Homesick Already? Andre Iguodala Returns to Philly in Sixers Opener vs. Nuggets

Homesick Already? Andre Iguodala Returns to Philly in Sixers Opener vs. Nuggets

Man, it feels like it's been a hundred games since Andre Iguodala last
set foot on the floor at the Wells Fargo Center, but in fact, it's been 0
games—the ink probably isn't even dry on Dre's new lease agreement in
Denver and already, he's gotta come back to city where he balled for the
last eight seasons to announce his presence with authority once more.
Course, this time, he'll be wearing yellow, white and light-blue rather
than red, white and regular-blue—love those unis—as a member of the
Denver Nuggets, in his first professional basketball game for a team
besides the 76ers.

Of course, this wasn't supposed to be the
headline for tonight's game. The headline for tonight's game was
supposed to be the debut of our own big-ticket acquisition, and the guy
we shipped Andre out of town to bring in, one Andrew Bynum.

No,
you probably won't see Andrew tonight, or any other time in the
immediate future, unless you happen to bump into him on line at Acme or
something. Bynum's is still day-to-day with his gimpy knee, but until we
hear anything to the contrary (and regrettably we haven't), think we
all have to assume at least 1-2 weeks, if not 1-2 months, before our
franchise center takes the floor again.

However, all our other
old friends are in the building, and some new ones as well. This'll be
Jason Richardson's first game as the Sixers' starting shooting guard,
and Dorell Wright, Nick Young, Malik Wayns and (at long last) Kwame
Brown are likely to cameo as well off the bench. Depth was good enough
to get us through the pre-season, tonight will be the first test of
whether or not it'll hold in the regular season as well.

Of
course, it'll be a tough first go against the visiting Denver Nuggets,
pegged by many as a sleeper team in the West—so many that they're
probably not even considerable as a sleeper anymore. The Nugs' front
lines of Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos will present a
huge challenge on the boards for our undersized starting frontline of
Thaddeus Young and Lavoy Allen, so expect a good deal of Kwame and
Spencer Hawes tonight, though hopefully not at the same time so much.
(The Nugs will be without versatile scorer Danilo Gallinari, so it'll be
a slightly leveled playing field for the Bynum-less 76ers, at least.)

7:00
tip from the Wells Fargo Center. Big year for our 76ers, and though
it'll be far too early to judge much from tonight's game, getting out to
a good start and holding the line as we did at the beginning of last
year—especially until Bynum gets back—will be key for this team living
up to pre-season expectations. But really, win or lose, basketball is
back and for tonight, that'll probably be good enough. Sing it with us
now: ONE, TWO, THREE FOR FIVE, SIXERS....

Today's lineup: Franco batting cleanup as Phillies try to snap skid

Today's lineup: Franco batting cleanup as Phillies try to snap skid

Well, this hasn't gone well. 

Coming into Thursday afternoon's game against the Rockies, the Phillies have lost five straight. They've lost nine of their last 10. They've lost 20 of their last 24. 

At 15-29, they're not just the worst team in the NL East. They're not just the worst team in the National League. 

Through 44 games, the Phillies are the worst team in baseball. 

Just to make it to a .500 record this season, they would need to go 66-52 (.559) the rest of the way. 

Their four-game series against the Rockies will mercifully come to a close on Thursday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. In the first three games of the series -- all losses -- the Phils have been outscored 23-5. 

Maikel Franco returns to the four-hole as the Phillies try to snap out of their funk. 

Here's the full lineup: 

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Aaron Altherr, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Tommy Joseph, 1B
6. Michael Saunders, RF
7. Cameron Rupp, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Vince Velasquez, P

With new mindset, Nelson Agholor embraces competition to prove himself to Eagles

With new mindset, Nelson Agholor embraces competition to prove himself to Eagles

Nelson Agholor’s rookie season was a disappointment, but his second year in the NFL was a disaster, the pressure of which was clearly getting to him. Now Agholor finds himself on the roster bubble as his third year with the Eagles commences, and it’s fair to wonder what the wide receiver’s mindset is like in 2017.

“Confident and comfortable,” Agholor said Tuesday at the NovaCare Complex, where phase three of OTAs had just begun.

Earlier in the day, Agholor had been involved at practice — cycling in with the first-team offense and getting plenty of looks, too. Later, he would be the last player to leave the field, continuing to run sprints alone after practice ended. Finally, back in the locker room, Agholor explained the epiphany he arrived at during the offseason, and how he knows he’s ready to put 2016 behind him.

