Exit Interviews: Evaluating the 2012-13 Philadelphia 76ers

Exit Interviews: Evaluating the 2012-13 Philadelphia 76ers

Unlike last year's Sixers squad, who I wrote at the and of last year "simultaneously far exceeded and fell well short of expectations,"
there was nothing particularly contradictory or poetic about this
year's 76ers -- they were built on a promise that was never delivered on,
and fell apart from there. The team's fate was sealed before the season
even began, we just didn't know it until 2/3 of the way through. This
eulogy has been a long time coming, and will bring me neither closure
nor satisfaction. This season was, with only a few minor exceptions, a
complete waste of time.

Still, there were 17 players who took the court for the Liberty
Ballers this season, and their efforts, whether acceptable or not,
should be recognized. Here's how this year's Philadelphia 76ers grade
out, in alphabetical order with some non-players at the bottom.

Lavoy Allen:

The Temple product disappointed
some in the first of a two-year, six-mil contract that he never should
have been put in the position to sign if the Sixers had done their
proper paperwork after his drafting in the second-round two years ago,
averaging just six points and five rebounds in 21 minutes a game on
subpar 45% shooting, often disappearing offensively for weeks at a time.
He was still probably the Sixers' most viable defensive option at
center, which says more about the Sixers than it does Lavoy, but he
proved too ineffectual on offense to be playable in big minutes, and
probably would've been buried in the team's rotation this year had You
Know Who been healthy. 

Grade: C

For Next Year: A non-jump-shooting big
man stuck in a jump-shot-happy offense,
Lavoy may benefit from the removal of Doug Collins from office as much
as anyone. Lavoy has showed a surprisingly deft passing touch on the
interior, and hopefully in a more creative offense could have more of a
chance to play two-man games in the post with the likes of Thaddeus
Young and Spencer Hawes. However, if the team grabs a big man in the
draft or in free agency, Lavoy may see himself the odd man out in the
Sixers' rotation, especially if Arnett Moultrie continues to develop,
and his expiring deal may be used as trade filler either in the
off-season or by the March deadline.

Kwame Brown:

In what would be a recurring theme
with this team, the Sixers gave Kwame Brown two years and six million
to be their starting center, and then were shocked, shocked when
he turned out to be Kwame Brown. OK, so Kwame was terrible on offense
even by his standards, shooting a near-career-low 46% from the field and
a definitely-career-low 37% from the free-throw line. But you don't get
Kwame for his offense, and on defense, he was by far the Sixers' best
pivot defender, often the only player Collins could call on to give them
any kind of anchor in the paint. Still, his black-holiness on the other
end so torpedo'd the team's big-man-shooter-based offense that he was
deemed unplayable, and only appeared in 22 games all season. Money well

Grade: C-

For Next Year: At 31 years old, you
can't expect Kwame will somehow play his way back into the Sixers'
rotation, so he'll probably just used as an emergency center, or an
apocryphal threat used by the Sixers' new coach to strike fear into the
hearts of his young bigs. Unless, of course, he does the Sixers a real
solid and declines his three-mil player option for no obvious reason,
but nobody loves Tony DiLeo that much.

Spencer Hawes:

Completing the holy trinity of
Sixers centers that got paid too much last off-season, Spencer Hawes
played this season as the reverse of last year, being virtually
unplayable for the first four months of the season--clanking his jumper,
passing over-ambitiously, and of course, being a total non-factor on
defense--before inexplicably catching fire in the season's final
stretch, averaging 14 points, nine rebounds, over three assists and a
block-and-a-half a game for the season's final 25 games (not counting
his four-minute outing last night), while shooting 51% (and 46% from
deep). He's come down a bit in the last few from the Marc Gasol-like
numbers he was putting up for a while there, but that's still a pretty
good end to the season, meaning that short of a big free-agent pickup in
the off-season, Spence will likely again be jumping center for Philly
on opening night next year.

In the end, Spence was basically who we always thought him to be--an
above-average shooting, above-average passing, and
below-average-just-about-everything-else big man, one who would
make an extremely capable backing center, but one who always gives back
as much as he gives you as a starter, especially if you're paying him
six-and-a-half million for the privilege. He did give us 82 games this
year, though, so he deserves a plus for that.

Grade: C+

For Next Year: Despite showing some
improved post moves at season's end, our seven-foot center shot an
unthinkably low 36% for the season on shots from 3-10 feet--nearly the
percentage he shot from the three-point line. Trying to get Spence to
improve his defense is probably a lost cause at this point, but his
aresnal of hooks and flips should be able to convert at a much higher
rate than that if he wants his offensive efficiency to one day outweigh
his defensive deficiency.

