Lions can become bowl-eligible with a victory.

Penn State 35, Purdue 21

Embiid and Okafor want to play together, but not just yet, says Brown

Embiid and Okafor want to play together, but not just yet, says Brown

CAMDEN, N.J. — If all goes as planned, a time will come when the Sixers can roll out a dominating frontcourt duo with Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor sharing the court in lengthy stretches.

That moment has to wait, though, as both Embiid and Okafor are on minute restrictions. As he returns from a knee injury, Okafor currently is coming off the bench and backing up Embiid.

“This conversation with Jahlil and Joel is more intelligent and applicable at a later date,” Brett Brown said at practice Friday. “When Jahlil’s minutes start going up and Joel can, then it’s a real conversation. I do think you may see them sooner than even I thought together. But as far as making it a real constant part of a strategy or rotation, it’s beyond too early days.”

In an ideal world, Brown could pair the two bigs now and use all of their allotted minutes (Embiid 20, Okafor 14) at once. That would leave an extensive workload on second-year bench player Richaun Holmes.

“This is a hot topic,” Brown said. “I will say it one more time: If I play Jahlil and Jo together, I hope Richaun can play 35 minutes.”

It’s an unrealistic expectation for Holmes, who averaged 13.8 minutes in 51 games last season. Brown caps the majority of the Sixers at six-minute segments to keep them competing at a high energy level.

“Right now, he’s a backup,” Brown said of Holmes. “I think he’s going to be an NBA player for a very long time. I just feel like in the role, he’s a second-year player that didn’t really have much of a role last year. He’s shown everybody that he’s for real. He really can play a role. At this early stage, that is the key word.”

Embiid and Okafor have been envisioning competing together since Okafor was drafted two years ago. They became friends long before they were NBA players and have an easy chemistry on the court as a result.

“I think it’s going to be exciting,” Embiid said. “We played a little bit together today in practice. We’re figuring out how to play with each other. It’s a process and we’ve got trust it.”

Yes, the players know they have to wait, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for them to resist an opportunity to play with one another.  

“I think once we figure it out, we can really dominate together,” Okafor said. “We were able to flirt with it again today. We accidentally keep ending up on the same team even though Coach keeps telling us to make sure we alternate. But we’re having fun. We’re trying to put some pressure on it because we want to play together.”

Is that accidentally with air quotes?

“Yeah, exactly,” Okafor said with a laugh.