What Are You Gonna Do? Pacers Hit Ton of Shots, Get Ton of Calls, Beat Sixers

What Are You Gonna Do? Pacers Hit Ton of Shots, Get Ton of Calls, Beat Sixers

Maybe you think the Sixers lost this game by a lot. Literally speaking I
suppose they did, since the 17-point margin of their 111-94 defeat
meets most conventional definitions of "a lot." But did the Pacers
actually outplay the Sixers considerably? I'm not convinced. They just
made more shots and got more calls. You could blame it on bad defense,
but only a small percentage of the made shots were off defensive
miscues, and a lot of the fouls seemed pretty damn questionable.
Meanwhile, the Sixers shot 53% from the field and 46% from deep,
assisted on 63% of their field goals, and only turned the ball over nine
times. How mad can you really get?

Perhaps more importantly,
the Sixers got good games from their now-proclaimed Backcourt of the
Future, whose progress individually and as teammates is probably as
important if not more so than the team's collective fate this regular
season. Jrue Holiday didn't have great ball-handling numbers, just four
assists with three turnovers, but was dynamite scoring the ball, making
seven of eight for 17 points. Jrue's assist numbers are inevitable going
to go down sharing ball-handling responsibilities with Evan and 'Dre in
the starting lineup, but as long as he's making shots and scoring
efficiently (and defending on the other end), he can remain a key part
of the team's future without posting gaudy passing numbers.

And
Evan Turner kept his streak of Villainy alive with maybe his best-ever
game shooting the ball (like a real two-guard!), hitting nine of
11—including a variety of baseline jumpers, fadeaways, even a
three-pointer!—for 21 points. Turner's rebounding fell off a little in
this one, only grabbing five total, but he added four assists, three
steals and two blocks, without a single turnover in 38 minutes. Even
with the good overall numbers, though, it was the shooting that really
impressed—he's in a groove now like we haven't seen all season, and for
maybe the first time since last year's playoffs, he actually looked like
a legit two-guard out there tonight. (By the way, Evan has now scored
over 20 points in three of the last four games, after doing so only four
times in the first 116 games of his career. Unbelievable with this
guy.)

If you really were gonna fault the Sixers for one thing tonight, it
would be their interior defense. Nice as it was to have Spencer Hawes
back on the court—and he was fine on offense, with six points and three
assists in less than 20 minutes—he didn't exactly help the team with
their rebounding woes, grabbing just two total as he, Nik Vucevic and
Elton Brand were brutalized on the offensive boards in the first half,
and the Pacers frontcourt got way too many layups and free throws. The
Sixers were ultimately out-rebounded 36-27, and only got ten free throws
to Indiana's 22—both problems for the team all season, and ones which
unlike in the last few games, Evan Turner wasn't able to help them out
with.

Still, I'm giving the Sixers a pass on this one. Sometimes you just face
a team that seems to make every shot—the nail-in-coffin back-to-back
threes by George Hill in the fourth were particularly ridiculous—and
playing good D just doesn't seem to be good enough. If the Sixers and
Pacers played a seven-game series—which they very well might in the
not-too-distant future—I'd imagine Philly and Indy would each have one
game this good, and the other five would be decided by single digits.
The teams are almost exactly equal in quality, and tonight's loss
doesn't do much to dissuade that notion for me.

The only reason this loss particularly hurts is because it might be the
first of three straight for the Sixers, as they now go on to face the
Bulls and Heat in succession this weekend. But we'll deal with those
games then, and in the meantime, it's hard to feel too bummed about a
loss where your two most promising young players shoot a combined 16-20.
The Extraterrestrial Invasion continues, and for tonight, that's good
enough.

Eagles Stay or Go Part 6: Taylor Hart to Donnie Jones

Eagles Stay or Go Part 6: Taylor Hart to Donnie Jones

In the sixth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — part 6 is Hart to Jones.

Taylor Hart

Roob: No matter how hard the Eagles try, they just can't get rid of Taylor Hart. Chip Kelly drafted Hart in the fifth round in 2014 and then Hart began last season with Kelly in San Francisco before reappearing here later in the season. Hart is going into his fourth NFL season and has 15 games, 12 tackles and no sacks to show for it. He turns 26 next month and has never shown any signs of being a guy who can contribute in a 4-3 defense. I’m going to say he goes, but don't be surprised if he finds his way back onto the roster at some point. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Hart was with the Eagles last training camp but cut him on Sept. 4 and he was claimed by the 49ers and Chip Kelly. Then when the Niners cut him, the Eagles claimed him back and he spent the rest of the season watching the Eagles play football. He was inactive in all but the last game and in that one he didn’t play. Hart is a former fifth-round pick who just fits better in a 3-4. The Eagles already played undrafted rookie Destiny Vaeao over him, so it’s time to set him free. 

