Wanna Call It a Must-Win? Sixers Return Home For Important-Ish Game Against Nets

Wanna Call It a Must-Win? Sixers Return Home For Important-Ish Game Against Nets

It's hard to say the Sixers disappointed on their recent eight-game road
trip—if you asked me ahead of time how well I though they'd do on the
trip, I'd probably have said they'd go 2-6, which is exactly what they
did—but they certainly didn't exceed expectations. As a result, the team
has now gone an astounding 4-12 in their last 16 games, and appear a
couple well-placed losses away from an official Lost Season, though in
this stupid conference, we're still just two-and-a-half games out of the
eighth spot. Still, with Boston playing so much better of late, and the
Bucks having deposed of their unpopular coach, that eight spot's not
gonna be within striking distance for too long if the Sixers keep losing
75% of their games.

However, there is hope. The Sixers play 13
of their next 15 (!!) at the Wells Fargo Center, with only two
back-to-backs and only three opponents (Spurs, Knicks, Clippers) that
would appear to be totally out of Philly's class over that span. It's
not impossible that the Sixers could turn things around over that
stretch, but they need to start soon, and they really should do it
tonight against the rebounding (figuratively, anyway) Brooklyn Nets. The
Nets have won 5 of 6 (and three in a row) since disposing of coach
Avery Johnson, and appear to be turning around what was looking to be
close to a disastrous season. Still, Philly played them tough in their
last meeting (a 95-92 Net win), and games between these two Atlantic
opponents always seem to go down to the wire, regardless of which team
is actually good at the time.

The questions abound for the
Sixers as they enter this next bend in their season. Can Evan Turner
rebound to his late-November, early-December form, where he was looking
like a burgeoning star and legitimate second scoring option, before we
have to figure out if we're gonna pay him in the off-season? Can Spencer
Hawes keep serving as an important offensive cog, and not give so much
back on the defensive end to negate his contributions completely? Can
Arnett Moultrie add anything to this team? And biggest of all:
Can Andrew Bynum stay on the not-exactly-fast track to recovery, and get
back on the court in time to see what, if anything, he can do with this
Sixers squad around him?

As we've stated before, decision time
is coming up for the Sixers. Rumors had it yesterday that the team was
exploring trades for Oklahoma City backup point guard Eric Maynor, but
such a move would be a short-term solution for Philly—Maynor becomes a
free agent in the off-season, and will likely cost more than the Sixers
can afford to pay him—and if the team's not even gonna compete for the
playoffs this season (a very real possibility), going for the quick fix
could be disastrous, especially if it comes at a high price for the
team's future. If the Sixers continue to drop games at an alarming rate,
it should (hopefully) put the kibosh on Tony DiLeo making such deals,
which would probably be for the best anyway. If the team does start
winning games again, though...

Well, we'll cross that incredibly flimsy bridge when we come to it. 7:00 tip from the WFC. I hate losing to the goddamn Nets.

Worst loss of the year for excuse-less Sixers against Magic

Worst loss of the year for excuse-less Sixers against Magic

Another new feeling for the rebuilding Sixers: The bad loss with no excuse. For at least one and possibly multiple seasons, there was no real such thing as an inexcusable L, because they were so never the favorite going into any game that their excuse could almost always be "the other team was better." But four wins and one transcendent player into this season, the Ballers actually do need an excuse for dropping a home game against a subpar team by double digits. And if they had one last night in their 105-88 loss to the Orlando Magic, they weren't telling the rest of us.

Really, this game couldn't have been teed up much better for Philly: We were home, well-rested after Wednesday's weird-ass cancellation, against a 7-12 team we nearly beat early in the season, who were on the second night of a back-to-back after ceding a tough one to the Grizzlies -- and we had Joel Embiid for up to 28 minutes. If this one was to be a laugher by early in the fourth quarter, you'd almost have to assume that it'd been the Sixers who put it to bed early. 

