Jrue goes down: We mourn while selfishly celebrating (but not too much)

Jrue goes down: We mourn while selfishly celebrating (but not too much)

The injuries in the NBA are now piling up to near-historic proportions, particularly in the point-guard ranks, where the extended absences of Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe have robbed the NBA at least an eighth of its overall watchability. Now, the lame can add another newcomer to their ranks--Pelicans point guard and former Sixer great Jrue Holiday.

Jrue has been ruled out indefinitely by Pelicans brass with a right ankle injury--a stress fracture in his tibia, if you must know. The loss to injury is tough for Holiday, who has been durable for most of his four-plus-year pro career, not yet missing ten games in a season. It might be even tougher for New Orleans, who was already missing sharpshooter Ryan Anderson for an indeterminate amount of time, and has also seen fellow young core players Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, and future superstar Anthony Davis shuttling in and out of the lineup with various maladies over the young season.

As NBA fans, we hate to see the league lose a talent like Jrue for any time period, and as Sixer fans our heart obviously goes out to our former floor general. However, the latter allegiance also forces us to consider how this news might end up impacting the Liberty Ballers, who own the Pelicans' first-round pick in the upcoming loaded draft, and have reason to wish temporary ill upon the fortunes of New Orleans.

And the impact will likely be rather sizable. Jrue wasn't likely to be an All-Star again this season--more of a comment on the level of elite backcourt talent in the West than anything--but he was still having a very solid year in New Orleans, averaging 14 and eight on 45% shooting and 39% from deep, while developing a particularly nice chemistry with Davis. Without him, the Pellies will have to either shift combo guard/forward Tyreke Evans to the starting lineup, leaving the second unit almost entirely bereft of scoring, or promote either steady backup Brian Roberts or (shudder) one-time prospect Austin Rivers to the first unit, none of which are particularly attractive options compared to the Damaja. The offense, already reeling from the loss of Anderson, will undoubtedly suffer even further.

The Pelicans currently reside at 15-19, and would have the 12th best lottery chances if the season-ended today. Their injury woes seem likely to push them back even further, possibly falling out of the just-outside-the-playoffs tier of the Wolves, Nuggets and Grizzlies and into the when-does-next-year-start? tier of the Lakers, Kings and Jazz. They'd have to do some serious losing to out-tank the dregs of the East, where they currently have a better record then even our seventh-seeded Bobcats, but nothing is impossible in this most unpredictable (and injury-stricken) of NBA seasons.

Good news for the Sixers, right? Well, to a point. Obviously we'd rather have the eighth or ninth pick in this historic draft than the 12th or 13th--though with the Eighth Samurai Sam Hinkie making the final proclamation, you gotta like our chances at either--but it's a slippery slope at that point, because if the Pelicans actually get drawn in the top three on lottery night (or more incredibly, tank their way all the way to the bottom five), we don't get to pick at all, as the selection remains top-five-protected. Ideally, we want the Not-Hornets to slip another rung or two, but tread water from there, to avoid risking anything more than a single-digit-percent chance of the Pelicans getting to hold onto their pick.

The important thing for us is that the Pelicans not get into the playoffs. If they did, it'd probably mean they had a better record than all but two or three of the Eastern playoff teams, which means their pick would fall all the way to the 20s in the draft--still valuable, but not nearly as. As long as we're picking in the lottery, the depth of this draft should allow Hinkie to find us a player to be a valuable contributor on the team for a long time to come. With their recent spate of injuries, we should now be relatively safe on that one, and that is good news.

Most importantly, we don't want karma to come back and bite us on this one. So let us wish nothing but get-well-soon thoughts to our once-and-future boy Jrue, and hope the Pelicans get back on track before too long. We'll bandwagon for you guys super-hard next season, promise.

Instant Replay: Knicks 110, Sixers 109

Instant Replay: Knicks 110, Sixers 109

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- A 17-point game came down to the final possessions. 

The Knicks squeaked out a 110-109 victory, holding on to this one after suffering a buzzer-beating loss to the Sixers on Jan. 11. 

The Knicks squandered a double-digit lead in the fourth as the Sixers slowly chipped away at their lead at the line. The Sixers got within one, 106-105, when T.J. McConnell drained a three after a series of Sixers’ free throws. 

Jahlil Okafor scored a go-ahead basket during a hustling Sixers possession with nine seconds remaining to give the Sixers a 109-108 lead. 

In the end, it was Carmelo Anthony, who had been running up the scoreboard all night (37 points), that nailed the game-winning jumper over Robert Covington. Kyle O’Quinn picked off the Sixers' final inbound attempt. 

Inside the box score
• Okafor finished with a season-high 28 points and 10 rebounds. He had eight rebounds in first half, including a coast-to-coast fast break.

• Dario Saric continues his strong Rookie of the Year push. He finished with 19 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. 

• Robert Covington struggled from the field overall (7 of 19, 2 of 11 from three) but filled up the stat sheet with 20 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

• Anthony did what Anthony does. He scored 37 points on 15 of 25 from the field, including the game-winner.

Anderson debuts
Justin Anderson made his Sixers debut in the first quarter. Anderson is a multi-positional player and the lineup reflected that. He first played with Rodriguez, Stauskas, Covington and Holmes. Anderson played 3:47 and went 0 for 1 from three with a rebound and a foul. 

