Exit Interviews: Evaluating the 2011-'12 Philadelphia 76ers

Exit Interviews: Evaluating the 2011-'12 Philadelphia 76ers

There's not much more to say about the 2011-'12 Philadelphia 76ers on
the whole—they simultaneously far exceeded and fell well short of
expectations, giving us hope for the future and reminding us just how
far we have left to go. Their story is written and their season is over,
and now all that remains before the off-season is taking a cold, hard
look at the names on the roster and evaluating who exactly did what, and
where we can expect them to go from here.

So before we send the boys on their way to a summer of hitting the gym and tweeting about Madagascar 3, it's performance review time. Alphabetical by name, with some non-players at the bottom:

Lavoy Allen:

Nobody would have anticipated
that Mr. 500 would have cracked the Sixers' rotation this season, let
alone started 15 games and played big minutes as perhaps their most
reliable big man in the second round against the Celtics. He's probably
not a starting center, and he's a little redundant on a team that
already has two back-up bigs that can (ostensibly) play the
pick-and-pop, but he's shown a toughness that neither Thaddeus Young or
Nikola Vucevic oft display, and he's certainly won the heart of Coach
Collins with his play this post-season. ESPN has apologized for doubting
him, and so should most of us.

Grade: B+

For Next Year: Thanks to some
contract-drawing laziness / poor foresight when Allen was selected in
the second round, he becomes a restricted free agent this off-season,
rather than serving us for a couple years on a cheap rookie deal. He
won't command eight digits a year or anything on the open market, but
the Sixers will probably have to match up to four or five a year for the
fan favorite. I imagine they'll do it, though I'm not sure they
should—it's four or five million they can't spend elsewhere, and it's
never a great idea to overreact to one good round of post-season play.
Besides, we're already paying Thad eight a year, and paying a combined
$12 or $13 million on back-up big men is rarely the route to a

Still, the guy was fun to root for, and I'd certainly enjoy the
chance to do it again, provided he isn't over-extended in terms of
dollars or minutes to do so.

Tony Battie:

probably says something that as bad as the Sixers' interior defense and
rebounding situation got this post-season, that Coach Collins never
once turned to Battie on the bench for answers. Yes, Battie had another
regular season of being the Sixers' emergency valve at the pivot, and
even started a cool 11 games, but his days even as a reliable short-term
defensive anchor and jump-shot drainer appear to be over, as he shot
37% from the field and registered only six blocks the whole season. Nice
of Tony to show up for another year, and he did provide us with one classic reaction shot on the bench this post-season, but that should be about it for T-Batts in Philly.

Grade: D+

For Next Year: Time for Tony to start
checking Craigslist for assistant coach vacancies. Unless the Juwan
Howard slot for "Old guy to provide locker-room leadership and
occasionally mix it up with the other team's young'ns" on the Miami Heat
suddenly becomes available.

Craig Brackins:

Nobody was like more
disappointed about the Sixers' cooling off after blowing out half their
games in January than Craig Brackins, who suddenly found his Garbage
Time PT cut to shreds after the Liberty Ballers started actually having
to play all 48 minutes of games. Still, he did get 33 minutes in an
entire Garbage Time game against Detroit—as many minutes as he played
his entire rookie season, incidentally—and scored ten points (on 2-4
shooting from deep) with six rebounds. Progress!

Grade: C

For Next Year: It remains something of
a mystery to me why Craig Brackins never really got a shot on this team
after we traded two rotation guys in Willie Green and Jason Smith for
him. (Not that both of those guys shouldn't have been traded for peanuts
anyway, but still.) Nevertheless, with a team option for his third
season, it seems unlikely that Brackins will be retained so the Sixers
can have the privilege of paying him $1.5 million to be the team's Best
Supporting Tweeter, so this'll probably be the end of Brack City at the
WFC. Craig, we hardly knew ye.