Verdict: GOES

Jordan Hicks
Cap hit: $796K

Roob: Whenever you blast Chip for getting rid of Shady, DeSean and Jeremy Maclin, you have to mention that he did draft Jordan Hicks in the third round. Hicks, in just 24 games, has become one of the most productive playmaking linebackers in Eagles history. With seven interceptions, he already has the 11th-most interceptions in franchise history by a linebacker, and he led all NFL linebackers with five INTs this past season. Only four linebackers in NFL history have had more interceptions in their first two seasons – Hall of Famer Jack Ham is one of them. But Hicks is more than a ballhawk. He’s a smart, heady linebacker who is stout at the point of attack and is already developing into a terrific locker room leader as well. The future is certainly bright for Hicks.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: He just finished his second year in the NFL, but Hicks is quickly becoming one of the biggest playmaking linebackers in the league. Through the first 24 games of his career, he has seven interceptions. In his first two years, he has 7 INTs, 4 FRs, 1 FF. He’s the fifth player in NFL history to do that in his first two seasons and he’s the only linebacker. That said, Hicks needs to get better against the run and he knows it. Now that he won’t have an injury to heal from this offseason, he plans on hitting the weight room to get stronger and better at stopping the run. He looks like a cornerstone of the franchise. 

Verdict: STAYS

Malcolm Jenkins
Cap hit: $7.5M

Roob: Jenkins had another good year in his third season with the Eagles, although not quite up to his Pro Bowl level of 2015. Jenkins, who turns 30 late next season, is on the books for another four years with some pretty high cap figures — $7.5 million in 2017, then $10 million, $9.75 million and $9.25 million. But as long as Jenkins continues to play at a high level, I don’t see him going anywhere until after the 2018 season at the earliest, when he would count just $3 million in dead money if he’s released. But Jenkins is a guy you'd like to see finish his career in Philly. Hope that happens. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It’s hard to quantify just how much Jenkins means to the Eagles or how much he’s worth. But it’s a lot. The last two seasons have been the best of his career and he’s shown no signs of slowing down. The best Jenkins stat is this: He’s missed just eight defensive snaps since arriving in 2013. Unreal. If the Eagles chose to play him at cornerback last year, he would have probably been their best one. 

Verdict: STAYS

Lane Johnson
Cap hit: $10M

Roob: If he goes, it’ll be because of a third positive drug test. Johnson’s play in the six games he was available to the Eagles was at an All-Pro level. But after two positive tests for banned substances and suspensions of four games in 2014 and 10 games in 2016, he’s now one positive test away from a two-year ban that would essentially end his Eagles career. My gut feeling is Johnson has learned his lesson and won’t take any more chances. That he understands what’s at stake here and isn’t going to risk his career by taking a supplement that hasn’t been pre-tested and cleared. Obviously there are other reasons the Eagles were 5-1 when Johnson played. Those five wins included games against the hapless Browns and Bears and a win against a Cowboys team that wasn’t trying to win. But that said, Johnson’s value is clear. He's a beast. It’s up to Johnson whether he becomes a Pro Bowl offensive tackle or a casualty of the NFL’s substance abuse regulations. I can’t imagine he’ll make the same mistake again.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: A lot was made about Johnson’s suspension voiding the guaranteed portion of his contract. And for a week or so, a bunch of fans were calling into talk radio saying the Eagles should cut him. That was laughable. Johnson is still the Eagles’ best offensive player and as long as he stays on the field and plays the way he did in 2016, he’s going to make most of the money in his contract. He obviously deserves plenty of blame for the way last season went, but he’s a big piece of the future. One more suspension and his career is basically over, so the Eagles just have to hope he doesn’t ruin everything.  

Verdict: STAYS

Marcus Johnson

Roob: Johnson is an interesting guy. Ran a 4.37 so he has wheels, but he didn’t have much of a career at Texas. Then again, Texas didn’t have a legit quarterback while he was there so maybe there’s a lot of untapped potential. The Eagles are so desperate for help at wide receiver they’ll take a good long look at everybody on the roster, even a guy who bounced off and on the practice squad last year. This Longhorn is a longshot to make the roster, but then again, if he catches the football consistently in training camp he’ll give himself a fighting chance.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The receiver was with the Eagles during training camp and flashed some before getting hurt. He joined the practice squad during the season and was there at season’s end. He’ll be brought to camp but is a longshot to make the roster. 

Verdict: GOES

Donnie Jones
Cap hit: $1.25M

Roob: At 36 years old, the greatest punter in Eagles history (sorry Mat McBriar) showed no signs of slowing down. In his 13th NFL season, Jones averaged 45.8 yards per punt with a 40.7 net – both above his career highs. The most amazing thing about Jones is his knack for dropping punts inside the 20 without hitting very many touchbacks. He had 21 inside the 20 this year with just six touchbacks, and in four seasons with the Eagles he has 117 inside the 20 with just 26 touchbacks. When you don’t have an explosive offense, field position is critical, and Jones is a human field position flipping machine. The Eagles signed him to a three-year extension this year, and he’s now under contract through 2019.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: At times during the last two seasons, Jones has looked like the offense’s best weapon. That’s not a good sign for the offense, but it is for Jones. He’s already the best punter in team history. He’ll be 37 by the time the 2017 season starts, but he just signed a contract and will be the team’s punter for at least a couple more years if everything goes to plan. 

Verdict: STAYS