Hot Tip: Thad Young and The Sixers Bench Can Beat You

Hot Tip: Thad Young and The Sixers Bench Can Beat You

One of the calling cards of a Doug Collins' Sixers team is that his best players may not actually be in the starting five.

Fans like to argue about whether Jodie Meeks should be starting over Evan Turner, but Collins will tell you repeatedly that the players on the floor when the ball is first tossed into the air aren't necessarily the five best the team has to offer. You've seen glimpses of that truth the past few games when the Sixers have gotten out to very slow starts. Doug Collins knows on any given night that his sixth, seventh, or eighth guy could be his best player. The Pacers apparently knew this coming into the game, too, so their game plan was to "dominate the Sixers' second unit."

How do we know that? Let's just say the Sixers had a man on the inside.

According to Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young, prior to first tip the Sixers were made aware that the Pacers scouting report game plan was to win the battle of the second units. That didn't work out so well for a Pacers team who was already without Danny Granger due to illness and lost Tyler Hansbrough midway through the game after getting poked in the eye. The Pacers' plan to shutdown the second unit also motived Lou Williams and his bench partners. You will not hold LouWill in check. Oh. No. You. Won't. (4-11 shooting)

"I think it really got us juiced up. We did get a hot tip that they wanted to dominate the game with the second unit," Thaddeus Young said after the 96-86 victory. "Me, Lou, Evan, Nik, we come out and just play. We play great off each other and we've been doing this for a while, so we don't let that get into our heads or anything like that."

Thaddeus Young was brilliant on both ends of the floor, but specifically on the defensive end, taking four charges and deflecting another five balls -- a stat Coach Collins loves to keep. Thad also made six of seven shots for 12 points, pulled down 8 boards, and added 2 assists to only 1 turnover. But his defense was inspired. The Sixers held the Pacers to just 37% from the floor.

"People are going to have to start talking about him for All Defensive Team," Collins said of Young. "He blows up every screen and roll, he absolutely gets out there, hedges, gets back. His speed and quickness is amazing."

Thad getting it done off the bench is nothing new for the Sixers, but the contribution they got from rookie Nikola Vucevic was a welcomed surprise. On a night when Spencer Hawes wasn't feeling well, the rookie stepped in and the team didn't really seem to miss a beat. Vucevic finished the night with 11 points, 8 boards and hit a big three pointer along the way. The fans at the Wells Fargo Center are really enjoying the extended "Vuuuuuuuuu" chants as well.

He's amazed the Sixers fans early in the season but has he amazed Coach Collins with his production??

"No. I fell in love with him the first time I saw him," Collins said. "He just plays in a nice rhythm out there. We've got two big guys in Spencer and Nik that both have good ball skills."

While the starters once again looked sluggish to start the night out, the bench came in and gave them a nice spark, pushing them to a slim lead after the first quarter. That momentum carried on into the second, and they pushed the lead to double digits. It remained there for most of the third before the Pacers made their push in the fourth when they finally got some shots to fall.

It was not all pretty for Doug's boys tonight, however, as they were sloppy with the ball at times, giving it away 18 times, but they won the points-off-turnovers battle 24 to 12 -- a stat Doug Collins said you can almost always point to in determining who the Sixers beat.

One of the uglier themes of last season was the Sixers' inability to close out games, but every time the Pacers cut a double-digit lead in the fourth to about six points tonight, the Sixers answered. Jrue Holiday hit a pull up three. Thad Young hit a running hook in the lane. Dre hits one of his ridiculously tough fadeaways. Spencer Hawes took a charge. The Sixers are maturing and finding ways to hold on to their leads.

Lou Williams, perhaps the team's best "closer," was asked if they're now a team that can finish opponents off on the regular.

"It's a work in progress," he said.

Progressing in the right direction, that's for sure.

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Bryan Colangelo on Joel Embiid setback: 'We're reacting in a way that's proactive'

Bryan Colangelo on Joel Embiid setback: 'We're reacting in a way that's proactive'

The timetable for Joel Embiid's return to the court keeps getting murkier.

Embiid was ruled out indefinitely on Monday and will now have an MRI on his injured left knee (see story). He initially suffered a bone bruise on Jan. 20 and it was revealed on Feb. 11 that he had a minor meniscal tear.

The Sixers previously had a plan of rest and rehab in place and targeted a March 4 return for the big man. 

"With respect to what's developed over the last couple of days, it's quite simple, Joel developed a little bit of swelling and soreness," Sixers president Bryan Colangelo said during Monday's edition of Philly Sports Talk. "We're reacting in a way that's proactive. We wanted to be more communicative with our fans. We wanted to make sure that there's less question about whether or not he would be available. This is literally changing out for the next two games now to out indefinitely."

That's a quick change of events. As recently as Friday, Embiid was on track to be back in uniform this week.

"I was in a situation where the latest update on Friday was that he was doing well through his planned progression toward returning to play," Colangelo said. "In recent days, his training has developed a reaction with swelling and soreness, and thus we wanted to take a step back, put him on ice for a minute and make sure that we do everything possible, including getting another scan done."