Elton Brand:

The Old School Chevy seemed to
finally be running on empty in the playoffs, where he went eight
consecutive games with single-digit scoring and gradually lost more and
more playing time to Thaddeus Young and Lavoy Allen. But Elton did have a
throwback end to the playoffs, averaging nearly 16 and six in his final
three games against Boston, and playing tough (though ultimately
futile) defense on Celtics big Kevin Garnett. Brand wasn't the team MVP
this season like he was last year, with his scoring, minutes and field
goal percentage all down, but he was still a crucial part to whatever
success the team had, hitting the open jumper, battling for boards
underneath, playing lockdown D at the other end (even occasionally on
bigs like Dwight Howard) and leading by example with his toughness,
playing through an injured and swollen hand nearly all year.

Grade: B-

For Next Year: With one hefty year
($18 million) left on his contract and his age really starting to show,
many will call for the Sixers to use their amnesty clause on Brand this
off-season. I doubt they will, and they probably shouldn't—with just a
year left, it's hardly worth it just for the privilege of being turned
down by Roy Hibbert or whoever else. I'd rather see them hold on to
Brand, and if the team finds a worthwhile deal for his sexy expiring
deal at the trade deadline, move him then, but otherwise, let him finish
out his Sixer tenure with dignity. Amnestying his Sugar Bear would make
Coach Collins cry, anyway, and we don't want that on our conscience.

Spencer Hawes:

Oh, Spencer. You started off
the season like the league's Most Improved Player, hitting jumpers with
impunity, showing nice touch around the basket, crashing the boards like
a beast and passing like a Gasol bro. Then, you turned back into
Spencer Hawes, soft big man with unreliable range, questionable
decision-making and generously-described-as- "uncommitted" defense.
We should probably thank you for showing your true colors before we
committed $50 mil to you in the off-season, though it would've really
been nice to have the first guy against the C's this post-season, when
you were so bad that Coach Collins' eyes kept wandering to Tony Battie
on the bench, before Michael Curry would stop him and yell "NO DOUG

Incidentally, on average this was still by far Spence's best regular
season statistically, as he posted Per 36 minutes averages of 13.9
points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists. Probably worth noting.

Grade: C+

For Next Year: Well, with his no-show in the Celtics series,
Spencer probably signed his walking papers, and anyone willing to spend
four or five million a year on Hawes at this point is probably welcome
to have him. It's a shame, because we'll probably never know who exactly
that masked center was that posted double-doubles in four of the first
six games of the season, and led the league in FG% for a solid month or
so, before going to the bench with back and Achilles issues and never
really returning to form afterwards. Was it the injuries that slowed him
down, or just a particularly nasty case of regression to the mean? Can
he be that guy again? Whatever the answers to those questions, it'll
probably be on another team to find them.

Jrue Holiday:

Nobody on this team needed a
strong post-season more than Jrue Holiday. (Well, no one under contract
next year, anyway.) Jrue had a regular season that could best be
described as "underwhelming," where his numbers sagged in most relevant
categories from his breakout sophomore season—points, assists, FG%, FT%,
even trips to the line. His inconsistent, often tentative play
frequently resulted in him getting yanked by Coach Collins early in
games, and it was Lou Williams who Collins trusted to be out there
handling the ball at the end of games. It led a lot of people to wonder
if maybe we had misplaced our faith in Jrue being one of the building
blocks, if not the biggest key, for the Sixers' future.

His post-season performance, however, totally reversed the
trajectory of his career. He was by far the Sixers' most reliable scorer
in their 13 post-season games, shooting and driving the ball
aggressively against a couple great defenses in Boston and Chicago, and
averaging nearly 16 points a game for the playoffs. His FG% was low, a
scant 41%, but no one was shooting particularly well in either series,
and Jrue compensated by hitting a high rate of his 3s (again, about
41%), drawing free throws (nearly 3.5 attempts a game after less than
two a game in the regular season) and converting more regularly once at
the line (86%, after 78% in the regular season). Most importantly, he
came through when it really mattered, hitting big shots (and free
throws) all post-season and putting the team on his back for Game Six of
the Boston series. His overall numbers weren't superstar numbers, but
they were in line with the progression we expected and hoped for from
The Damaja, and that's all that really matters for our 21-year-old PG.

Of course, the disappointing regular season means that this overall
grade isn't as high as it could be—but it's still at least a letter
higher than it would've been after Game 66.

