Uh-oh, Sixers host Raptors in game they should probably actually win

Uh-oh, Sixers host Raptors in game they should probably actually win

Update: The Sixers have announced the signings of guards Elliot Williams and Lorenzo Brown to fill up the roster spots vacated by Darius and Kwame. Also, Daniel Orton is starting tonight in place of Thaddeus Young, who is away from the team for personal reasons. This team, obviously.

Well, this is a new one. The Sixers have played all kinds of games this year--close ones, blowouts, back-and-forths, come-from-way-behind-at-the-very-ends, fun ones, miserable ones, ones that felt more like a fever dream than anything else--but they've played every single one of them, fairly or not, as some degree of underdog. Not a single one of them--except for maaaayyybe the Pelicans game, which they ended up losing by 37--would you have gone into saying "well, they should probably get this one," and none of them were particularly disappointing when they didn't.

Tonight, the Sixers face a different beast altogether. The Toronto Raptors are probably about on the Sixers' level at the moment--3-7, with a tough strength-of-schedule start to the season and a loss or two that probably could've gone the other way. They may or may not be worse than the Sixers, but even with their mostly superior talent level (or at least their considerably higher payroll), they're certainly not all that much better than the Sixers at the moment. Bovada sports still has the Raps as 3.5-point favorites, but really, this is a very winnable game for the 76ers.

Still, you have to wonder how much of the early-season magic the team has left after going 0-3 on their recent roadtrip, with a couple bad losses in Atlanta and New Orleans and one in Dallas that probably should have been worse than it was. At the very least, they should be getting Michael Carter-Williams back from his foot problems tonight, the ailing phenom PG having missed the last four games. Tony Wroten didn't look half bad taking over the PG role, but MCW is easily the more complete PG at this point--neither can shoot a lick from outside--and it'll help having Wroten to bring off the bench again.

That bench will be a little lighter tonight, however, as Adrian Wojnarowski reports in his typical out-of-nowhere style that the team has waived the corpse of Kwame Brown and the somewhat livelier body of Darius Morris, who'd been averaging 16 minutes a game as the Sixers' backup point. The timing of the move is a little perplexing, as Morris had actually been playing better the last week or so, hitting nine of his last 18 attempts from three, playing solid perimeter defense, and even going off for a season-high 20 (albeit mostly in garbage time) against the Pelicans the other night.

Obviously the return of MCW makes this possible, with Wroten assuming the backup point duties, though the Sixers have such minimal depth behind those two (or really anywhere else on the roster) that the waiving of anyone makes little sense--unless, of course, there are more moves to follow, a possibility which never should be ruled out with Sam Hinkie involved. (Could a long-rumored signing of disgraced ex-Suns point guard and one-time lottery pick Kendall Marshall be in the works? "We have people we've been looking at," says Coach Brown.)

Anyway, 7:00 tip off from WFC, with anyone still currently on the Sixers' roster welcome to join in the fun against the Sixers' Atlantic rivals to the north. Do it for Kwame.

Jeremy Hellickson set to pitch Saturday — unless he's traded

Jeremy Hellickson set to pitch Saturday — unless he's traded

ATLANTA — Even with the Miami Marlins having filled their need for starting pitching, there remains significant interest in Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson, according to major league sources.

The Phillies have received offers for the 29-year-old right-hander, but none that they have deemed worthy of pulling the trigger on.

Hellickson is scheduled to make his 22nd start for the club on Saturday night. Will he make that start? Time will tell. Talks between the Phillies and interested clubs are ongoing.

Hellickson is coming off two strong starts in which he allowed just six hits and one run in 14 innings against the Marlins. Another strong start Saturday could add more luster to Hellickson’s stretch-run value and bring the Phillies the package they are seeking. The trade deadline is Monday at 4 p.m.

Miami had interest in Hellickson before making a deal to acquire starters Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea from San Diego in a seven-player trade Friday (see story).

Hellickson is viewed by industry insiders as being a fallback option for a number of teams. Demand for him could grow as trades are made and the starting pitching market thins as Monday’s deadline approaches.

Baltimore, Toronto, Texas, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Houston are among teams looking to add starting pitching.

