You Picked a Fine Time to Get Good, Sixers

You Picked a Fine Time to Get Good, Sixers

It's official—this season is last season in reverse. Instead of starting
out weirdly red hot and gradually cooling off over the course of their
season until they hit super rock bottom, they're gonna start from
super-rock-bottom this time and get weirdly red hot at year's end. Going
in this direction is certainly more perplexing than the way things went
down last season, and possibly even more frustrating, but it's arguably
much less cruel, since at least it's too far late in the year for this
team for trick us into thinking they can win a division or challenge the
Heat or something.


The Sixers beat the Blazers last night at the WFC, thus making it
three wins out of four for the Ballers in their recent homestand, with
the fourth game being a narrow loss against the Heat that really should
count as a win because c'mon. Considering the three wins were all
against decent-to-very-good opponents, and considering the Sixers had
lost 12 of 13 prior, this is a pretty remarkable stretch, and almost
certainly the best that the Sixers have played all season. Of course,
this comes amidst the news that Andrew Bynum will not play a minute for
the Sixers this year, and amidst the obvious realization that the only
thing wins can do for the Sixers at this point is hurt their draft
position. Of course.


Some things about this stretch are explicable, and encouraging. Jrue
Holiday has come back to life, back to reality over the last four
games, averaging nearly 23 a game on 50% shooting over the last four
games, along with nine assists, five boards and just two turnovers per
game–the All-Star numbers he was putting up before going ice-cold on the
Sixers' most recent road trip. Thaddeus Young has also been a monster
over this stretch, averaging 18 and about nine boards, while shooting
over 60% from the field. When the Sixers' two best players play this
well, they're gonna win games, so in that sense this is logical and good
to see.


Other things about this stretch are less explicable, and just kinda
disconcerting. Spencer Hawes, after spending much of the first
three-quarters of this season proving why he is an abysmal player not to
be trusted under any circumstances, has gone absolutely hogwild since
returning to the Wells Fargo Center, averaging 16.5 points, 11 boards,
five assists, and nearly three blocks a game over those four games,
including of course that near-quadruple-double he posted against the
Pacers on Saturday. Sixer fans should just be thankful Spence isn't
heading into free agency this off-season, otherwise they'd be so
effusive over this stretch they'd sign him to a five-year max deal out
of sheer gratitude. They might still try to do it anyway.


Even weirder has been the emergence of Damien Wilkins. 33-year-old
journeymen who haven't played more than 20 minutes a game for a team in
half a decade and were never all that good to begin with aren't supposed
to "emerge"—they're supposed to kill time, suck up minutes without
totally sabotaging the team while the actually good players get some
rest or recover from injury or whatever. But there's no denying
it—Wilkins has been really good these last four games, and really even
longer than that, as he's scored in double figures in six of his last
seven games, after only doing so twice in the entire season prior to
that. Even more stupefying, Wilkins has been a secondary playmaker for
the Sixers, too, racking up five or more assists in three of his last
five games.


And while all this is happening, the guy who the Sixers drafted with
the #2 pick a couple years back, expecting him to lead the franchise
back out of the darkness, has been mildly effective at best. Evan has
averaged just 11 a game over the four-game stretch, shooting 38% and
only averaging four boards and about four assists a game to go with it.
Over hot Sixers stretches past, Evan has often been a primary catalyst,
but this time the Sixers are playing well more in spite of him than
because of him. Just another confounding factor of another ridiculous
subplot to this miserable Sixers season.


So what to take away from all of this? Is there anything good to
come of this? Are we sacrificing precious tanking losses for no real
reason? Well, my gut reaction to those three questions are "not much,"
"not really" and "probably." The Sixers probably weren't quite as bad on
the whole as they looked over that 1-12 stretch, and this is probably
just some overdue course correction, assisted by Thad finally getting
healthy, Dorell Wright finally hitting some shots, and Doug Collins
making some game-planning adjustments that result in the big-man
long-two at long last being phased out of the Sixers' offensive attack a
little. You could argue that proving that the team isn't total garbage
might help us in free agency a little, but if we're really giving Al
Jefferson or Josh Smith that much of a hard sell, we're probably in
pretty bad shape anyway.


Anyway, there is one major caveat to all of this: All four games in
the Sixers' recent resurgence have come at home. Despite that abysmal
home loss to the Magic that seemed to be the lug nuts falling off on the
Sixers' entire season, the team's actually been half-decent at the WFC
all season, now boasting a 20-17 record in their home building. It's the
road that's really proven the undoing of the Liberty Ballers this year,
with a 6-23 record (including 13 straight losses) away from Philly, and
it's the road to which they'll soon return, playing their next four
(and 12 of their last 16) as visitors. If there's any kind of flimsiness
to the Sixers' current hotness—and considering the names of some of the
players involved, you have to believe there is—it'll be exposed on the
road for sure.


Speaking of which, Philly plays the Clippers tomorrow night. Do we
want the Sixers to win, somehow? At this point, I think most of us just
want the season to be over.

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

The Eagles are 3-0. They’re alone atop the NFC East and have been the biggest surprise of the young NFL season.

Doug Pederson’s message to his team: You haven’t done anything yet.

Although the Eagles are riding high, Pederson doesn’t want his team to change its outlook or hard work. That’s what teams have to worry about once they’ve found some success.