Grade: B

For Next Year: Keep that confidence up, boy-o. You're gonna
be here for a while, and we need you feeling good and feeling
aggressive, attacking the basket, rocking your peers and putting suckers
in fear.

Andre Iguodala:

Here's what I wrote about Andre Iguodala in my Exit Interviews piece from last season:

As always, it was a year of good and bad with 'Dre. Looking on the
bright side, he was the team's primary playmaker and finest all-around
player, picking his spots on offense, shutting down the opponent's best
wing player on defense, and even posting triple-doubles in consecutive
games in March (both wins). But he also posted his lowest ppg average
(14.1) since 2006, and repeatedly came up short when relied upon to be
the go-to guy in the game's waning minutes.

inconsistency certainly isn't the problem with AI9. Nix that
triple-double detail and lower that scoring average from 14.1 to 12.4
and you pretty much have the wrap on 'Dre's regular season this year as
well. He made his first All-Star team, but that was more a reflection on
the team than on Iguodala himself, and any credit he initially got for
leading the team early in the season had long dissipated by the time of
the team's disastrous March and April, and the poorly timed SI interview
where 'Dre called out Lou Williams for being a crappy defender and
claimed Philly fans would be OK with rooting for a murderer as long as
they've already won a championship. (He meant it as a compliment,

But as with Jrue, the story with 'Dre changed some in the
post-season. His numbers were down pretty well across the board from the
regular season, but he did something he hadn't done in three years—he
actually came through some in the clutch. He hit a couple key jumpers
late against the Celtics to seal Game Four for Philly, and of course, he
hit those two free throws with three seconds left against the Bulls to
ensure that Philly got to play Boston in the second round at all. Never
mind that 'Dre missed any number of key FTs elsewhere, shooting just 59%
(!!!) from the stripe for the post-season—he finally did the one thing
he'd seemingly never been able to do for this team, and the narrative of
his time as a Sixer has been forever altered as a result.

'Dre's season being so virtually identical to his '10-'11, I should
probably give him the exact same grade, a B-. But considering the last
sentence of my AI9 review was this:

We don't make the playoffs without Iguodala, but as we all know by now, we don't get further than the first round with him.

It looks like I gotta bump it up just a little.

Grade: B

For Next Year: Again, last year: "Trade. Trade. Dear God, a
trade." Let this be the high note that 'Dre's Sixers tenure ends on, as
we clear minutes for Evan Turner at his more natural small forward
position and (hopefully, eventually) find a for-real scoring guard that
can actually, y'know, score. The Warriors want a small forward upgrade
and are allegedly shopping a lottery pick for the privilege—if Rod Thorn
isn't on the phone with Joe Lacob and Larry Riley right now as I write
this, then shame on him. Lakers, Clippers, Pacers...hit us up. We are
open for Andre Iguodala business.

Jodie Meeks:

Ahh, Jodie. We asked you to do
one thing and you didn't do it. Our designated three-point shooter and
floor-spacer shot just 36.5% from beyond for the season—lower than Jrue
Holiday, Andre Iguodala, even Nikola Vucevic's 3 for 8 (though about 14%
higher than the team's other nominal shooting guard, Evan Turner)—and
did just about nothing else of note. He certainly had the ability to get
hot from time to time—he'll go down in the annals of '11-'12 Sixers
history as the single-game high-scorer for the 31 on 11-16 shooting he
posted against the Cavs in March—but he also went entire weeks without
being useful, including a mid-April stretch where he went six games
without hitting a single trey. He barely played at all in the playoffs
and didn't make much of a claim for PT when he did.

It's hard to make the case that Jodie's much more than eighth or
ninth man at this point, and if he's starting again for the Sixers at
some point next year, it almost certainly means we did something wrong.

Grade: C-

For Next Year: With Jodie a free
agent, it's entirely possible that he'll be warming the bench for a new
squad next year—though given Jodie's young age and the dearth of
knockdown shooters on the Sixers' roster, I wouldn't be surprised if
they brought him back at a near-minimum salary. If some team wants to
give him two years and $8 million, though, they can certainly be our

Xavier Silas:

Maine Red Claws immortal Xavier
Silas shot just 27% from the field in his two Garbage Time end-of-season
games as a 76er, but made up for it with his dominant 1-1 performance
from the field in Game Three of the Celtics season, starting (and likely
ending) his career as a Sixer as a 1.000% FG shooter. You're part of
history, X-Man!