Though there’s no guarantee that Hellickson will be moved, he is the most likely Phillie to go. Reliever David Hernandez is next on the list. A number of teams are looking for relief help. The feeling around baseball is that the Phils could move Hernandez before Monday’s deadline, but the return would only be marginal.

The Phillies have received some interest in closer Jeanmar Gomez, but not to the degree one might expect for someone with 27 saves. Because Gomez lacks power stuff, rival teams do not view him as a closer on a contending team.

FOX Sports reports that the Rangers have interest in right-hander Vince Velasquez, but the Phils would have to be blown away to move the 24-year-old right-hander. Velasquez started for the Phillies on Friday night.

Ben Simmons spending his summer getting bigger and better

Ben Simmons spending his summer getting bigger and better

Ben Simmons repeatedly emphasized at summer league he wanted to work on “everything” leading up to training camp.

As a point-forward who plays multiple positions, he has more than just one role to address this offseason. But what does “everything” entail? With a wide range of responsibilities on the court, Simmons is honing in on specific areas.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

Shooting
Simmons has been criticized for his reluctance to shoot. During his one season of college ball at LSU, he averaged 19.2 points off 11.7 field goal attempts per game (56 percent made). Over six summer league games (including both Utah and Las Vegas), Simmons took 22 field-goal attempts and shot 32.2 percent. He had less than 10 attempts in four of the games, and attempted 15 in the Sixers’ finale. Simmons attempted one three in summer league action.

While in Utah and Las Vegas, the Sixers encouraged Simmons to be more aggressive. At 6-foot-10, Simmons is able to get to the rim. Once there, many times he passes it off rather than finishing himself. The Sixers don’t expect Simmons to become a 30-point-per-game scorer, but he will be a key part of their offense.

“You always want him to be as good of a shooter as he can be,” Las Vegas summer league head coach Lloyd Pierce said this earlier month. “It’s not going to be his strength. His strength is going to be passing, facilitating, playmaking. That’s going to be an added bonus, whatever the percentage or the number is.”

Dribbling
Simmons averaged 5.5 assists per game during summer league (second on the team by 0.3 dimes to T.J McConnell). Conversely, he committed 3.83 turnovers.

The Sixers signed two point guards this summer, Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez, and McConnell is returning from last season. Head coach Brett Brown said after the draft he does not plan to utilize Simmons as the primary one-guard right away as the 20-year-old learns the league. But early on, Simmons will have the rock in his hands plenty of times given his natural ball-handling abilities, especially when grabbing the rebound and running the fast break.

"I think it's the hardest position to play in the NBA,” Brown previously said. “I think to just give him the ball in that capacity is borderline cruel. He needs to feel NBA basketball. And maybe he evolves there." (See story)

Weight room
After college, Simmons put on 20 pounds from his training and entered the draft at 242 pounds. He stood out among the competition in summer league play with his NBA-ready stature. Simmons said he would like to get up to 246 or 247 pounds this offseason.

“Not too heavy,” he said.

With the size of a forward and the skills of a guard, the Sixers will be able to utilize Simmons to create mismatches both in the backcourt and at the hoop.

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Rupp back behind the plate for Phillies

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Rupp back behind the plate for Phillies

After scoring five first-inning runs on their way to a 7-5 win against the Braves on Thursday, Pete Mackanin decided not to tinker with the Phillies' lineup too much.

In fact, the only change will be at catcher. The struggling Cameron Rupp will get the start on Friday and bat sixth after Carlos Ruiz was behind the plate on Thursday. Rupp, who was one of the few bright spots for the offense in the first half, is just 5 for 31 since the All-Star break. On the season, Rupp is still batting .271 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs.

Aaron Altherr came off the DL with a bang, tallying three hits, including a two-run homer on Thursday. Mackanin has said Altherr will get a long look in right field and Thursday night was a glimpse of why. 

With Altherr's regular presence in the lineup, Cody Asche has been put on notice. After going on a tear from early June to early July, Asche is batting .094 (5 for 53) in his last 17 games. With Altherr and Odubel Herrera entrenched in right and center, Asche will have to get hot to stave off prospect Nick Williams, who seems to be finding his groove at Lehigh Valley.

Here is tonight's lineup:
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Cody Asche, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Vince Velasquez, P