Jrue Holiday:

Ah yes, the one sweet melody amidst the sludge, the "About a Girl" to the Bleach
of the Sixers' season. Finally given the reins to the team in his third
season with the Sixers, with primary ball-handling competition Andre
Iguodala and Lou Williams finally dispensed with, Jrue showed that he
was worth the investment of faith, and then some, becoming the youngest
All-Star in Sixers history, and cementing himself as one of the league's
best young point guards, capable of taking over games with both his
scoring and passing, and in rare occasions, even his on-ball defense.
His numbers came down in a big way in the season's final month, likely
due to exhaustion after carrying nearly the entire load for this team
offensively all year (something he wasn't and shouldn't have been
expected to do pre-season), but he still ended around 18 points and
eight assists a game, with acceptable shooting numbers and a career high
in PER.

With everything that went wrong this year, the Sixers at least did
one thing unquestionably right--locking The Damaja up for four years,
$44 mil, much less than he'd get if he hit the open market today, and
likely much less than he'll be worth to the Liberty Ballers for the next
four years.

Grade: A-

For Next Year: The onus isn't so much
on Jrue Holiday to improve his game as it is on the Sixers to improve
the players around him--Jrue was his best early in the season with Jason
Richardson regularly knocking down catch-and-shoot threes, a weapon
that helped him pad his assist numbers and gave him the floor-spacing
necessary to drive and create for himself and others, neither of which
he ever had in quite the same way after J-Rich went down with injury.
Getting Jrue that knockdown shooter (and/or a true pick-and-roll big) to
work with next season will be imperative to maximizing his talents and
not watching him slowly run out of gas over the course of next season as
he did this year.

Justin Holiday:

Nice of the Sixers to sign
Jrue's older brother for a couple weeks, though like the rest of the
team's 10-day-contract-type signings, it ultimately didn't amount to
much. Justin only made 16 of the 48 shots he took for the Sixers this
season, and didn't help out in any other area of note--even Little Bro's
production went in the tank seemingly immediately after his arrival.
Hope you enjoyed your taste of The Show, Justin, it might be a minute
before you get another.

For Next Year: Hard to imagine he plays for the Sixers again,
but he'll always be an invaluable presence as Jrue continues to rack up
"Most ____ for two brothers in Sixers history" type awards on both of
their behalves.

Royal Ivey:

Shuttled in and out of the Sixers'
rotation with abandon by Doug Collis, Royal Ivey played decent
perimeter defense and made open threes when given the opportunity
(shooting a career-high 42% from deep for the season)--which was all he
was asked to do, pretty much. Hard to have any complaints with Royal's
play this season, aside from wishing he had called a time-out off the jump ball in that silly loss in Milwaukee.

Grade: B

For Next Year: Only signed to the
Sixers on a one-year deal, hopefully the Sixers will find a more
well-rounded backup for Jrue at the point this off-season, and Royal
will represent the perimeter security blanket for some other team next
season. We wish him nothing but the best.

Charles Jenkins:

Like Sam Young a season
before, the Sixers' exceedingly low-leverage pickup at the trade
deadline cost the team nothing, and returned them nothing--billed as an
excellent mid-range shooter, the Hofstra product ended the season just
14-38 from the floor for the Sixers, a subpar 36.8% for a player with
few other discernible skills. He did end up with 16 assists and just two
turnovers, an impressive 8:1 ratio, however, so there's that. Possibly
just a sample-size thing, though.

Grade: D+

For Next Year: Run free, young Charles Jenkins. Sure we'll see you in Summer League again soon enough.

Shelvin Mack:

of the Sixers' many failed experiments at backup point guard, Mack
played a combined seven minutes over four games, went 1-2 from the field
with an assist and two turnovers, and was sent on his merry way. Can't
say he really showed us much, but can't say he was really given a chance
to, either.

Grade: C-

For Next Year: NBA obsessives who
have watched any Hawks games down the stretch of this season may have
noticed, somewhat to their surprise, that Shelvin Mack is currently
serving as their backup point guard, averaging about five points and two
assists in 12 minutes a game. The Hawks will either be the #5 or #6
seed in the East this year, but either way, Mack will play infinity
percent more playoff minutes than anyone currently on the Sixers.