Grade: Meh (Or, A++++)

For Next Year: We still have to fill 12 slots on the roster, yeah? Oh, OK, right. Just checking.

Evan Turner:

basketball player defies easy evaluation quite like the
Extraterrestrial, as evidenced by the fact that he was included on both
ESPN's list of breakout playoff performers and their list of playoff performance decliners. Undoubtedly his regular season was superior to his disastrous rookie campaign, although every time it looked like he had really
turned a corner and was now on his way to being the guy we thought we
drafted with the second overall pick, he'd go 2-14 with four turnovers.
For a four-game stretch after being inserted into the starting lineup,
he seemed for all the world to be the answer to the Sixers' prayers, and
then by the end of the season Coach Collins was starting Jodie Meeks
again. "Up-and-down" doesn't even begin to describe the rollercoaster of
emotions that was following Evan Turner this season.

The playoffs only made things tougher. Going by numbers, his
post-season was a veritable disaster, as ET shot a miserable 36% from
the field (and a subpar 69% from the line), and posted an overall PER of
just 9.3, a full eight points lower than his mark in the Heat series
last year. But he also won a couple games for the Sixers with his
late-game aggressiveness, drawing fouls at a much greater rate (nearly
four a game, about double from his regular-season mark) and hitting the
FTs when it mattered. He also rebounded at his typically insane rate,
averaging a team-high (!!!) 7.5 boards a game for the post-season, and
the rest of the team really seemed to feed off his thoughtless
confidence and near-hyperactive energy.

So what's the deal with Evan? We may never totally know for sure,
though hopefully it'll become a little bit clearer with each passing
year. In the meantime, we'll split the difference.

Grade: C+/B-

For Next Year: Boy, would it be nice if he could hone that
jumper a little—Evan's getting way more of the shots he wants this
season, but he's still not hitting them at nearly a high enough
rate—though if a long summer with Hall-of-Fame shot doctor Herb McGee
couldn't really help him out, who knows what another off-season will do
for the Extraterrestrial's stroke. Here's hoping Evan's playing more of
the three next year anyway, and isn't relied on to be the floor spacer
that he never really was to begin with.

Nikola Vucevic:

Rookie Nikola Vucevic started
off the season looking like a real late-first-round draft steal, and
ended it looking like...actually, we have no idea what Nik looks like
these days, since we haven't seen him in about a month, when he fell out
of favor with Doug Collins for reasons unknown and never worked his way
back into the fold. Seriously—he started at center for the Sixers in a
late-April game against the Nets, but was yanked two minutes in, and
never played another relevant minute for the Sixers. True, he hadn't
played well in a while, but Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen were nearly as
miserable at the end of the season, and it was weird to see our
once-promising rook so completely written off as a lost cause.

There's still promise there, especially if his Republican
doppleganger Spencer Hawes is not retained next season, but you have to
wonder if it wasn't a more deep-seated issue that so soured Coach
Collins on the Vooch.

Grade: C-

For Next Year: Learning to be more of
a defensive presence would undoubtedly help earn him more of Coach
Collins' trust, and if Nik's slumping jumper in the second half of the
season could be blamed on poor first-year conditioning (the "rookie
wall," as it were), you'd hope he'd improve that as well in his second
season. If not...say hi to Xavier Silas for us, Nik.

Lou Williams:

He finished as the team's
high-scorer and was a James Harden breakout year away from winning his
first Sixth Man of the Year trophy, but the good still came dangerously
close to being outweighed by the bad with Lou Williams this year. Sour
Patch Lou's numbers were consistent with last year, and he posted the
team's highest PER for the season (a staggering 20.2, which either
teaches us that we can't always trust our eyes, or that advanced stats
still have a ways to go), but his poor late-game (and late-quarter)
decision-making cost this team at least a handful of games, as did his
lousy (hey, 'Dre said it, not me) perimeter defense. What's more, he
saved his worst stretch of the year for the playoffs, scoring just 11.5
ppg on 35% shooting. (For whatever it's worth, in 30 career playoff
games, Lou's PER of 13.3 is over four points lower than his
regular-season career PER.)

