What Difference Does It Make? Sixers Face Rose-Less Bulls in Game Two

What Difference Does It Make? Sixers Face Rose-Less Bulls in Game Two

It probably says something about this series and the two teams involved that shortly after news of reigning MVP Derrick Rose's post-season-ending ACL tear broke, the discussion became "Does this mean the Bulls can't beat the Heat?" or in the slightly shorter-term, "Does this mean the Bulls can't beat the Celtics?" Remind any of these NBA prognosticators that the Bulls still technically have a first-round series to get through, and they'll probably say "Oh yeah, the Sixers? Well, they should still get through those guys no problem. Hey, did you see that Clippers-Grizzlies game on Sunday...?"

That's right: Even without Derrick Rose, nobody thinks that the Sixers have a chance against the Bulls. And really, why should they? The Rose-less Bulls still won at a much better clip during the regular season (18-9, a 67% winning percentage) than the Sixers did with their regular roster, and in the one game the two teams played without Rose, the Bulls won 89-80. The Bulls were even able to do that one thing without Rose that forever eluded the Sixers with their near-full complement of players: Beat the Miami Heat.

Still...take away Rose, and the teams do start seeming to match up kind of evenly. Elton Brand and Carlos Boozer, the two Duke power forwards, both have their respective strengths and weaknesses, but probably end up as something of a wash. Luol Deng and Andre Iguodala are both first-time All-Stars known for their prowess as wing defenders. John Lucas III has a little Lou Williams to him. And if you split the difference between the skills of Jodie Meeks and Evan Turner, the resulting player would probably look something like Rip Hamilton. When you look at it like that, it seems like this should be a pretty even series.

But there's still a huge advantage that Chicago boasts without their top scorer and emotional leader: Size. Starting center Joakim Noah can't shoot quite as well as Spencer Hawes, but he can pass like Spence does, and he can also do those things that centers are conventionally supposed to do, like rebound and block shots and protect the paint and such. The Bulls also bring two big-bodied bangers off the bench in Omir Asik and Taj Gibson off the bench that the Sixers have absolutely no answer for—Thaddeus Young, Nikola Vucevic and Lavoy Allen just don't have the size, muscle or boarding/defensive wherewithal to hang. If the Bulls can continue to own the glass, they can control the pace of the game, and score enough easy points off second-chance opportunities and run-outs that it'll mitigate the loss of Rose's 21.8 PPG a little.

Of course, if the Sixers can hang tough for three quarters, the loss of Rose does mean that the Bulls now join our ranks of the closerless—without Rose, crunchtime possessions either run through likely replacement starter CJ Watson or post scorer Carlos Boozer, neither of whom anyone is going to be confusing with Dirk Nowitzki in the fourth quarter anytime soon. You'd still probably take their options over those of the Sixers, but it at least means that one of the Bulls' biggest advantages over the Sixers going into the series has been nullified somewhat, and should the games ever be tight down the stretch, we'll all be hugely relieved not to see #1 in red dancing around in the half-court, causing all kinds of trouble for Philly.

8:00 tip tonight from the United Center. Hard to say exactly where the series goes from here, but realistically speaking, post-Rose injury I'd adjust the Sixers' chances in this series from about 1 in 15 to about 1 in 8 -- even if that's about twice as likely, it's still a relatively small chance in general. If the Sixers are goign to win this series, then I don't think I'm going out on much of a limb by saying they have to start with a win tonight -- punch the reeling Chicago in the mouth, take back home court and put the rest of the league on notice that the Bulls haven't advanced to face the Celtics (or maybe the Hawks, and then maybe the Heat) just yet.

Phillies sign OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts

Phillies sign OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts

The Phillies made a couple quiet additions as the winter meetings ended, signing veteran outfielder Daniel Nava and lefty reliever Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts.

Nava, 34 in February, is a left-handed hitter who can play the outfield corners and first base. He came up with the Red Sox and became a fan favorite in Boston in 2010 as a 27-year-old rookie. Some Phillies fans will remember him for hitting a grand slam off Joe Blanton in his first major-league plate appearance.

Nava had a few decent years in Boston, the best of which was 2013, when he had 536 plate appearances and hit .303/.385/.445 with 29 doubles, 12 homers and 66 RBIs. 

Nava's numbers and opportunities have dropped every year since. He was designated for assignment by Boston in 2015, latched on with the Rays, signed the next year with the Angels and was traded late in the season to the Royals.

Over the last two seasons, Nava has hit just .208, albeit with an on-base percentage 99 points higher because of his 30 walks and 10 hit by pitches.

Burnett, 34, has spent five of the last seven seasons in the Nationals' bullpen. He had a 2.85 ERA in 283 appearances from 2009-12 and parlayed that success into a two-year, $7.25 million contract with the Angels. However, he barely pitched in 2013 and 2014 for the Halos because of an elbow tear. He returned to the Nats last season and allowed two runs in 5⅔ innings.

Burnett, perhaps more so than Nava, has a chance to fill a role with the Phillies if he can stay healthy. He's shown he can get outs at the highest level, posting a 2.38 ERA in 2012 with 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings and a 2.14 ERA with 8.9 K/9 in 2010. That was a long time ago now, and Burnett's fastball has dipped from averaging 90-91 mph to 88.

According to Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith, Burnett will receive a $1.25 million salary if he makes the team and can earn another $1.75 million in incentives based on his number of appearances.

Burnett has an opt-out date of March 26, meaning he can become a free agent a week before the regular season begins if it looks to him like he isn't in the Phils' plans.

Nava's chances at cracking the opening-day roster seem longer because the Phillies are expected to make more depth signings between now and the start of camp. They've prioritized finding some offense in the corner outfield and that could come in the form of more minor-league deals, a guaranteed contract or trade. One potential fit I examined last week was Mariners outfielder Seth Smith, a hitter more proven than Nava (see story).

These minor-league deals were commonplace for Phillies general manager Matt Klentak last offseason, when the only free agent he signed to a major-league deal was reliever David Hernandez. 

Last season, three players who were signed to minor-league deals with invites to spring training made the team on opening day: outfielder Cedric Hunter, utilityman Emmanuel Burriss and reliever James Russell.

Others, such as former closers Edward Mujica, Ernesto Frieri and Andrew Bailey, failed to make the team out of camp. Bailey eventually earned a call-up; the other two didn't.

Former Sixer Lou Williams lighting it up with Lakers off the bench

Former Sixer Lou Williams lighting it up with Lakers off the bench

Former Sixers point guard and Meek Mill collaborator Lou Williams is enjoying quite the run off the bench for the Lakers recently.

Over Los Angeles' last four games, Williams has posted totals of 40, 38, 24, and 35 points. 

The six-man is averaging 34.5 points per game over the stretch, and his 137 points are the most off the bench in a four-game span by any player since 1970-71, when stats were first recorded, per Elias Sports Bureau, via ESPN. Williams is now averaging 19.3 points this season, which is 4.4 more than his highest average with the Sixers.

Williams isn’t the only player who used to play for the Sixers that is playing well for the Lakers this year. Nick “Swaggy P” Young, who also comes off the bench, is averaging 13.3 points per game. Just a few weeks ago, Swaggy P stole a pass intended for Lou Williams, and then proceeded to hit a game winner against the Thunder. Swaggy P, however, is currently sidelined with a right calf strain, but is getting closer to a return.

"Lou Will" was also talked about last April during Kobe Bryant’s final NBA game, when he was beefing on Twitter with another former Philadelphia athlete, LeSean McCoy.