Dammit Spencer Hawes Stop Teasing Us Like This

Dammit Spencer Hawes Stop Teasing Us Like This

On March 3rd of this year, exactly four weeks ago to the day, Spencer
Hawes had the worst game of his career, and arguably one of the worst
games ever posted by a starting center in the National Basketball
Association, at home against the Golden State Warriors. In about 20
minutes of game action, he scored 0 points on stunning 0-9 shooting,
with four rebounds and two dimes, but also three turnovers and three
personal fouls. (Amazingly, the Sixers still won the game somehow.) It
was an absolutely embarrassing performance in an already disappointing
season that made you wonder if Doug Collins was going to gently,
tenderly asphyxiate him as he slept on the team plane that night,
putting him out of both of their misery.


Since that game, Spencer Hawes has basically been Marc Gasol.

OK,
that's not really true—Gasol has the defensive-anchor bonafides that
Spence, at his best, simply never will, as anyone who watched Hawes
whiff on blocked shot after blocked shot as a help defender in the last
two games against the likes of Kemba Walker and Shaun Livingston will
attest. But if you gave Spencer Hawes' stat line over the 16 games since
the Golden State humiliation to an impartial observer and asked them to
name the player responsible for it, Memphis' all-around beast of an an
All-Star center would be the most logical guess. I mean, look at this
thing:



That's 16 games for which Spence is averaging 15
and 10 a game, on 53.5% shooting along with 50% from three (!!!) and
even 84% from the foul line, to go with about four assists and two
blocks a game, and just two turnovers and 3.4 personal fouls in 32
minutes a night. Those aren't just All-Star numbers; if he had them for a
full season they'd be putting Spence in All-NBA discussion, better than
(or at least comparable to) the lines posted by the likes of Joakim
Noah, Tyson Chandler and (yes) Marc Gasol. Again, Spence will never have
the all-around defensive impact of those three stars, but when you're
getting statistical production of this caliber from your big man, it's
hard to be too critical.


This should be cause for excitement, right? After all, despite being
in his sixth NBA season, Spencer is still just a
young-and-impressionable 24 years old, not hitting the quarter-century
mark until late April. He's signed for another year with the Sixers for
an unexorbitant $6.5 million, and with no assurances for the future with
Andrew Bynum, to have a backup plan (for next year and after) like this
version of Spencer Hawes could give the team a ton of options when
figuring out where their team goes from here. And hell, he's helping
them win games—after losing their first five after the Golden State
game, the team has gone 7-4 since, including the team's first three-game
winning streak since early February, cemented with the team's most
recent victory over the Bobcats.


Unfortunately, Sixers fans have seen this movie before. At the
beginning of last year's lockout-shortened season, Spence looked like he
was going to fulfill Yahoo hoops writer Adrian Wojnarowski's prediction
of winning the year's Most Imrpoved Player honors. He averaged a
double-double over his first eight games, on league-leading 63%
shooting, with three assists and a couple blocks as well. Then injuries
slowed down his season, and when he came back, seemingly fully healthy,
he was back to the player he was the year before—bringing it some
nights, disappearing others, showing flashes of a blue-chip player but
never doing it with any degree of consistency.


And after three years as a Liberty Baller, that's what most of us
have taken to be the norm with Spencer—inconsistency. Like the Sixers'
other tease of a lottery pick, Evan Turner (who, incidentally, has also
come to life a bit lately, scoring 20 in back-to-back games for the
first time since January), it's impossible to trust that the Spence we
see when he's draining jumpers and finishing on putbacks and running our
offense from the high post is the same one we're going to see this time
next week, or next month, or next year. Seemingly at a moment's notice,
he can lose the range, let himself get pushed around inside, and try to
force passes as a distributor, turning into a liability on both ends of
the court.


In the eight games that preceded his recent hot streak—all Sixer
losses, besides the Golden State catastrophe—Spence averaged just nine
points sand seven rebounds on awful 32% shooting, with as many turnovers
and assists, just one block a game, and 0 three-point makes. Even if
this is his longest stretch of quality play—and 16 games is nothing to
sneeze at, certainly—there's simply no guarantee that his level of play
next year, or even for the rest of this season, will come anywhere near
this. Every game is a new opportunity for Spence's play to start
regressing back to the mean.


At this point in the season, when it's too late for an improved
Spencer to do anything for us but cost us ping-pong balls in the
lottery, it's hard not to be a little angry at this guy for teasing us
once again. We'd finally contented ourselves that the Big GOPper was
just never gonna be that good, that his miserable defense would always
outweigh his sporadically inspired offense, that his pedigree and
potential was always gonna come with too many caveats to be worth
investing in. But now here we are again, wondering "Well, maybe this
time it's for real?" And maybe it is—possibly maybe—but given Spence's
past history, you'd have to be described with a "G" word that you can't
find in the dictionary to believe it with any seriousness.


At the very least, Sixers fans should be thankful that Spence is
under contract with the team for another season, since it means there's
no chance (less of a chance, anyway) that the Sixers will reward his
recent hot play with a short-sighted, long-term-damaging multi-year
contract extension, as you know they're just itching to do. Do it for a
whole season, Spencer—next season, perhaps, if you're so inclined—and
then we'll have some degree of faith that you're the real deal. Until
then, we wish you'd stop strutting around all coy and peacock-like on
the court when we know it's all just gonna end in frustration and
disappointment.

