What the hell has been going on with Sixers garbage time lately?

What the hell has been going on with Sixers garbage time lately?

With their 107-99 loss to the Wizards in Monday's MLK matinee--not really as close as that final score makes it look--the Philadelphai 76ers have lost three straight, and seven of eight. This is, of course, not particularly surprising: Despite winning four straight on the road prior to their recent cold spell, just about everything pointed to a downturn in the Sixers' play at some point, and now with injuries to Tony Wroten and Brandon Davies depleting the team's already shallow bench (and the inevitable regressions to the mean sapping Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young of their productivity), now seems like as good a time as any.

What has been notable to me, however, is the way that Coach Brown has handled garbage time in the three most recent losses. Here's how Brown has handled the end-of-game stretches of the three losses:

Friday against Miami: The fourth quarter starts with all five Sixer starters on the bench and Miami up by 18. Though the Sixers trim the lead to 14 by an official timeout at the 8:45 mark, about when the starters would usually start to trickle back into the lineup, Brown leaves the bench unit out there--even as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra gets his first five back in the game--and none of the starters re-enter the game before Miami pulls away and ends up winning by 15.

Saturday in Chicago: The fourth quarter starts with Michael Carter-Williams still on the floor, and Chicago up by a resounding 27. Though the game remains roundly out of reach for the entire quarter, Brown brings his other four starters back to the floor, and after giving him about a minute's rest, he sends MCW back out as well. The starting five fail to make any real headway, and are all eventually replaced by bench guys with about four minutes to go, as the Sixers lose by 25.

Today in Washington: The fourth quarter starts with Carter-Williams and Thaddeus Young on the floor with three bench guys, as the Sixers trail by 13. Though both Young and Carter-Williams have had strong games--MCW in particular having one of his best of the season, just two off his career high with 31--Young exits the game with eight minutes to go, and Carter-Williams with four minutes left and Philly down 16, as Spencer Hawes returns to finish things out with the bench crew. Though the Sixers quickly (and surprisingly) make legitimate inroads, cutting the Wizards lead to eight with two-and-a-half minutes to go, Brown leaves Thad and MCW on the bench, and Evan Turner doesn't play the entire fourth quarter. The Wizards just barely hold the fort and end up winning by eight.

The pattern here to me is very inconsistent. When Brett Brown left the starters out of the Miami game late, even though the final result was still in question enough to make Spoelstra nervous, I felt like I understood it--the Sixers weren't likely to come back, and the team had a road game the next night that Brown likely didn't want the team to be utterly exhausted for. I didn't love him throwing the towel in so prematurely against the hated Heat at home, but I could live with it, especially if it meant a better effort in Chicago (which it ultimately didn't, but whatever.)

However, if that was the explanation on Friday, it doesn't make so much sense today. Coming back from double-digits against the two-time-champion Heat and the mediocre Wizards isn't the same thing, and with the Sixers not playing again until Wednesday this week, it doesn't seem likely Coach Brown would consider resting his main guys a priority. Down eight points with over two minutes to go, the Sixers had a shot--an outside shot, sure, but not a dismissible one--to steal that game, and it's surprising to me that Brown would leave MCW and his 31 points on 13-22 shooting, as well as Evan Turner and his decent track record of clutch proficiency this season, on the bench for it, in favor of Lorenzo Brown and Elliott Williams.

Maybe, then, Brown wanted to reward his bench units for making their late-game runs, as well as riding the hot hands to see if they could battle back on their own? But then why did he re-introduce the starters in Chicago, when it was clear that they weren't getting the job done, and most of them were struggling through some of their worst outings of the season? Why only bring your best guys back when the game is most out of reach?

Of course, there might be a consistent explanation for all of this, and maybe you've been screaming it at your computer screen since you started reading this article: Perhaps Brett Brown didn't really want to try to win these games. Perhaps he's leaving his starters out there when the game's decided and going with the bench crews when the game's still a little in doubt because he didn't want to chance actually coming out of the game with a win. Perhaps this is the long-awaited beginning of the 76ers actually making proactive steps towards tanking.

It would certainly make sense, at least in theory, though it's hard to believe Brown would willingly do such a thing in his first season as coach, when he's not really given us any indication thusfar that that's something he and/or the rest of the Sixers staff would tolerate or encourage. Maybe there's behind-the-season reasoning that's not immediately apparent, maybe Brown and his staff just wanted to do a little late-game experimenting to see what works for future reference, or maybe Brown just figured What the Hell. He's earned enough of our trust thusfar that I don't feel right questioning his motives at this point, and even if taking is the driving factor...well, this is the NBA world we live in right now, and it might be for the best when all is said and done.

Still, it's worth noting that the Sixers have lost three straight games now, and in two of them they didn't seem to try their hardest to escape with the win. If the team continues to fold from here, we may look back at this three-game stretch as the moment when the Sixers patted themselves on the back for a surprisingly exciting start to the season, figured that was good enough for now, and figured we'd play out the string and try again next year. Hard to disagree with that line of thinking, though it might make the second half of the season a lot more of a chore to watch than the first.