Arnett Moultrie:

After spending most of the
season on the bench, and possibly still recovering from an ankle injury,
the Sixers' sole remaining first-round acquisition from last year's
draft was finally unleashed in earnest in February, at one point going
four straight games without missing a field goal (only 12 shots total,
but still). In all honesty, we can't really be sure yet what we have
with Moultrie--he's been incredibly efficient for us, shooting 58% from
the field mostly on dunks and putbacks, but his usage rate has been so
low that it's hard to see if he can actually produce enough for the
Ballers to justify big minutes, and he ends the season averaging just
3.7 points and 3.1 rebounds a game. It won't be until next season,
playing under a coach that hopefully has a little more faith in him than
Collins did, that we'll be able to tell.

Grade: B-

For Next Year: At the very least,
Arnett has shown good instincts on the court--reflexively running to the
rim in transition, gravitating towards offensive rebounds, even making
some eye-catchingly nice passes to cutters from the post. If he can
improve his defensive rebounding (his 14.8% of dREBs grabbed ranks him
below wings like Dorell Wright and Evan Turner), and knock down open
jumpers with consistency (he shot a very impressive 14-25 from over 16
feet this year), he can be a real part of the Sixers rotation next year.
I'm rooting for him, certainly.

Jeremy Pargo:

Another mid-season backup point
guard experiment, though this one Collins apparently liked well enough
to sign for the remainder of the year. Pargo was fine, if unexceptional,
in limited duty, shooting a lousy percentage (38.1%) from the field but
helping to make up for it with a decent three-point stroke (7-17 from
deep), a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio, and a tendency to actually get to
the line once or twice a game, always a plus for these 76ers. Still, it
wasn't enough for even a double-digit PER, and the team soon decided
they weren't feeling it anymore, cutting him in April. We'll always have
that first game, where Pargo scored 12 and handed out six dimes,
looking like a possible waiver-wire gem for the Sixers. Nope. Moving on.

Grade: C-

For Next Year: Jeremy Pargo will turn
up somewhere, guaranteed. Barely competent point guards that won't
totally kill your team like him will always earn 10 days' worth of
late-season pay from some depth-desperate team.

Jason Richardson:

J-Rich started this season
as the shooting guard the team had been so badly missing for as long as
we could remember, averaging 13 points a game and shooting an awesome
45% from deep over the first month of the season. Then injuries started
to prod at him and sap him of his effectiveness, and he shot 24% from
three over his last ten games of the season, before being shut down
entirely in mid-January, eventually having successful knee surgery in
February. The team's miserable play in the first few months of his
injury probably is the greatest testament to what a subtly important
part he was to the Sixers' early-season success, and they were never
really able to fully replace him after his departure.

Grade: B-

For Next Year: Get well soon, J-Rich.
He'll probably be back around the time of next season's start, and
should hopefully remain as a useful rotation piece upon his return, but
his declining
health and advancing age shows why he should probably not be looked at
as a key part of the Sixers' future plans.

Evan Turner:

usual, Evan turned in a season tantalizing, frustrating, and ultimately
perplexing. After seeming like he had finally turned a corner as a
player in late November and early December, averaging about an 18/7/5 on
47% shooting (both from the floor and from three) for about a
month-long period, Turner went in the tank for the month to follow, and
never consistently produced for the team for more than a week or so at a
time afterwards. His final stat line for the year--13 points, six
rebounds, four assists, on 42% shooting and just 2.5 FTAs a game--is
pretty goddamn mediocre, and according to the Offensive Win Shares
advanced stat, he's actually cost the team almost a whole win on

There are some positives to be taken from Evan's year--his 36.5%
rate from three is easily a career high, and his per-minute assist
numbers are also his best yet--but it's hard to look at this season as
anything but a disappointment from the extraterrestrial, especially
given the hot start that fooled us yet again into thinking he'd finally
realized his potential as an NBA pro.

Grade: C

For Next Year: It's hard to even know
what to recommend with Evan anymore--he needs to improve his shooting
stroke, clearly, but given how uniform it's appeared for him from Year
One to Year Three, that might be an exercise in futility. (Even his
three-point stroke was improved by accident, by ET's own admission.)
I might like to see him go to the post-up game more, since he's had
some success backing down smaller defenders on mismatches and draining
turnaround jumpers on them, but that might be a sample-size mirage
anyway. Really, what Evan might need more than anything is just a new
voice in his ear, and if he doesn't respond to that with the Sixers' new
coach, it might (very sadly, to me anyway) be time to part ways with
our one-time #2 overall pick.