Another struggling pitcher gets well against the Phillies' feeble hitters

Another struggling pitcher gets well against the Phillies' feeble hitters

BOX SCORE

MIAMI -- For struggling pitchers, facing the Phillies has become like a pilgrimage to Lourdes.
 
Another rival pitcher searching for a cure got it Monday night when the Phillies suffered their 23rd loss in the last 29 games. This time it was Miami Marlins right-hander Edinson Volquez. He pitched six shutout innings and allowed just three hits in leading his club to a 4-1 win over the Phillies, who fell to 6-20 in May (see Instant Replay).

Volquez had gone 16 starts between wins.
 
"Every loss stings, I don’t care who's pitching," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We're just in a rut. We've got to battle our way out of it. We have to show up tomorrow and get after it. We've got to get more than three or four hits in the game."
 
The Phillies had just four hits in the game. It was the fifth time in the last nine games that they've had four or fewer hits. Only one of the hits was for extra bases and one of the singles was an infield hit.
 
"Once again, we need more offense," Mackanin said.
 
Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson completed a difficult month of May by allowing six hits, including a two-run homer, and four runs over six innings.
 
Hellickson surrendered a two-run homer to Derek Dietrich with two outs in the sixth and that was basically the ball game. Dietrich hit a high changeup. Back in April, that pitch would have been at the knees. But Hellickson has misplaced the pitch command that he needs to succeed.
 
Hellickson went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts in April. In May, however, he went 1-3 with a 7.04 ERA in six starts. He was tagged for 35 hits, including nine homers, in 30 2/3 innings.
 
"Command in general," said Hellickson, describing his problem this month. "The biggest thing is not getting strike one, falling behind too much. I'm not getting the quick easy outs I was getting early in the season. I'm trying to get ahead, just missing."
 
Volquez signed a two-year, $22 million deal with the Marlins over the winter, but it wasn't until this game that he delivered his first win. He entered the game 0-7 with a 4.82 ERA in nine starts.
 
The win was Volquez's first since Aug. 25, 2016, when he was a member of the Kansas City Royals.

Volquez isn't the first struggling pitcher to shine against the Phils recently. Eight days earlier, Pittsburgh's Chad Kuhl took a 6.69 ERA into a start against the Phils and pitched five shutout innings. In the series against Colorado, the Phillies were dominated by a pair of rookies. In the only game they won (in a late rally), they were held to one run over six innings by Tyler Anderson, who had entered that game with an ERA of 6.00. On Friday night, Cincinnati Reds right-hander Tim Adleman pitched eight shutout innings against the Phils and gave up just one hit in the best start of his life. He had come into that game with an ERA of 6.19.
 
So Volquez had to be heartened when he saw the Phillies on the schedule.
 
They are the get-well team for pitchers in need of a pick-me-up.
 
It's actually kind of sad.
 
With Odubel Herrera locked in the throes of the worst slump of his life and on the bench and Maikel Franco mired in a 2 for 21 slump and hitting .209, Mackanin is trying to push things a little. He gave Aaron Altherr the green light to steal with one out and runners on the corners in a one-run game in the sixth inning. Altherr was out at second on a close play and Tommy Joseph struck out to leave the runner at third.
 
The Marlins salted the game away in the bottom of the inning on Dietrich's homer.
 
"With our offense, I have to take chances," Mackanin said. "I can't sit around and wait for three hits in a row. We haven't been doing that."
 
The Phils have the worst record in the majors at 17-32.
 
They have lost eight of their last 10 and scored just 15 runs in the losses.
 
"It sucks," catcher Cameron Rupp said. "There's really no other way to put it. It's frustrating. But the only people that are going to help us are ourselves. Nobody's going to go out there and play for us, swing the bats, pitch, play defense. That's on us and we have to do a better job all around.
 
"We all want to be successful and get the job done. We just haven't been hitting the ball. There's no other way to put it. But the good thing about baseball is we play every day so we turn the page and come back tomorrow and try to get it done."

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins come alive late in third to steal Game 1 vs. Predators

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins come alive late in third to steal Game 1 vs. Predators

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins rarely tested the hottest goaltender in the playoffs in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against Nashville.

They beat Pekka Rinne anyway.

Rookie Jake Guentzel fired the puck past Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a back-and-forth 5-3 victory on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Matt Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in Final history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37 minutes at one point without a shot.

"I think at the end of the day we're up 1-0," Bonino said. "We had a good first, we had a terrible second and we were terrible in the third. I don't think it's Xs and Os. We've got to work harder, compete a little harder, but we got some timely goals."

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions, trying to become the first repeat winner since Detroit in 1998.

All the guys from "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

"The impact of that moment and then the chain of events that happened after that with the penalty kills I think changed the course of the game," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said.

The decision gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge. Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead, they rallied and took over the game.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second and Nashville kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history -- and the first such period by any team in a Final game since the NHL began tracking shots on goal in 1958.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

"We didn't do a great job of (shooting), but we made them count," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "But it was a good finish there to get that one from Jake."