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Earlier this week, Doug Pederson admitted cornerback Eric Rowe had some “hiccups” during the spring, and seemed to indicate they stemmed from learning a new defense. 

Rowe says that wasn’t the problem at all.

“It wasn’t the new defense that was giving me whatever hiccups [Pederson] was talking about,” Rowe said on Wednesday as he reported for his second training camp (see Day 3 observations). “It was just, I was having trouble breaking on top of the routes, specifically the curl routes. But fade ball, deep post, digs, I didn’t have any trouble there. It was just curl routes. I just knew I had to work on it after the OTAs.”

Rowe, 23, said the problem was technical; he just needed to get his feet down quicker.

Whatever the problem, whatever the hiccups, it seems as though Rowe’s standing within the organization and on the depth chart isn’t what it once was.

Many thought he would be a starter in 2016, like he was at the end of 2015, but that wasn’t the way things were in the spring. Instead, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks took those positions, and it looks like Nolan Carroll, returning from an injury, and rookie Jalen Mills, who hasn’t yet practiced in pads, are vying for playing time, too.

In back-to-back days earlier this week, Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz failed to mention Rowe’s name while listing players at the cornerback spot. Coincidental omissions or a vocalized unofficial depth chart?

Rowe could possibly go from starter to deep bench player, but that’s not what he’s planning on.

“I know I had a little ups and downs in OTAs, but now the pads are coming on,” Rowe said. “I feel like it’s a fresh start for me and I’m just ready to get out here.”

Pads go on Saturday.

“Right now, I think I still stand in a good position (with the team),” Rowe said. “Football is about the game with pads on. Now we’re really about to see in a couple days when we put the pads on.”

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

He looks like a small back. He's built like a small back. He wants to play like a big back.

Wendell Smallwood, trying to make the Eagles as a reserve tailback, stands 5-foot-10, 208 pounds, but he said he’s got a surprise for defenders that think he’s one of those itty-bitty backs that dances around looking pretty … until they get hit.

“I think that’s what most people expect,” he said. “But when I actually put my head down and fight for those extra yards and get under guys, guys start to say, ‘Hey!’ They start to feel me a little bit.

“So I definitely think that started to show my last year in college, and I started becoming more of an inside zone type of runer instead of an outside runner.”

None of this should be a surprise considering Smallwood’s position coach is Duce Staley, who during his 10-year NFL career was much more interested in running over people than around them.

Smallwood is nowhere near as big as Staley, who played at about 235 to 240. But that’s the kind of back he wants to be.

“It’s definitely important to me and it’s definitely what Duce wants me to do,” Smallwood said. “He wants me to hit the holes and hit ‘em hard and that’s the reason he got me here.

“Duce, he doesn’t like small backs. He doesn’t. I don’t think he believes in those guys. He was a big boy. Running dudes over left and right. That’s what he wants.”

Smallwood played sparingly as a freshman at West Virginia, shared time with Rushel Shell as a sophomore, then took over last year when he led the Big 12 with 1,519 rushing yards and added nine touchdowns, 26 catches and a 6.4 rushing average.

The Eagles plucked him out of Morgantown in the fifth round, and in an uncertain running back picture, he’s got a realistic chance to not just make the team but play a role.

Just don’t expect him to play like a typical guy his size.

“I don’t consider myself a small back anymore,” he said. “People have always said that and I kind of started to agree, but then I looked at some of the guys who are around and I’m not a small back at all.

“I’m not little and the running style I like to do is suited for a big back, and my catching kind of throws people off. I definitely think I’m a mixture of both.”

Smallwood ranked 13th in Division I in rushing yards last year, and his 6.4 average was tied for ninth among backs with at least 200 carries.

He said a lot of defenders expect him to be a finesse back, a guy who likes to juke safeties and linebackers instead of bowling them over.

“Get me going downhill and I’ll get you what I can get you,” he said. “A lot of (defenders) kind of take the easy route and think it’s going to be easy and then the rest of the game they’re going low and trying to take my legs out.”

Look at the Eagles’ running back picture.

The starter is Ryan Mathews, who is talented but injury-prone. The backup right now probably is Kenjon Barner, who has 34 career carries. Then there’s Darren Sproles, whose 3.8 average last year was his lowest since 2009 and second-lowest of his 11-year career.

With a strong camp, there’s no reason Smallwood can’t work himself into that picture.

The last frontier for the Northern Delaware native is blitz pickup. Something he was never asked to do at WVU.

“I don’t think I did basically any in college,” he said. “They didn’t ask me to block at all. I was mainly running routes.

“But as soon as I got here, Duce emphasized, ‘If you want to get on the field, you’re going to block. If you’re not going to block, you’re not going to play.”

Staley’s No. 22 wasn’t available, but Smallwood is happy to wear the jersey number of another one of his favorite backs growing up, Correll Buckhalter’s No. 28, who he seems quite similar to.