“I just had a realization that the only thing that matters is the current situation,” Agholor said. “I’m here, I have an opportunity to get better and make myself a better football player.”

None of this means everything is about to click for Agholor, and he’s suddenly going to perform up to his status as a first-round pick. The Eagles clearly weren’t counting on that, either, when they signed Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in free agency, then selected two more receivers in the draft.

If Agholor intends to turn his career around, a fresh outlook isn’t a bad place to start.

Failing to meet expectations and under relentless scrutiny, Agholor’s demeanor changed over the course of last season. Frustrations finally boiled over during a postgame rant after an Eagles loss to the Cowboys. Four weeks later, he was a healthy scratch against the Packers. Though Agholor suited up for the final five games, there was no discernable change from a production standpoint.

“That’s in the past,” Agholor said. “I practiced today. I got after it today. Anything that happened back then, it happened for a reason.”

Agholor — who turned 24 Wednesday — attributed the bulk of his struggles to youth and inexperience while denying mental or confidence issues were to blame for his performance. With only 59 receptions for 648 yards and three touchdowns to show after two years, the Eagles couldn’t wait for him to grow up any longer, which led to Jeffery and Smith being brought aboard.

“I took it for what it was,” Agholor said. “I said, ‘This was what happened, this is the new opportunity, so every day, just focus on getting better at some aspect of it.’

“It’s all about getting better consistently each day, even if it’s just a little. At the end of the day, the whole world will be like, ‘Man, this is the product?’ Some of the best players in this league, they didn’t just become really great the first day there. It took a process and continuous progression every day.”

But how exactly does Agholor go about making that jump? Because work ethic has never been a complaint, nor was talent a problem at USC, where he finished with 179 receptions for 2,571 yards and 20 touchdowns in 40 games.

There’s no telling whether Agholor will ever put it all together in the NFL. He has refined his approach, however.

“I focused on the simple grind, whether it’s conditioning, whether it was living weights,” Agholor said of offseason workouts. “I wasn’t trying to have just a miracle happen. I just started focusing on the simplest things.

“I got on the track and worked on my speed and worked on my conditioning. I was in the weight room, worked on my strength and my durability, making sure my muscles were working the right way. That’s all it was, little things like that.”

Coaches and teammates are seeing a difference in Agholor as well. Most of all, they believe competing against veterans like Jeffery and Smith will bring the best out of a young receiver still trying to find his way.

“Nelson's attitude has been great. He's worked extremely hard this offseason,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “As I've said all along, competition sharpens you, and that's what I've seen from Nelson.”

“I feel like competition is what’s going to help breed production,” Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews said. “If you’ve got more guys coming in and working, you don’t have time to worry about this, this and this. You have to worry about going in and keeping your job, you have to worry about going in and making plays every single day, and that goes for everybody, not just Nelson.”

Agholor does not disagree.

“I thought it was a great opportunity for me to compete vs. some really good players,” Agholor said of Jeffery and Smith. “These guys have proven themselves in the league, so if I show that I’m capable of performing the same way they are, then I’m in the conversation.”

That might seem like wishful thinking, but for this brief period in OTAs, Agholor has the upper hand — he knows the offense. And even if the Eagles wanted to move on from Agholor this year, his contract is such that a release would cost more against the salary cap than if he was to remain on the roster.

Financial ramifications aside, Agholor’s spot on the final 53-man roster legitimately appears to be in jeopardy. His hope in the meantime is to make himself indispensable.

“I feel like I want to be one of the best players on this team, and that takes care of it right there,” Agholor said. “I want to be a guy when you watch him on tape, you’re like, ‘Yeah, I need him.’

“The best players play, and I want to be one of the best players.”

For all of the doubts about his confidence, Agholor has seldom had any trouble expressing a general belief that he belongs in the NFL. Any doubts he did have, he obviously did not entertain for very long, based on his goals in 2017.

“I love this game, and I want to play this game for a long time, so I’m not going to allow anybody besides myself determine how long I do this,” Agholor said. “This is only Year 3, and I want to play 10-plus. The only way I do that is making myself available and making myself a good football player.”

Coming off of a season that nearly caused him to lose his swagger and cool, Agholor is doing and saying all the right things again, even as the Eagles bring in potential replacements. Perhaps the notion that it feels like a step in the right direction speaks to how poorly those first two seasons went.