Maalik Wayns:

After ripping up the Summer
League, it looked like the Sixers might've found a gem of a young backup
point guard in their own backyard with the undrafted Villanova product
Wayns, who seemed like a more physical, more aggressive Lou Williams.
But what came off as energetic and athletic in the summer quickly turned
frenetic and out-of-control when the season proper started, and Maalik
just couldn't seem to put the ball in the basket, shooting just 19-72
for the Sixers all season, and failed to make enough plays for the
Sixers with his speed and ball-handling to come close to making up for

Grade: D

For Next Year: After being waived by
the Sixers in January, Maalik has since been picked up by the
post-season-bound Los Angeles Clippers, where he plays behind both Chris
Paul and Eric Bledsoe, and will be unlikely to see much action in the
playoffs. Perhaps the Clips or some other team has the patience to try
to reign in his raw skills next year, perhaps not.

Damien Wilkins:

Wilkins seemed like a sure
bench-filler signing for the Sixers at season's beginning, and if he
ended up getting big minutes for the team, it appeared like that would
be a sure sign that things had gone totally to shit for the Liberty
Ballers. Well, check and check, though I gotta admit that I never
expected Wilkins' approaching the productivity of even his modest
returns this season, posting six points a game on 46% shooting (33% from
three) with a couple rebounds, assists and free throws a game, easily
Wilkins' best season since he was with the Sonics for their final season
in Seattle half a decade ago. His energy and professionalism gave this
team a real spark at its lowest ebb, and probably helped the Sixers win
about two games that they otherwise would have lost. That might not have
been a good thing, as we needed losses more than wins at that point in
the season, but respect to Damien for not giving up, certainly.

Grade: B-

For Next Year: What the Sixers do
with Wilkins from here will be critical to their long-term plans. He's
earned a contract from somebody--something like two years, six million,
maybe even a little more--but the Sixers would be pretty foolish to
offer it themselves, since Wilkins is a luxury on a contending team and
has absolutely no place on a rebuilding one, which in all likelihood is
what Philly will be next year, at least in part. Nothing but the best
for Damien from here, but if he ends up back in a Sixers uni next year,
then someone screwed up in a big way.

Dorell Wright:

Dorell redeemed what was ending
up a pretty disappointing season with a blistering month of March,
where he made 39 out of 95 threes and scored in double digits all but
three games. His final numbers for the season, averaging nine a game on
39% shooting and 37% from deep, are about what we'd expect from Dorell
Wright pre-season, especially one forced to play too many minutes in the
Sixers' thin and inconsistent wing rotation. For what it's worth, the
advanced stats say that Dorell had a much better season than would seem
from his superficial stats (or just from watching him), as his 16.0 PER
was tied for the third-highest among team regulars, and his 4.9 Win
Shares ranks him an incredible second on the team, higher even than Jrue

Grade: B-

For Next Year: If we could get Dorell
on a one-year deal for the $4 mil we spent on him this year, he could
continue to be a bargain for us on a deeper, hopefully more consistent
team. But that's a couple ifs too many for Dorell, who could probably
get a multi-year deal (one which we can't really afford to spend on him)
elsewhere for a team closer to contention, so this is probably it for
us and DWRIGHTWAY1. Hope to see him on the Spurs or Lakers or somewhere
next year.

Nick Young:

Similarly to Kwame Brown, Nick
Young was quintessentially Nick Young this season, and found himself on
the outs of the Sixers rotation because of it. (Tom Sunnergen's "How the Swaggy Have Fallen"
column illustrates this point in excellent detail.) Predictably streaky
with his shot all season, Swaggy ended up with averages and percentages
all pretty close to his career norms, and in fact averaging by Win
Shares per 48 minutes, this was the most productive season of his career
(especially factoring in his surprisingly solid defense), but it was
still small potatoes for an inefficient bench scorer more fun than he is
legitimately helpful. He had good moments, he had bad moments, he was
one of the more entertaining distractions on a miserable team, and in
the end, he neither cost this team nor stole them many wins.