While Anderson said he had learned about the Sixers by watching his first game from the bench, he will get more on-the-court experience on Sunday when he plans to spend time at the training complex on the team’s off day. 

Bigs Convene
Joel Embiid was with the Sixers in New York. After the second quarter ended, he stayed on the court to talk with Kristaps Porzingis and Joakim Noah. Both Knicks big men also were sidelined on Saturday.

Trust It
T.J. McConnell isn’t the only one to #trustthefriendship with Saric. Check out this no-look pass to Robert Covington. 

Up next
The Sixers have a day to bounce back from this loss. The 48-9 Warriors come to town on Monday. 

Villanova pushes past Creighton despite exhaustion before off week

Villanova pushes past Creighton despite exhaustion before off week

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, PA. – Jay Wright finally admitted what we could all see.

The Wildcats are gassed.

No. 2 Villanova beat No. 23 Creighton, 79-63, Saturday at the Pavilion to clinch the Big East Conference regular-season title outright (see Instant Replay).

The Wildcats are 27-3 and 14-3 in the conference, but the last couple weeks their lack of depth has shown.

With Omari Spellman ruled ineligible before the season by the NCAA, Phil Booth out since November with lingering knee pain and Darryl Reynolds out the last five games with a rib injury, Wright has essentially been limited to five starters, freshman Dante DiVincenzo off the bench and a few minutes a night from freshman Dylan Painter.

It's taken a significant toll on the six guys in the rotation. 

Big late leads have dwindled or, in the case of Wednesday’s game against Butler, disappeared. Three-pointers have front-rimmed. Defensive assignments have been missed.

Through it all, Wright refused to admit fatigue was an issue.

Now, with the Wildcats securely the top seed in next month’s conference tournament, Wright is being honest about his team.

They’re exhausted.

“I know you guys have asked a lot, 'Do I think we’re getting worn down with seven guys, 6 1/2 guys,' and I said I don’t think so, I think we can do it,” Wright said Saturday after the Senior Day win over Creighton.

“I gotta answer your question, but it just doesn’t do us any good saying we’re worn out. It’s not an excuse. Other teams have things to deal with. I get we weren’t pretty, we haven’t been pretty, today wasn’t pretty. But I think it just speaks to the leadership of these seniors and I think it speaks to the character of these seniors (that they got through it).

“Are they tired? Yeah. Are they worn down some? Yeah. But it doesn’t matter. Other teams got stuff too. It’s not the reason you lose. It can’t be the reason you lose. Maybe you were tired and you didn’t concentrate or we didn’t defend or we didn’t rebound. That’s what happened and that’s the way we look at it.

“I wasn’t trying to BS you, I was just saying that whether you’re tired or not doesn’t matter, you’ve got to get it done, and we got it done. I’m so proud of them and it’s senior leadership. It’s talented players and senior leadership.”

Villanova now has a week off before an essentially meaningless game next Saturday at Georgetown.

It’ll be the Wildcats’ first extended break since the season began.

“They haven’t had an off week because they played Virginia (two weeks ago in a non-conference game), and now they get it and a chance to get their legs back,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.

“It’s a long season and when you don’t really have a chance to catch your breath, especially because he’s riding six or seven guys pretty hard right now? I’m sure this week off will do them some good.”

Sophomore transfer Eric Paschall had a career day Saturday, with 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting to go with six rebounds. Josh Hart added 16 points and eight boards, Kris Jenkins overcame another off shooting night from three (1 for 7) to record 15 points, four boards and three assists, and Mikal Bridges had 11 points and eight rebounds. DiVincenzo and Jalen Brunson each scored nine points. 

The next meaningful game Villanova plays will be March 9 in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament in New York.

Now it’s time to rest. And heal.

“It’s going to be good for us,” Jenkins said. “We get a couple days off. We’ll still watch film, still learn, still get better, but physically we need a couple days to regroup and get ready for Georgetown and then the Big East tournament.

“Georgetown is first, but we really do need this break.”

On Saturday, Villanova built an 11-point lead, gave it all away, fell behind, traded off seven second-half lead changes, then went on a 16-4 run midway through the second half to finally put away the Bluejays.

With the threes not falling, the Wildcats focused on attacking the rim and scoring in the post in the second half.

Jenkins in particular had an unusual game. He stopped shooting treys and made 5 of 8 shots from inside the arc. That’s the second-most two-pointers he’s ever made and the most he’s ever attempted.

“Just playing off my teammates and adjusting to how teams play me,” said Jenkins, shooting just 30 percent from three the last 10 games.

“They really take away threes and try not to let me get any clean catches so always being aggressive and trying to make the right play.”

For a tired team, backing off the threes was huge.

Villanova outscored Creighton 36-18 over the last 14 minutes after Creighton took its biggest lead – two points at 43-41.

Now comes rest.

“It’s big for these guys,” Wright said. “In my mind, we just had to get to today. We just gotta get through it without getting somebody else hurt and without just being dead.

“Because we’re going to get time off. We’re going to take Sunday off, we’re going to have a light day Monday, and then we’re going to take Tuesday off, because these guys really need the rest. So this is perfect timing for us.”