Weird But We'll Take It: Sixers Win Ugly Season Opener Against Nuggets

Weird But We'll Take It: Sixers Win Ugly Season Opener Against Nuggets

How many times are you gonna win a game when every non-frontcourt player
you have shoots a combined 17-57? Well, the answer is at least "once,"
as that's exactly what the Philadelphia 76ers did tonight in their
season opener hosting the Denver Nuggets. The Sixers shot a teamwide
35%, but forced 22 turnovers, blocked 11 shots, and held the much-hyped
Nuggets to a resounding 37.5% from the field themselves, leading for the
great majority of the game and fending off a fourth-quarter surge to
ruin Andre Iguodala's already-mixed homecoming at the WFC. No Big Macs,
but Sixers fans will have to do with an 84-75 victory.

The game
MVP—and the league MVP, if you believe the chants reigning down from the
Wells Fargo Center—was Spencer Hawes. The Big GOPper put up 16 and 12,
with two dimes, two steals and two threes (!!), eliciting cheers like
you wouldn't believe from the Sixer faithful. The most impressive stat
on the night for Spence, though, has to be his five blocks—legit blocks,
too, and in big spots—tying his all-time high for the Sixers. Hawes'
post defense tonight was certainly as good as I've ever seen
it—admittedly not saying much, but still. It appears that if last
season's early dominance was a fluke for Spencer, then it's going to be a
yearly fluke, since he was great all pre-season and looked like a
friggin' all-star out there tonight. (And by my count, this is his second-straight home opener where he's gotten his name chanted—one more and he must have the all-time Sixer record.)

The
second star for the Sixers tonight—relatively speaking, anyway—was Jrue
Holiday. Jrue had a rough night from the field, starting off with a
couple three-point plays but then drying up for the majority of the
second and third quarters. But even if he took his time rising to the
moment, he certainly did in the end, as a third three-point play, a dish
to Spencer and another timely hoop in consecutive possessions helped
ice the game for the Sixers as the Nuggets cut Philly's lead down to
one. Holiday also distributed excellently as a drive-and-kick offense
intiator, ending with 11 dimes and just three turnovers. (Coach Collins
suggested Holiday might finish the season top five in the league in
assists, and...well, it's not impossible. We'll see after more than one
game.)

Aside from those two, it was a lot of Yes, But and No,
But with our guys. Jason Richardson and Dorell Wright drained some
threes early but went Kanye West-cold for the game's remainder, ending a
combined 4-15 from deep. Nick Young was typically sloppy early but
redeemed himself with some timely fourth-quarter hoops. Evan Turner
was...Evan Turner, ending with five points, six rebounds, two assists,
three turnovers and four fouls. It wasn't exactly a championship
performance from our guys tonight.

Still, the defense was there,
and even if the offense didn't always work, at least it appears to be
coherent. Jrue Holiday has the keys to the offense, and makes most of
his plays penetrating and kicking to his bigs spotting up on the wings
and elbows, or kicking out to his shooters behind the arc, with the
pick-and-pop with Spencer and Lavoy as a back-up plan and Turner and
Nick Young as last-resort options if the play breaks down. You'd like to
see it run a little smoother than it was tonight—like it was in the
pre-season for instance—but as Collins himself said, credit is due to
the Denver defense, and even though they were without offensive dynamo
Danilo Gallinari, this is a good team the Sixers beat tonight. Let's not
ask for too much out of Game One.

Anyway, obviously a lot to
work on, but a win is a win, and it's the first one they've had on
opening night since 2006, when they beat the Hawks 88-75 behind 32
points from Allen Iverson. Next up is a home-and-home with the New York
Knicks over Sunday and Monday, with hopefully more of a chance (against a
division rival) to see exactly what's going on from this team. I
wouldn't read a ton into anything that happened tonight—minus that
Spence might really be due for another early-season kick—but again, 1-0
is pretty damn nice.

Oh, and about Andre Iguodala—I hope it
wasn't any of you at the game booing him. I'm not gonna launch into a
defense of his eight years spent with the Philadelphia 76ers—if you
don't get it by now, you probably never will—but he served this team
ably through eight years, a lot of then more thin than thick, and I
don't understand how right-thinking Sixer fans could have anything but
love for the guy. There were at least two nice moments for Dre amidst
the booing: Video played of his Game Six heroics versus the Bulls, which
got even some of the haters clapping, and a post-game embrace with Jrue
Holiday, later revealed by Holiday to be 'Dre saying the two were
"family for life." Damn straight.)

Photo From Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Tuesday night he'd still like another veteran bat in addition to Howie Kendrick, though he understands the front office is conscious of not blocking young prospects.

The Phillies need offense and the clearest area to upgrade is an outfield corner. But don't expect to see the Phils go after Jose Bautista, Michael Saunders or anyone of that ilk, because those players will require multi-year guarantees and everyday playing time. If you sign one of them, you're basically telling two of Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr that they won't be needed much the next three years. 

That would be unwise. The whole point of rebuilding is filling a roster with young, inexpensive talent and then eventually supplementing that core with established players who fit. Look at what the Cubs did. Look at what the Astros are doing now, adding older players like Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Nori Aoki and Josh Reddick to fill in the holes around Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.

For that reason, a player like Seth Smith would be a worthwhile addition for the Phillies.