As always, I probably don't give Lou enough credit this year for the things he does
do well—drawing fouls (a team-high 4.6 FTAs a game), taking care of the
ball (just 1.1 per game, an insanely low number for someone with a
usage rating as high as Lou's) and making insane shots that nobody else
on the team would ever dream of hitting. And as much as I hate Lou's
late-game (and late-quarter) tendencies, half the blame for his
scattershot play must go to Coach Collins for continually putting him in
the situation and giving him the freedom to pull up for a 25-foot three
from across his body with the shot clock running out. Still, if Lou
Williams was the second-most-valuable bench player in the NBA this
season...maybe there really is an argument to be made for contraction
after all.

Grade: C+

For Next Year: Lou, don't go away mad
/ Lou, just go away. The career Sixer has expressed his desire to opt
out of his contract this off-season, and will undoubtedly test the open
market to see if he can starters' money, if not necessarily a starter's
role. I pray that some near-contending (or totally rebuilding) team in
need of a scoring punch does so, and the Sixers have the good sense not
to match. Seven years with this guy has been plenty, if we don't cut
ties now, he might still be taking contested late-shot-clock threes for
us when he's 47. I'm worried he'll still end up back with the Sixers,
though—the market may have dried up some for him after his shitty end to
the season, and ultimately comfort and loyalty might win out, to the
detriment of everyone.

Sam Young:

We got him for nothing, and he gave
us nothing. It wasn't Sam Young's fault, really—I believe he could've
given us solid minutes if needed at some point during the season, we
just ended up not really needing him. Still, shooting 29% in his 14
games since coming over from Memphis (for a second-rounder we drafted
five years ago and might not ever play in the NBA) didn't exactly have
him knocking down the door of our playing rotation, and unlike most of
the other Philly bench scrubs, he hasn't even kept us entertained with
his Twitter account. Pass.

Grade: D+

For Next Year: Hope you land somewhere, Sam, but it's probably not gonna be with this team.

Thaddeus Young:

gave him five years and over $40 million because we thought he could
develop into something more than a bench scorer, but as good a year as
Thad had—13 and 5 off the bench, over 50% shooting, a career-high 18.9
PER—he didn't really show that further development, giving us pause
about the length and size of his new contract. He did extend his range a
little, but the jumper that had proven so reliable for Thad in the
first 3/4 of the season deserted him for the last quarter and the
playoffs, and Young all but disappeared in the playoffs, averaging just
7.7 points and 5.2 rebounds on 43% shooting while getting eaten alive by
the likes of Kevin Garnett and Taj Gibson. More concerning, it was
Thad's third straight bust of a post-season—like Lou Williams, his
career playoff PER (13.8) is well short of his career regular-season PER
(16.5). Not a great sign.

Grade: C+

For Next Year: Another summer's work
on that jumper would certainly be advantageous, though the fundamental
problems that Thad has—not having the range of a small forward or the
size and rebounding ability of a power forward—mean that, a few tinkers
aside, what he is now is probably who he's going to be long-term as a
player. Not that that's such a bad thing, since he's still one of the
league's best bench guys, but for the contract we're giving him...it
seems unlikely we won't have at least a bit of regret by year four or
five of that one.

Rod Thorn:

Finally freed from the suffocating
presence of Ed Stefanski, Rod Thorn at long last had room to move—and,
instead, spent yet another year not making any big moves for the Sixers.
Thorn's pre-season strategy of getting the band back together
(retaining Hawes and Thad, not moving 'Dre or Lou) in the hopes that
their young legs and already-in-place chemistry would give them an
advantage over the old and/or hastily assembled teams was at first
validated, then debunked, and then validated again as the Sixers were
able to come one game short of the Eastern Conference Finals just by
virtue of being competent and being healthy. It's not a repeatable
strategy, and one that in a long-term sense, did little for the Sixers
except buy time—but it's certainly more than Stefanski ever did for us.