Instead, the Sixers slumped horribly from the field in the first quarter, missing bunny after bunny and plenty of open jumpers, as they dug themselves a hole they were never quite able to climb out of. Philly kept it manageable and D.J. Augustin and Nik Vucevic caught fire for Orlando in the third quarter, and the game was suddenly in Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot territory before we could even process what was happening. 

Of course, you can't blame Embiid for this one. Though JoJo was a little out of sorts defensively on this one -- and personally, I really wish he'd stop trapping five feet outside the arc, it may cause panic in the Magic's ball-handlers but it really seems to compromise our own half-court D -- he still finished with a resounding 25-10-4 with three triples, and for the first time in his young career, 0 turnovers. (I coulda swore I saw at least one, but so says the box score, anyway.) Just another game for the Process, though the Sixers (for some reason) needed him to be immaculate last night, and he was merely phenomenal. 

Less phenomenal were the rest of the Sixers' shooters. Our bench in particular was absolutely putrid, going a combined 0-12 from three, with Nik Stauskas's streak of consecutive games with a three snapped at 15 after his scoreless, 0-6 performance. (Five assists for Sauce, at least.) Jahlil posted a dominant stat line of 16 and 13 (on 8-10 shooting) but was again hapless on defense, ending a team-worst -19 for the night. And Dario Saric's slumping continued with a 1-5 shooting outing with no rebounds or assists, likely his worst game of the season. 

It was a surprisingly listless effort from a team that should have looked much sharper, and the most positive non-Joel-related thing to be said about it is that it's (sort of) nice to finally have expectations high enough to have them let down. It'll be a lot harder for Philly to let down tonight against the Celtics, without JoJo, against a pretty good and mostly healthy Boston team. But that's five losses in a row already for the improving Sixers, and it'd be nice to cut off that streak soon, before it starts threatening double digits -- we could certainly do with being done with those for the forseeable future.

No longer feeling like a rookie, Wendell Smallwood more comfortable as lead back

No longer feeling like a rookie, Wendell Smallwood more comfortable as lead back

As the Eagles prepared to face the Green Bay Packers last week, rookie Wendell Smallwood readied himself for a big role.
 
Then he got just nine carries. 
 
It wasn’t that those carries went elsewhere, it was that the Eagles got away from the run game early in the 27-13 loss to the Packers despite being down one score for most of the game. Ultimately, he had half of the team’s carries. 
 
On Friday, head coach Doug Pederson said the disparity in play-calling didn’t have anything to do with having Smallwood as the lead back instead of Ryan Mathews. 
 
“Not really,” Pederson said. “Again, that's something – when I go back ask evaluate after the game – it's something I have to consider more of: Did I run the ball enough or throw the ball enough or not enough or did I do it too much, one way or the other. 
But no, that did not dispel anything, run or pass.”
 
For the second straight week, Mathews is out with an MCL sprain, which means Smallwood is preparing for a bigger role in the offense again. That could also mean his second career start in as many weeks. 
 
Having gone through this process last week has made this week even easier. 
 
“I think I'm very comfortable, more than I was last week,” Smallwood said. “I kind of knew I was going to have a lead role, kind of thinking about a lot, how to play better and take on the load that I was probably going to get. So this week, I think it was kind of natural for me, not really worrying about it.”
 
Smallwood, who was a fifth-round pick out of West Virginia, has 66 carries for 290 yards and one touchdown this season. Smallwood's average of 4.4 yards per attempt is sixth in the league among rookie with at least 60 carries this season. He also has the most rushing yards of any Eagles rookie since Bryce Brown in 2012. 
 
While the Eagles would probably have preferred to use Mathews more this season, the veteran has played just 53 more snaps than Smallwood. 
 
Does Smallwood even feel like a rookie anymore? 
 
“Nah, definitely not, definitely not,” he said with a smile. “Probably after Week 3 I stopped feeling like a rookie. And guys tell me all the time, 'we need you to play, we don't need you to be a rookie right now.' So kind of forced not to be a rookie.”