Grade: C+

For Next Year: The Sixers were wise
to give Swaggy only one season under contract, and now that the trial
period has passed, it's pretty clear that Nick Young, while useful in
small doses, is generally not what this team needs. Some other team will
see his potential for putting up numbers and give him a contract that
pays him too much for too many years, and we can only hope that it's not

Thaddeus Young:

The arguable MVP of the Sixers
season, Thad didn't really do anything this season we didn't already
know he could--he's had higher scoring averages, PERs and even WS/48s
before--but we didn't know for sure that he could do it for this many
minutes over this many games, at least not as the team's starting power
forward, where he had his only real statistical breakout by averaging
7.5 boards a game (a team high) after barely cracking five a game prior
in his career. Thad was unquestionably the team's most consistent
two-way player this year, serving the same kind of stabilizing role that
Elton Brand played for them two years earlier, and ended up leading the
team in nearly every advanced stat, proving his worthiness as a part of
the team's core moving forward. We can only dream about how he would've
blossomed in a frontcourt alongside the Funny-Looking Kid With the Big

Grade: A-

For Next Year: Thad's greatly
improved handle with the ball--you used to cringe every time he started
dribbling, but he's become much more sure-handed with it--could prove a
real asset for the team if he keeps working on it, as he might be able
to produce the coast-to-coast, one-man fast-break type points that Andre
Iguodala could easily score a couple of a game. Otherwise, keep working
on that jumper and doing what you're doing, Thad.

Andrew Bynum:

Of course, the guy who had the
greatest impact on the Sixers season was the guy who didn't play a
single minute, and who's one contract with a different team away from
being one of the most hated athletes in 21st century Philly sports. But
as tempting as it is to place the blame on Bynum personally for his
sitting out the season with injury--and it's really, really tempting--I
still don't feel totally comfortable doing it. As much as his behavior
seemed to suggest general irresponsibility, we don't really have any
evidence that he did anything (besides going bowling, which I always
thought was far more of a fluke than people were trying to make it seem)
that actually set back his health, nor do we have any evidence that he
slacked off on his rehab efforts.

The fact that he was injured all year sucks in a really, really big
way, but injuries happen to players, and they've happened to Bynum for
most of his career, so we can't exactly act like this was a huge shock
or anything unprecedented. As Tom Ziller has pointed out,
Derrick Rose sat out the entire year too, having been medically cleared
to play, but because of his general reputation of acting like a
credible professional and adult, he's not held to nearly the scrutiny
that Bynum is. Despite having all the circumstantial evidence we could
ask for to assume that Bynum was dogging it this year, they'd still only
be assumptions, not based in any kind of fact.

I'm as angry and frustrated with how this year went as anyone. But
I'm not going to rail Bynum out for looking out for his long-term career
prospects, rather than killing himself to make it back for this crappy
Sixers team, after it was probably already too late to do anything with
them anyway. He was right--it's his life, and in the end, he really
doesn't owe the Sixers anything.

Grade: Incomplete

For Next Year: Well, that's the question, isn't it? Plenty more to come on this, obviously.

Doug Collins:

gotta feel a little bit bad for Doug Collins, since the Bynum injury
submarined just about any chance he had at a successful season, and
who's to say if he wouldn't have escaped his reputation of being a
three-year coach if Bynum been that franchise guy for the Sixers that
they had hoped for when acquiring him? But without Bynum, and without
status-quo-maintaining vets like Lou Williams and Andre Iguodala, the
flaws that had always been there with Collins' style became magnified in
an arguably unfair (but still telling) way--suddenly, his conservative
offensive style became woefully inefficient, his tendency to shut
players out of his rotation for no clearly given reason became
unjustifiable, and his distrust of younger players in favor of reliable
veterans became obviously detrimental to the team's future.

In the end, Collins probably couldn't have gotten much more than 33
wins out of this squad, no matter what. But that doesn't mean that he's
the right coach for this team moving forward, with or without Andrew

Grade: C

For Next Year: Collins will supposedly
be transitioning into an advisory role with the team's front office,
but given Collins' history of input with personnel--lusting after Kwame
Brown, discarding Nikola Vucevic--let's hope it's more of an honorary
position than anything else.

Tony DiLeo, Rod Thron, Et Al:

I don't know, nor
am I sure if anyone knows, who's actually running the Sixers' front
office these days. But they clearly went into the previous awesome
working off two governing strategies:

1. Sign short-term contracts to keep the team flexible
2. Roll the dice on a blockbuster deal for a superstar if the opportunity arises

really, they followed through on both. None of the low-leverage deals
they made in the off-season--signing Nick Young and Kwame Brown,
extending Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen, trading for Dorell
Wright--really worked out all that well (with the possible exception of
the Wright deal), but you can't say any of them were true disasters
either, since none of them were for more than 6.5 million a year, and
none of them saddled the Sixers with contracts that last past the end of
next season. They wanted to stay flexible, and they did.

The second part was the real variable, and obviously it didn't work
out too well--not only did Bynum not play a game for Philly, not only is
Andre Iguodala post-season-bound in Denver, but the Sixers lost out on
two young players in Nik Vucevic and Moe Harkless (not to mention a
future first-rounder) that really would have helped the team's
rebuilding efforts if they'd committed fully to going in that direction.