Embiid initially suffered the injury against the Portland Trail Blazers on Jan. 20. The rookie sensation missed three games before coming back vs. the Houston Rockets in a national TV matchup on Jan. 27. He has missed all 13 games since facing the Rockets.

Even with Embiid’s diagnosed tear of his meniscus and recent flaring up of the knee after rehab sessions, the Sixers are being supremely cautious when it comes to any potential procedures. The team is not in a rush to put the center back under the knife after he missed the first two seasons of his career because of a pair of foot surgeries.

"With all due respect, medical injuries are injuries that require care and attention," Colangelo said. "When I take information that comes from the medical team, including doctors and the training staff and the physiotherapists, we apply it as instructed and we do that to protect the athlete. In a case of jumping into someone's knee to operate, when the circumstances are known but the conditions and how he's reacting to certain things are still unknown, I think you go through the planned progression of steps as prescribed and evaluated by doctors."

The quick decision to label Embiid out indefinitely is a sharp contrast to prior updates on the phenom. Just last week, Embiid lamented how the Sixers never announced a true timetable for his return (see story).

Now just days later, Embiid has a prognosis that could technically keep him out for the remainder of the regular season. 

Embiid has proven his worth in 31 games this season by averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 25.4 minutes a night. But with only 23 games left on the schedule, will he suit up again this season?

"Out indefinitely means just that. It's indeterminate at this point," Colangelo said. "I think we're all hopeful to get him out there. It would be beneficial for the fans to see him again. It would be great for us as a unit to have him out there as we continue to strive toward winning as the season concludes.

"But at the end of the day, the health and performance of our athletes is first and foremost. We don't want to jeopardize the long-term health."

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies right-hander Jerad Eickhoff pitched two innings, allowed a hit, a run, walked one and struck out two in his spring debut on Monday.

Afterward, manager Pete Mackanin was asked what he believed Eickhoff's ceiling was.

"He's a pretty darn good pitcher right now," Mackanin said.

Indeed, he is.

In his first full season in the majors last year, the 26-year-old right-hander led the Phillies' starting staff in ERA (3.65), starts (33) and innings pitched (197 1/3).

He delivered 20 quality starts and became just the fourth Phillie in the last 20 years to make 33 starts and record a 3.65 ERA or better, joining three pretty good pitchers named Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling. He walked just 1.92 batters per nine innings and that was fourth-best among NL starters.

"Eickhoff is the kind of guy you can count on," Mackanin said. "He throws strikes. He knows what he's doing."

Eickhoff is intent on building on last year's success in 2017. The guy has a Halladay-like work ethic. He arrived in Clearwater on Feb. 1 and got right to work. After his two innings of work on Monday, he put in a couple of hours in the weight room and on a back field running.

"I just have to continue working," he said. "I have a very high standard for myself as a lot of us in here do. We want to be the best players that we can be."

Eickhoff is working on improving his changeup this spring and his overall goal is to make every start -- as he did last season.

"That's the priority -- make every start," he said. "That's always a priority for me.

"I'd also like to incorporate the changeup a little more and use my slider and curveball and not get heavily reliant on one or the other, which happened several times last year and I think got me into trouble at times. So incorporating both for the duration of the season and just being more crisp with execution and location is my goal.

"I'm always looking to get better. I think the sky is the limit. I'm going to continue working, whether it's being Greg Maddux-esque with command or having a good breaking ball, or throwing a changeup like Maddux and guys like that did. There's always something I'm working on and trying to develop and sharpen up."

Eickhoff lines up to start the second game of the regular season behind projected opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson.

The game
The Phillies lost to the Tampa Bay Rays, 7-2. The Phils are 2-2 on the spring.

Maikel Franco had two hits, including his third homer of the spring. It was a long drive to left field on a 1-2 fastball. He also had a single to right field.

"The thing I like early in the spring from him is he's going deeper into counts," Mackanin said. "I think he's working toward a good year this year."

Stassi impresses
Non-roster player Brock Stassi, a candidate to win a job as a reserve first baseman and outfielder (see story), did not play in the game. He, however, has a single, double and homer in the first three games.

Mackanin gushed about Stassi’s defense when asked about it Monday.

"He's one of the best first basemen I've seen in a real long time," Mackanin said. "He has no need to improve on his defense and I like the way he swings the bat. He's a real solid baseball player so he's a guy I really want to get a good look at."

Pitching matters
Starting pitchers Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin are both projected to pitch at Triple A. Both have been slowed early in camp because of health reasons, but are progressing well. Thompson has a sore right wrist and Eflin is recovering from a pair of surgeries to address tendinitis in both knees.

Both pitchers will continue to throw in the bullpen this week and ramp up to live batting practice next week. There is plenty of time for both pitchers to get their arms ready to open the season. However, the Phillies may decide to take a cautious approach with Eflin and let him build some more strength in his knees before they turn him loose. He could stay in Florida for a couple of extra weeks before joining the Triple A club.

Up next
The Phillies host the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. Clay Buchholz will make his first start of the spring. Here is the Phillies' posted starting lineup for the game:

1. Freddy Galvis, SS
2. Howie Kendrick, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, DH
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Chris Coghlan, RF
8. Cameron Rupp, C
9. Scott Kingery, 2B