Grade: B

For Next Year: The real test for Thorn comes this off-season. After years of treading
water, this franchise has the chance to make the bold moves—letting Lou
Wiliams and Spencer Hawes walk, trading Andre Iguodala, possibly
amnestying Elton Brand—that might have them taking it on the chin for
the next year or so, but puts them in the position to build long term
around guys like Evan and Jrue, and possibly attract another Brand-sized
trade or free agency target in the process (though hopefully this one
will give us the Brand-sized production we were expecting with EB as
well.) This post-season run was great, but it doesn't change anything,
and we desperately need our GM to see the light on that one and not get
fooled by the mirage of a bit of injury-predicated playoff success.

Otherwise, we're looking at a best-case scenario of being the Atlanta
Hawks of the next five years. And that's not a particularly good case.

Doug Collins:

wasn't quite the dream season for Dougie that was '10-'11, when the
team came devoid of expectations and even making the playoffs seemed
like a tremendous accomplishment. Collins looked like a frontrunner for
Coach of the Year when the team started out 20-9, but when the team
started slipping, and reports surfaced of Coach grating on some of the
young guys (in particular by shuttling Evan Turner in and out of his
doghouse like the Phils do a Quad-A reliever), the bloom came well off
the rose, and by the end of the season, many Sixer fans had already
started to call for Collins' head. He gained a lot of that good will
back with the Sixers' post-season performance, but given his history,
it's hard not to feel like we might already be closer to the end of
Doug's time with the Sixers than the beginning.

Still, even without the Coach of the Year votes, Collins deserves a
good deal of credit for the Sixers' hot start, their consistent team
identity of playing hard-nosed defense and taking care of the ball, and
for not being too stubborn to finally shift the balance of power on the
team from Lou, Dre and Elton to Jrue, Evan and, uh, Lavoy when the
situation dictated. He's not perfect, and he won't be around forever,
but I'm still glad this team goes into next season with Doug Collins as
their coach.

Grade: B+

For Next Year: Can Doug continue to
put his faith in Evan and Jrue to take this team into the future, or
will he revert (as he has numerous times already) to trusting Lou, 'Dre
and Elton in the most important late-game situations? Well, a lot
obviously depends on how many of the three are even around next season,
and in some ways, Thorn can do Collins the biggest favor of saving him
from himself if he lets some of those guys go, and forces Collins into
letting Jrue and Evan grow into the team leaders this squad so
desperately needs. Otherwise, it will be a trying 82 games for just
about all concerned.

Adam Aron:

If the only move our new
franchise CEO made in his first season was to bring back "Here Come the
Sixers," the team theme song of the '70s and '80s, it would have been a
year well spent. But Aron went above and beyond in his efforts to
reconnect the city to the Sixers franchise, cutting ticket prices,
improve in-game presentation, engaging with the fanbase over Twitter
(occasionally getting a little over-sharey),
even bringing the two most beloved living players in franchise history
(Julius Erving and Allen Iverson) back into the fold. Fan attendance and
interest improved across the board, and though that's largely due to
the team's hot start, the moves of Aron and new majority owner Joshua
Harris had a good deal to do with that as well.

They weren't all successes—the Revolutionaries fan group was cute at
first but quickly became overbearing and obnoxious, and the mascot vote
was a bit of a debacle (#FREEBFRANKLINDOGG)—but the effort and
enthusiasm was never questioned, and the good far outweighed the bad.
Kudos, Adam.

Grade: A-

For Next Year: Will the powers that
be with the Sixers be able to stomach cutting ties with some of their
most reliable and longest-tenured players, or will they pressure the
front office to maintain the status quo in the interest of not losing
the fans they've worked so hard to bring in? We'd like to give Aron the
benefit of the doubt, but this being our first off-season with our new
management, we'll just have to wait and see.