However, I can't really fault DiLeo and Thorn and company for taking
a swing and missing, because they did the only thing I and most other
Sixers fans had been asking them to do for years now--they tried
something different. The team wasn't going anywhere as is, and a healthy
Andrew Bynum could've taken this team to a level they simply never
would have reached without him. The fact that Bynum never played a game
can't really be put at the front office's feet, since Bynum was healthy
for all of last season--if you're going to blame anyone, blame the
doctors who gave Bynum a physical and OK'd his health, though even with
them, I don't want to presume that there was any evidence in his
physical to show that he would be unfit to play this season. This was
the right deal to make, even if it produced the wrong results.

Losing Vucevic and Harkless hurts, but otherwise, we didn't lose
much with this deal (and the personnel decisions that directly preceded
and followed it) that we weren't going to get rid of soon anyway, and
even if the team has to rebuild from scratch now, at least we have the
wiggle room to do so. In the end, I still say it was worth the risk.

Grade: B-

For Next Year: There's a lot of work to be done--a lot of work. But again, we'll get to that later.

Adam Aron:

than anyone else involved with this team, my heart goes out to CEO Adam
Aron. The guy was so pumped for this team to be relevant again, so
ready to turn the Sixers back into a crucial part of the Philly sports
discussion, and if anything, now the Sixers are even less exciting and
relevant than they've been at any point since the mid-'90s. Unlike then,
it might not take drafting Allen Iverson to turn it all around, but
clearly the team has a lot longer of a way to go back to relevance than
they previously believed. In the meantime, Aron did his best with this
crappy team to try to keep fans engaged and excited over social media
and at the WFC, and though he failed, like the Sixers themselves, he
never had much of a chance to begin with.

Grade: B-

For Next Year: Not sure just yet, but I sincerely hope he has a smoother go of it next time.

Union-Galaxy 5 things: Union aim for 1st win against 'angry' Galaxy

Union-Galaxy 5 things: Union aim for 1st win against 'angry' Galaxy

Union vs. Los Angeles Galaxy
10:30 p.m. on TCN

The Union travel to the west coast this weekend in search of anything resembling success. Fresh off a bitter draw, which snapped a four-game losing streak but involved spoiling a three-goal lead, the beleaguered Union (0-4-3) will take on the angry Los Angeles Galaxy (2-5-0) on Saturday night (10:30 p.m., TCN) at the StubHub Center.

Here are five things to know:

1.Getting Away In LA
The Union could use a vacation. 

Two weeks ago, the league's lone winless club, were left embarrassed as New York City FC's David Villa scored a goal from midfield to cement the Union's fourth-straight loss. Last week, the hard-luck club gave up a three-goal lead in a span of 50 minutes to draw the Montreal Impact. 

"In some ways, our guys getting away right now, maybe clearing their head, to sleep in a different bed, can be an advantage for us," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "Nobody is happy with how things have gone. We have to look towards LA and try to get a result out there."

It's been said before, but the Union desperately need positivity. The club hasn’t felt victory since Aug. 27, 2016, and has gone winless through roughly 20-percent of their season. Once loaded with playoff aspirations, the Union are nearly four wins out the postseason picture.

"We're looking to take three points," Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin said. "We've been waiting so long, even some games we play good but don't take the points. This Saturday, we're going to play as a team, fight for every yard on the field and hopefully take three points to Philly with us."

Fafa Picault echoed his teammate's message. 

"We're looking for three points," he said. "We need them." 

2.Finding a Balance
Last week, the Union's focus was on scoring goals, finishing chances and making the most of their limited offensive opportunities. But after scoring three first-half goals against the Montreal Impact last Saturday, the focus is now on keeping goals out of their net.

"The balance isn't quite there," said Curtin, who is still looking for the perfect starting combination to deliver a win. "We've had good moments in 35-minute spurts but we haven't maintained it for 90 minutes, so we're still in search of a group that can go out and execute for 90 minutes." 

Yet that group Curtin is searching for won't be easy to find. Early in the season, the Union tried defensive-minded Derrick Jones at the No. 8 spot, which Alejandro Bedoya at No. 10. It didn't work, which forced Curtin to bench Jones, move Bedoya to his more natural No. 8 position and activate Roland Alberg at the 10. 

Last week, the manager even benched right back Keegan Rosenberry in favor of Ray Gaddis, making Saturday’s starting roster a mystery.