It’s not fair to compare Smallwood to Staley, Buckhalter, Brian Westbrook or any other former Eagles back until the pads go on and we see what he’s really made of.

But Smallwood said he’s thrilled Staley is his coach and said there’s nobody he’d rather be playing for.

“I think he’s a great fit for me as a coach,” Smallwood said. “I need a kind of guy who drives me, tough guy, who’s not going to let up, who’s going to keep his foot on my back. I definitely need that kind of coaching.

“Just being around him growing up and seeing what he did when he was here and how he runs and him being one of my favorite backs, I was kind of star-struck to be around him, and now he’s my coach. It’s definitely a great situation for me.”

Patience being tested after Phillies' embarrassing 10-run loss to Marlins

Patience being tested after Phillies' embarrassing 10-run loss to Marlins

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Wednesday was a miserable day for the Phillies, but there was one winner among the group.

Bench coach Larry Bowa was ejected from the game in the fourth inning, sparing him from having to watch a full dose of the carnage that befell the team in an embarrassing 11-1 loss to the Miami Marlins (see Instant Replay).

Manager Pete Mackanin wasn’t as fortunate as Bowa. He had to stick around for all nine innings as Zach Eflin struggled through a poor start and the weak-hitting Phillies came within an out of being shut out for the second straight game.

“He was mad at the umpire,” Mackanin said of Bowa. “He couldn't control himself. He had to let it out.

“In this game, when you win, you get giddy. When you lose, you want to hang yourself. You have to stay even keeled. You have to stay consistent. At least I have to. I have to try to stay consistent emotionally. 

“I used to be more emotional when I was younger. Over time, I just learned that it doesn't do you any good. My fate is left in the hands of the players.”

The players have not performed all that well since coming back from the All-Star break. Wednesday’s loss dropped the club to 4-9 since the break, dropping it to 11 games under .500. The Phils are averaging just 2.6 runs per game over that span and the pitching has been spotty. The baserunning, particularly by Cesar Hernandez, has been poor, as well.

“This game is all about consistency,” Mackanin said. “Repeating your delivery. Showing plate discipline. Not getting yourself out. Making the plays. Doing the little things on a consistent basis. Over the course of 162 games, the teams that do these things the best are the best teams.”

Wednesday’s loss dropped the Phillies to 2-4 on the first two legs of this 10-game trip. But all is not lost. The Phils play the Braves in Atlanta the next four days. The Braves have the worst record in the majors.

“We're going to Atlanta,” said Mackanin, not realizing he was about to damn his club with faint praise. “I think we have a good chance to compete against Atlanta to end the month on a positive note.”

The Phils came up short offensively and on the mound Wednesday. Actually, they had 10 hits, but only one was for extra bases, and they left 10 men on base while getting just one hit in eight chances with a runner in scoring position. (The Phils were 2 for 21 in those situations in the series.) Marlins lefty Adam Conley pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings and pitched out of bases-loaded trouble twice.

Eflin was hit hard early. The Marlins scored three runs in the first inning, two on a scorching two-run homer to left by Giancarlo Stanton. The bruising line drive left Stanton’s bat at 112 mph.

In all, Eflin was tagged for nine hits, including the homer and a pair of triples, and seven runs in five innings. Mackanin said Eflin “was not the same guy” that pitched a three-hit shutout in his previous start at Pittsburgh.

“I didn't like the mix of pitches he used,” Mackanin said. “We were hoping he'd use his curveball a little bit more. I thought he made some good pitches that the umpire missed. But that wasn't the reason. He just wasn't the same guy. We stranded 10 runners — had some chances to get something going but couldn't capitalize.”

Eflin was grazed on his pitching hand by a pitch during batting practice Tuesday, but said that did not affect him at all.

“I was just up with everything,” he said. “I wasn't executing. That's what it came down to. I was leaving all my pitches up in the zone and didn't give my team the best chance to win the ballgame. I didn't do my job. I've got to work on being consistent and staying down in the zone.”

Eflin is just 22. He had a 1.80 ERA in four previous starts in the month of July. He will be right back out there when his turn in the rotation comes up again next week.

But Mackanin seems to be losing patience with others. He laughed when a reporter asked him if it was time for a lineup shakeup.

“What do you think?” Mackanin said with some exasperation. “We've faced some tough pitching lately. It's an up-and-down season. That's the type of team we have. We don't have consistency in the lineup. Let's put it that way. That doesn't bode that well.”

Riding out a rebuild means Mackanin doesn’t have a whole lot of options at his disposal. He probably will have a new face to put in the lineup Thursday night in Atlanta, though. It appears as if Peter Bourjos will go on the disabled list and Aaron Altherr will be activated (see story). Altherr was projected to start in the outfield until blowing out his wrist in spring training. He is healthy now (see story). Maybe he can bring a spark to a lineup that has been mostly lifeless since the All-Star break.