Malik Rose:

Of all the many moves this team
made (or didn't make) in the off-season, by far the best was giving E
Snow the boot and bringing in Malik. The Drexel grad and San Antonio
two-time champ was just the bantering partner that Marc Zumoff needed,
and the cheesy-but-endearing chemistry between the two was undeniable
from the first broadcast. Like Zumoff, has proven to be a bit of a
homer, but he doesn't hesitate to call out the guys (or the refs) for
what they're doing wrong, and unlike Snow, who would figuratively (and
at least once, literally)
sleep through games, you could tell that Malik was as emotionally
invested in the outcome as anyone at the WFC. Watching games with him
and Zumoff on the call was like watching with two friends whose
over-enthusiasm about the game was occasionally eye-roll-worthy, but
which swept you up a little bit just the same.

Plus, he stole an idea for a hilariously groan-worthy pun from our guy Rev. How can you not love him for that?

Grade: A

For Next Year: Just keep doin' you, Malik. And keep pounding those Five-Hour Energy Drinks.

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies


The Phillies have scored just two runs in 13 innings against a pair of rookie starting pitchers and the eventual outcome has been two losses to the Colorado Rockies the last couple of nights. The latest was an 8-2 setback on Tuesday night (see Instant Replay). That followed an 8-1 loss on Monday night.

What's happening right now at Citizens Bank Park is ugly. The Phillies are in the midst of a freefall that has seen them lose 19 of their last 23 games. They have been outscored 134-91 over that span.

Now, before we completely lose perspective here, the Phillies remain a building team and they were not expected to contend this season. But they weren't supposed to be this bad, either, and right now they are embarrassingly bad at 15-28.

John Middleton, the team's fiery managing partner, watched several innings of Tuesday night's debacle sitting beside Andy MacPhail in the club president's box. Oh, to have been a fly on that wall. Middleton is committed to a patient rebuild from the ground up, but he's also a man who has made it no secret that he likes to win a little. The show that the Phillies are putting on out on the field these days can't sit well with him. Surely it's not sitting well with the fans. Tuesday night's attendance was just 17,109, the lowest of the season, and many in that group headed home after Gerardo Parra's sixth-inning homer gave the Rockies an 8-1 lead.

"We're just in a big rut right now," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Shortstop Freddy Galvis added that he couldn't remember going through anything this bad.

"We have to keep grinding," he said. "Keep grinding, man. It's pretty tough right now."

Tuesday night's loss offered a tale of two young pitchers. Zach Eflin, the Phillies' 23-year-old right-hander and a veteran of just 18 big-league starts, was hit hard. Meanwhile, German Marquez, the Rockies' 22-year-old rookie, was impressive. He held the Phillies to one run over six innings. He twice faced bases-loaded jams and gave up just one run when he walked a batter.

On Monday night, the Phils were held to one run over seven innings by another rookie, Jeff Hoffman.

Rookie pitchers are often good medicine for struggling teams.

"That's the way I look at it," Mackanin said. "Unfortunately it hasn't happened.

"I know we're better than this. I think the team knows they're better than this. I can't fault the hustle. Someone might say there's no energy. Well, when you don't get any hits, there's no energy."

The Phillies have scored just three runs in the last three games.

The scarcity of runs gives the pitching very little room for error. But in this game, Eflin simply did not keep it close. He gave up 10 hits and eight runs over six innings of work. Phillies killer Charlie Blackmon torched Eflin for a pair of two-run homers and Parra got him for a solo shot.

"A poor outing," Mackanin said of Eflin's work. "He couldn't locate. The ball was up in the zone. He's struggling to keep the ball down.

"When he struck out Blackmon in the first inning, it was a two-seamer with great movement, I thought we're in for a good outing here. But then he couldn't keep the ball down. You have to pitch down or you're going to get hurt."

Eflin has given up 21 hits and 15 runs in his last two starts.

"It's frustrating, but it happens. It's baseball," he said. "There are going to be a lot of times in my career where I give up a lot of hits and a lot of runs. But I'm really not worried about it right now. I know that I'm going to continue to work hard and go out every fifth day and, you know, put up a line of winning baseball."

Blackmon has seven home runs in his last five games at Citizens Bank Park. He has three multi-homer games in Philadelphia.

"He seems to like hitting here," Eflin said. "But I just have to execute pitches. There's no excuse. I just have to be on top of my game."