"It's very challenging right now," Curtin said. "The group still remains together, they continue to work and it's not for lack of effort. It's about getting little plays cleaned up in front of both goals."

Those little plays have cost the Union. The club has allowed an Eastern Conference-worst 14 goals in seven games, including eight in their last three matches. 

"I've said it every time, if we're gonna give up a minimum of two goals every game, we're not gonna win a game," Bedoya said. "You can't. You can't win a game if you"re letting two goals every game. We need to get better and step it up defensively and get a shutout, at least."

3. Troubled Galaxy
Much like the Union, Curt Onalfo's Galaxy are struggling. 

The typically powerful club was destroyed, 3-0, by the Seattle Sounders last weekend, marking its third loss in its last four matches. The downturn is an unusual sight for a team that boasts players like Giovani Dos Santos, Romain Alessandrini and Jermaine Jones. 

"It's a matter of when you go through adversity and difficult times, you find out what you're all about," Onalfo told LAGalaxy.com. "That's when people step up and true character rises. I believe in the group and the vision of what we're doing. We didn't draw it up this way at all, but we stay strong and stay confident. We're looking forward and we're going to get a result on Saturday."

Knowing that the Galaxy are marking Saturday as a must-win match, the Union are preparing for the host's best and most aggressive punches. 

"They are a dangerous team coming off a 3-0 loss at home, so they will be angry," Curtin said. "It won’t get any easier for us. We have to work on some things defensively and in our attack, we're fighting to get our first win."

And while the Union hope preying on the limping Galaxy can give them a spark, the Galaxy hope facing the struggling Union can help jump start their season.

"We have to start collecting points so we can move up," Galaxy center back Daniel Steres told the website. "We're just worried about the next game, that's why it's a must-win. It's at home and we have to get three points."

4. Keep an eye on
Jermaine Jones: Looking to spark the Galaxy attack, Onalfo may choose to play Jones in a more aggressive midfield position. Jones has never scored against the Union in three tries and has one goal this season.

Roland Alberg: Once again, Alberg is the player to watch for the Union. Expected to make his third consecutive start on Saturday, the Union’s new starting No. 10 scored twice against the Impact. As he goes, so does the Union’s offense.

5. This and that
The Union are an unfavorable 1-6-2 against the Galaxy all-time. 

Former Union forward Jack McInerney could face his old club on Saturday. McInerney, who was signed by the Galaxy on April 18, wasn’t quite ready to be activated because of conditioning. He played four full seasons with the Union.

Because of injury, the Galaxy will be without Sebastian Lletget and Robbie Rogers, while the Union will continue to miss Josh Yaro, Maurice Edu, John McCarthy and Ken Tribbett. 

Phillies-Dodgers 5 things: Phils face resurgent Brandon McCarthy

Phillies-Dodgers 5 things: Phils face resurgent Brandon McCarthy

Phillies (11-10) at Dodgers (12-12)
9:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies' six-game winning streak came to an abrupt end out west Friday night. The beauty of baseball is that you have a chance to start a new streak a day later. Zach Eflin looks to avenge a poor performance from last season while the Dodgers send out veteran righty Brandon McCarthy at home.

Here are five things to know for Saturday evening's game.

1. Two strong starts for Eflin
In his second season as a big-league starter, Eflin is off to a lot better start than last year. 

If you remember his MLB debut, he gave up eight runs and retired just eight batters against a Blue Jays team that could hit the snot out of the ball … and did. Through two starts, Eflin had a 10.80 ERA and two losses to his résumé before coming into his own over the next two months.

This year has been just about the opposite. Eflin clearly looks comfortable on a major-league mound. He's turned Clay Buchholz's spot in the rotation into a positive. He's allowed just three runs and one home run in 12 innings, good for a 2.25 ERA.

The modern thinking is that an ideal pitcher strikes out a lot of batters, avoids walks and home runs, and induces weak contact. Eflin has done all but the strikeouts. His sinker has been marvelous and the Mets/Braves had little chance to do damage against it. Pete Mackanin described the sinker as a bowling ball. That just about says it all. The sinker won't induce that many swings and misses — thus the lack of strikeouts — but he can throw it in the zone and keep hitters off balance.

The Dodgers kind of ended Eflin's season last year. In reality, it was dueling knee injuries that did Eflin in (see story), but the Dodgers were the last team to take advantage of an ailing Eflin, hitting three home runs and scoring seven runs in just three innings Aug. 8. Even the outs in that game were generally line drives. Chase Utley, Yasmani Grandal and Corey Seager — all of whom could be in the lineup Saturday — took the now-23-year-old righty deep.