“The biggest thing is complacency,” Pederson said Monday. “You think you've arrived. You think you are all that. When that creeps in, that's when you get beat. It's my job not to let that creep in. I've got to keep the guys focused and grounded. I told them this week they're going to travel and go home and people are going to pat them on the back and say how great they are.

“But next Monday, I'm going to tell them, ‘Hey, we're back to work. We're 0-0. This is Game 1 and let's go.’ That's just the way it has to be. You are building for one ultimate goal and that's a few weeks down the road. That's what you are trying to get to. But you can't get there unless you take care of the next opponent. It's my job to keep them focused that way.”

Being 3-0 (they’re one of five 3-0 teams) gives the Eagles a head start, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee them a playoff spot. This is the ninth 3-0 start in franchise history. They’ve made the playoffs just five times in the previous eight. And they recently missed the playoffs after starting 3-0 in 2014 under Chip Kelly.

In NFL history (before this season), there have been 276 teams to start with 3-0 records. Of them, 200 (72.3 percent) have made the playoffs.

“We just have to approach it the same, one day at a time,” Pederson said. “That's the way this business goes. You are on top of the world one minute, and you can be at the bottom of the heap the next. Just got to keep things even-keeled and can't get too high, can't get too low. Approach it the same. Like I mentioned earlier, you can't substitute for hard work. That pays off on Sundays. We just have to stay the course. Again, a lot of football left.”

While the Week 4 bye comes pretty early, the Eagles have a couple key players who will use the time to get healthy. And Connor Barwin pointed out that the bye is coming about closer to the halfway point between when the team started its tough training camp and the end of the season.

Pederson told his players to use the week to get away from football and free their minds. Meanwhile, Pederson and his coaches will use the extra time to self-scout and prepare for the final 13 games of the regular season.

With a first-year head coach and a rookie quarterback who was thrust into action a week before the opener, expectations outside (and perhaps inside) the building were tempered.

The Eagles aren’t an underdog anymore.

“We kind of enjoyed flying under the radar, but obviously a win like this against a team like the Steelers will open some eyes around the league,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “For us, nothing different. We’ll keep our preparation the same. We’ll stick our heads down and focus on the work day to day and understand what’s gotten us to 3-0.”

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Ivan Provorov displays durability, versatility in Flyers' preseason loss

Ivan Provorov displays durability, versatility in Flyers' preseason loss

BOX SCORE

NEWARK, N.J. — How much of a horse is Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov?

Well, consider this:

The 19-year-old logged a game-high 28:48 of ice time Monday night during the Flyers' 2-0 split-squad loss to the Devils in which he also quarterbacked the first-unit power play (8:03) and had the most penalty kill time (3:58) (see story).

“I thought I played well,” Provorov said. “It took me a few shifts to get into the game. I competed as hard as I could.”

He said he was used to playing more than 25 minutes in Brandon (WHL), anyway.

“Of course, this is a better league, high pace and it will take a few games to adjust,” Provorov said.

Because the Flyers have yet to work on power play, the results aren’t there. They were 0 for 7 in the game.

“We haven’t done anything on the ice, but have done some video on the PK on the board but nothing on the power play,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “There’s other priorities now with so many players (64) in camp.”

Provorov worked both points on the power play and had just one official shot in the game.

“We didn’t get to do much power play [in camp],” he said. “It will get better as the preseason goes on.”

Rookie forward Travis Konecny worked the low slot on the top power play. He logged 18:34 of ice time, including 6:01 PP time. Konecny had two shots in the game.

He was on Andy Miele’s line with Scott Laughton. Konency had the only shots on his line.

Hakstol said Konecny and Provorov each “settled in” as the game went on. Hakstol isn’t sure if one or both will play Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center against the Islanders.

Konecny’s body language in camp exudes confidence unlike a year ago when he was skittish in his first-ever Flyers training camp. Now he sits back, takes it all in and has that look on his face of been there, done that.

In fact, he was trying to calm down some of his buddies, Anthony Salinitri and Connor Bunnaman, who were seeing the lights before the game.

“Me and [Ivan] Provorov were just talking,” he said. “We feel a lot more comfortable this year.

“I’ve been in this position here. I have my guys Salinitri and Bunnaman, we all hang out together and it’s their first year.

“They’re excited for their first preseason game just like I was last year, but I’m not thinking, ‘Wow, it’s an NHL arena.’ I’m thinking about the game and getting ready to play.”

Konecny was impressive last fall as an 18-year-old and Hakstol said he takes everything into account with more emphasis on the now than the past.

“Your body of work includes your season last year,” Hakstol  said. “Includes everything. The most important information is what you do right now. No question in my mind. I take everything into account.”

Take this into account: Alex Lyon is going to be a contender with Anthony Stolarz for the starting job in goal with the Phantoms this season. He was outstanding with 28 saves on 29 shots.

“They spent some time in our zone and had their big guns out there,” Lyon said of being under siege for two-thirds of the game. “They had a few shots but we did a good job keeping them to the outside. No super grade A opportunities.”

Lyon stopped two breakaways by Beau Bennett, one within three minutes of play.

“I felt like a newborn deer and could barely stand up,” quipped the former Yale goalie. “I was so nervous. It felt good to stop the first one.”