Right now, the Phillies are at the bottom of their game.

"We have to stay together as a team and keep fighting, try to get out of what's happening right now," Galvis said. "It's a really tough situation, but we have keep playing hard."

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7


OTTAWA, Ontario -- Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators bounced back nicely two days after a blowout loss put them on the brink of elimination.

Anderson stopped 45 shots, Mike Hoffman scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third period and the Senators beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 Tuesday night to force a decisive Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The 36-year-old Anderson was coming off a pair of rough outings, including Sunday when he was pulled after yielding four goals in Ottawa's 7-0 loss in Game 5 at Pittsburgh.

"You can't change what happens in the past," said Anderson, who has credited work with a sports psychologist early in his career for helping him manage the mental side of the game. "From that moment on you have to look forward and get ready for the next one."

Hoffman fired a slap shot through traffic off a pass from Fredrik Claesson to put the Senators ahead at 1:34 of the third. Bobby Ryan also scored a rare power-play goal for Ottawa.

It was quite a response after the drubbing in the previous game.

"I think the biggest message for us was if somebody told us back in training camp in September that we'd have an opportunity to win Game 6 in the Eastern Conference final at home in front of our fans we would've taken it," Ryan said. "So let's not dwell, let's not kick ourselves and put our heads down. Let's embrace this opportunity to extend this for two more days together and go from there."

Evgeni Malkin gave Pittsburgh, vying for its second straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final, the lead early in the second period and Matt Murray finished with 28 saves.

"I thought we played a real good game," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I thought we dominated zone time. We had lots of chances. We didn't score tonight. The puck didn't go in the net, but if we continue to play the game that way, then I believe we'll get the result."

Game 7 is Thursday night in Pittsburgh, with the winner advancing to face the Nashville Predators for the championship.

Ottawa was primarily looking for a return to structure in Game 6, beginning with a smoother start -- which they got. Notable in a scoreless opening period were two effective penalty kills, one of which saw Viktor Stalberg get the best opportunity short-handed.

Pittsburgh had four shots with the man advantage, but Anderson stopped them all. It was evident early that he had his game back in this one. He stopped Nick Bonino off a rebound in transition, Scott Wilson off a deflected shot by Phil Kessel, and Bonino again when Kyle Turris gave the puck away.

Anderson then stopped 22 of 23 shots in the second period.

"I think Anderson was the reason that they got this one, he played big for them," Murray said. "But in our room we just focus on what we need to do. We played really well, we just didn't get the bounces and weren't able to put one home."

Anderson's performance was a reminder for Senators coach Guy Boucher of why he took the job with Ottawa in the first place last May.

"I'll be honest with you, if I didn't have a No. 1 goalie, I didn't want the job," Boucher said. "I've lived it for quite a few years, and it's hell when you don't have it because everything you do turns to darkness, and there's nothing that really matters when you don't have a real No. 1 goaltender.

"It's like a quarterback in football and a pitcher in baseball, and we have it," Boucher added.

Murray was also sharp. The 22-year-old, who replaced Marc-Andre Fleury after Game 3, made maybe his finest save of the first on Derick Brassard, who found an open lane down the middle of the ice following a pass from Ryan.

The Penguins appeared to have opened the scoring just over three minutes into the second, but Trevor Daley was deemed to have interfered with Anderson following an Ottawa challenge.

Less than two minutes later though, Pittsburgh took the 1-0 lead anyway off a few moments of brilliance from Malkin. The playoff scoring leading (24 points) bounced off a check from Zack Smith behind the goal and after being stopped on his drive to the net, followed up with a nifty backhand rebound to beat Anderson.

It was the 153rd career playoff point in 142 games for Malkin -- three back of Sidney Crosby for second among active players behind Jaromir Jagr -- who had been jarring with Hoffman a few minutes earlier.

The Senators had little going until a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage for 1:24 just past the midway point of the period. The Ottawa power play, which had gone 0 for 29 in the previous 10 games, came through with Ryan ultimately wiring a one-timer short-side to tie the score.

It was the sixth goal and 15th point of the playoffs for Ryan, who is second on the Senators behind captain Erik Karlsson (16 points).