Being a righty against the Dodgers isn't all that advantageous as the team boasts those three hitters and Adrian Gonzalez, Andrew Toles and Cody Bellinger as lefties who can put up disruptive plate appearances. Unfortunately for the Phillies, they have a rotation full of righties and are unable to take advantage of the Dodgers' platoon issues.

2. Dodgers send out resurgent righty
The first two seasons of Brandon McCarthy's deal with the Dodgers essentially went by the wayside. Now, the 33-year-old starter is picking up where he left off in 2014.

McCarthy has long been one of the more entertaining and thoughtful players in baseball, as evidenced by his Twitter account. The veteran righty has also been a steadily average to occasionally above-average pitcher in 12 MLB seasons, bouncing around teams mostly on the west coast. He posted career-worst numbers with the Diamondbacks in the first half of 2014, but he rebounded in the second half with the Yankees, pitching to a 2.89 ERA in 90 innings despite the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium.

He parlayed that second half into a four-year, $48 million deal with the Dodgers and that was almost immediately derailed by Tommy John surgery. Going into 2017, he had thrown just 63 innings and made only 13 starts in the first half of his contract. McCarthy was one of many Dodgers pitchers on the disabled list during a 2016 with a record-setting number of injuries for the club.

But now he's apparently back to form and, perhaps most importantly, he's healthy. He's made it through four starts unscathed this year and is 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA to boot. He's allowed just 18 hits in 24 innings. Similar to Eflin, he relies primarily on a dynamic sinker that sits in the low-to-mid 90s. He also features a low 90s cutter and an 80 mph curveball, both of which grade out well this season.

Only three current Phillies have any history vs. McCarthy. With his history in the AL West with the Mariners, Michael Saunders has faced McCarthy plenty with sub-par results, going 2 for 13 with five strikeouts. Freddy Galvis is 3 for 3 off the righty while Andres Blanco is 0 for 1.

3. How does the Dodgers' bullpen stack up?
Going into Friday's action, the Dodgers' bullpen had a 3.15 collective ERA, good for eighth in all of baseball and second-best in the National League. As a whole, the crew strikes out 10.29 batters per nine innings and has the highest wins above replacement of any bullpen in baseball.

Any conversation about the Dodgers' 'pen starts with Kenley Jansen, one of the premier closers in the game today. He overwhelms hitters with a cutter many consider reminiscent of Mariano Rivera. It isn't quite up to Rivera's level, but it is still wildly effective. He has a 2.16 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings this season, locking down six saves in six chances. He dominated the Phillies on Friday night.

Setting up for him primarily is righty flamethrower Pedro Baez. Baez pitches with a dreadfully slow pace but great results, striking out batters at a similar clip and takes a 1.08 ERA into the weekend. Righty Josh Fields and lefty Grant Dayton each hadn't allowed a run this year before Fields let one up in the eighth inning Friday while lefty Luis Avilan has been effective primarily vs. lefties. 

While Chris Hatcher and Ross Stripling, both righties, each has a loss this season, they've still achieved OK results pitching often in low leverage situations. The biggest disappointment for Los Angeles has been the offseason signing of former Giants closer Sergio Romo. The 34-year-old has a 10.57 ERA through 10 appearances and has walked as many batters as he's struck out. If the Phillies get to face Romo in a big situation this weekend, it'll be a tremendous opportunity to do some damage.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Freddy Galvis takes a 10-game hitting streak into action on Saturday night. Not only does he have good numbers off McCarthy, he's also simply off to the best start to his career. The Phillies' shortstop has traditionally been a better second half hitter but he has a career-best .269 average and .487 slugging percentage thus far.

Dodgers: While he is currently playing corner outfield, rookie Cody Bellinger is the Dodgers' first baseman of the future. Currently the No. 10 prospect in baseball, he had five home runs in Triple A Oklahoma City and is projected to have legitimate in-game power at the major league level. 

5. This and that
• The Phillies went 2-4 vs. the Dodgers last season and haven't won a series at Dodger Stadium since April 21-24, 2014, when they took three of four.

• Frequent trade partners in recent history, the Phillies and Dodgers have teamed up for eight trades since the 2012 trade deadline. Eflin himself came to the Phillies in the 2014 Jimmy Rollins trade.

• McCarthy is typically at his worst in April. He has a 5.01 ERA for March/April in his career, his worst for any month. However, he pitched well the two times he faced the Phillies. He threw eight shutout innings in 2013 and gave up two runs while striking out 12 in seven innings during the 2014 season.