Smith, 34, makes $7 million in 2017, the final year of his contract with the Mariners. When Mackanin discusses "professional hitters," Smith is the type. He has one of the better batting eyes in baseball, chasing about eight percent fewer pitches outside the strike zone the last three years than the league average.

He's a career .261/.344/.447 hitter who averages 29 doubles, 16 homers, 56 walks and 102 strikeouts per 162 games.

The left-handed Smith can play both outfield corners, and he's always been very effective against right-handed pitching. He has a .272 career batting average with an .827 OPS against righties compared to .202 with a .594 OPS vs. lefties. 

Smith is a fit for the Phillies for several reasons. They need more offense from the corner outfield. Logically, that outfielder should be a left-handed hitter because the Phillies' projected middle of the order has four right-handed bats in Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp and Kendrick.

Furthermore, Smith, unlike Saunders, for example, does not require everyday playing time. Smith shouldn't start against lefties. That would provide opportunities to Altherr and Quinn in 2017, while protecting against ineffectiveness from Altherr and another injury to Quinn.

And lastly, Smith is not going to cost anything meaningful via trade. He's a 34-year-old platoon player in the final year of his deal. The Phillies could likely land him for an insignificant prospect, perhaps a pitcher who had a high strikeout rate last season in the low levels of the minor leagues. 

For Seattle, it would be more of a salary dump. The Mariners' 2016 payroll is already $20 million more than it was last year, and per reports, they seem willing to spend to improve their starting rotation.

Smith is not a game-changer, that's not the argument here. He's not J.D. Martinez, a much bigger name and better player. Martinez would also fit the Phillies as a one-year option, and they'd likely be interested in keeping him around longer if they could acquire him. But any trade with the Tigers for Martinez wouldn't be nearly as painless for the Phils as acquiring Smith. 

So perhaps more than other available outfielders, Smith would be an offensive upgrade and a player who fits the Phillies' goal of improving without stunting a top prospect's growth.

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

VOORHEES, N.J. — They are among the very best – and highest scoring — lines in the NHL this season.
 
And they’re gunning for the Flyers on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
Connor McDavid’s unit with Milan Lucic and Leon Draisaitl have a combined 30 goals and 78 points worth of offense. 
 
Among them, the lightning quick McDavid leads the NHL with 36 points. All 11 of his goals are even strength. 
 
He doesn’t have a single power-play goal, but is tied for the league lead with several players, including Claude Giroux, with 10 power-play assists.
 
You can expect to see Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s unit with Chris VandeVelde and Dale Weise against this line with defenseman Ivan Provorov drawing McDavid for the first time this season.
 
“Speed and skill that Edmonton has up front presents a real good challenge for our team,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “We have to be better with the puck tomorrow. 
 
“We didn’t do enough when we had the puck. Gave it up a little too easily and because of that, you end up playing defense a lot of the night and that’s what happened last night to us.”
 
Bellemare, who had his share of forward battles with Jaromir Jagr in Tuesday, likes to analyze the matchups against McDavid.
 
“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Bellemare said of the 19-year-old McDavid. “It’s tough not to be excited when playing against a guy who plays like this. He competes every second he is on the ice. That line is an impressive line.”
 
The Flyers better have some bad, choppy ice to slow McDavid down. Edmonton has some of the fastest ice in the league and the Oilers use it to their full advantage. 
 
Asked of McDavid’s tendencies, Bellemare said, “Is that a tendency? To be super fast?”
 
Yes it is. 
 
“When you play against them, he is a kid who is freaky fast right from the start,” Bellemare said. “Against that line, you saw [against Buffalo] that everyone knows how fast he is and he still had two breakaways.”
 
Which means the Flyers need to watch their turnovers, especially in the neutral zone where McDavid can go 60 feet in a flash.
 
“Even blue line to the top of the circle, you can’t turn the puck over,” Bellemare said. “Or he’s gone. This is a tendency we have to be careful of. All of the ice, you can’t give him any time or space. The less time you give him, the bigger chance you have to frustrate a player like this.”
 
Bellemare did some talking with Jagr a couple times in Tuesday’s game. So did Provorov. Bellemare says it helps to add psychology to the mix.
 
“You try to be in his face,” Bellemare said. “If you can win that battle against that line and our first line can win the battle against their fourth line, then it’s a win-win situation. I was trying to be in [Jagr’s] face.”
 
Jagr actually got angrier at Provorov and it showed with his hooking calls. But when Bellemare and Jagr went into the corner, Jagr got testy with his stick there as well.
 
“He was trying to give it to me a little harder,” Bellemare said. “Exactly what I need. If he is less focused on the puck, then maybe I have a chance to win that puck.”
 
McDavid’s focus will be solely on the puck.
 
“McDavid has been playing some pretty good hockey,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “They’re a high-tempo team. A smart team. We’ve got to be ready.”
 
Loose pucks
Boyd Gordon came off long term injured reserve onto the active roster to give the Flyers 13 forwards. In doing that, Matt Read (oblique pull) went on injured reserve. … Defenseman Michael Del Zotto will sit against the Oilers while Radko Gudas returns from an illness. Gudas will be paired with Mark Streit, as Ivan Provorov remains with Andrew MacDonald for now. … Steve Mason, who did not practice Wednesday, will start in goal.