The Last Straw? A DNP-CD for Arnett Moultrie, A WTF for Coach Collins

The Last Straw? A DNP-CD for Arnett Moultrie, A WTF for Coach Collins

There were a lot of reasons to be depressed by the Sixers' performance
last night in Minnesota—the super-soft defense that let up 56 first half
points, the 1-7 shooting night for Nick Young (and 4-9 at the line,
including three misses in a row after a foul on a trey), the miserable
combined jump-shooting efforts from Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen, the
not-much-better combined jump-shooting efforts from Evan Turner and Jrue
Holiday...the list goes on. But we knew, or could pretty well guess,
that all that was going to be the case last night. It's not like we were
unaware this team was crappy shorthanded and not all that great to
begin with. No big surprise there.


What we didn't know, what we still can't figure out, is Doug Collins slapping rookie Arnett Moultrie with a DNP-CD. Now in my Five Goals for the Second Half of the Season
piece I published here a couple days ago, which I'm sure you all pored
over like the religious text it was, #2 on the list was to continue to
develop Moultrie, to give him consistent minutes, and maybe some more
time playing with Jrue Holiday and the first unit. No doubt Dougie also
read my article with diligence, considered all of my points made, and
decided...nah, I think I'd rather just play Damien Wilkins for 26
minutes. (No, you're not missing a decimal point there—Wilkins actually
played for over half the game.) Not like we couldn't have used him, or
any other big body, either—the Sixers got absolutely brutalized inside
last night, and were forced into a lot of long jumpers on offense
because their big men were super-unhelpful moving off picks.


But that's almost besides the point. Maybe Doug didn't like
something about the matchup, maybe Moultrie had a bad practice recently,
maybe he had a bad horoscope reading this morning, I dunno. But I also
don't really care. You may or may not have noticed that nowhere in my
"Five Goals" article does it say anything about winning games. And
that's because right now, coming up with actual Ws is an incidental
concern, especially as long as the Funny-Looking Kid With the Big Hair
is out. This team isn't going anywhere in the playoffs. Chances are very
good (and always looking better) that they aren't even going to
the playoffs. And in fact, the only real impact of the team making the
playoffs this year would be losing our first-round pick to Miami in the
summer. Winning is not the priority at the moment.


Rather, the priority should be building for next season, where
hopefully we'll have a re-signed and healthy-ish Bynum (and perhaps also
JJ Redick picked up in free agency, and perhaps Wilt Chamberlain
resurrected as a unicorn coming off the bench), as well as a decent
lottery pick to go along with our current core and really try to go
somewhere in the Eastern Conference. As a young, low-cost, high-upside
player, Arnett Moultrie could potentially play a part in that. Damien
Wilkins, for a variety of reasons, can not. So I don't really care if he
had a bad practice or something—unless he was making racist remarks
while farting uncontrollably, I wanna see him out there for 20 minutes a
night, learning the pro game, developing chemistry with Jrue and Evan,
showing us what he's got. I repeat: Winning is NOT the priority at the
moment.


Try telling that to Coach Collins, though—like, ever. As I think one of the Liberty Ballers
guys said, Doug is a great coach for an overachieving team, and an
absolutely terrible one for a rebuilding team. His win-now, win-forever
approach can squeeze 45 wins out of 35 wins' worth of talent, but if the
responsibility is tending over a 25-win team already looking at the
long approach, Collins is still gonna focus on how he can somehow get to
win #26. It's hard to fault the guy a ton for trying to win as many
games as possible—in theory, that's usually what you want your coach to
do, and it paid off decently his first two years in Philly. It's also
hard to envision him being a part of this team's future at this point,
though.


I'm not saying they should fire Doug Collins this season. The deck
was stacked against him from the beginning with the Bynum deal and
injuries, and the team is so bad right now that he probably couldn't
sabotage our tanking efforts even if he was consciously trying to. But
the Moultrie thing is indicative of how, if things stay sour for this
team, Doug's probably not the guy to stay the course and stay patient
with the team as they attempt to build towards the future. And really,
if he was still the Sixers' head coach at this point next year, I'd be
pretty surprised.

NHL Playoffs: Vernon Fiddler provides big lift as Predators take 1-0 series lead on Blues

NHL Playoffs: Vernon Fiddler provides big lift as Predators take 1-0 series lead on Blues

ST. LOUIS -- One nifty little flip by Vernon Fiddler provided a big lift for the Nashville Predators on a rough night.

Fiddler scored with 5:05 left and P.K. Subban had a goal and two assists, powering Nashville to a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series on Wednesday.

The Predators lost Kevin Fiala to an ugly leg injury in the second period and blew a 3-1 lead before Fiddler poked a loose puck by Jake Allen in the third.

"They had a little push there," Fiddler said. "We got 3-2 and then 3-3 and the building's rocking. You have to give our guys credit. We just regrouped and went back at them and found a way to get the two points."

It was the fifth goal in 43 career playoff games for the 36-year-old Fiddler, who did not play in the Predators' first-round series sweep against the Blackhawks.

"He's a veteran guy so he's been in these situations before and he stepped up and got us a big goal," Subban said. "That was the toughest game of the season for us and they fought so hard and had so many chances, but we found a way to get it done."

Colin Wilson and Filip Forsberg also scored for Nashville, and Pekka Rinne made 27 saves.

Game 2 is Friday night (see full recap).

Draisaitl leads Oilers to Game 1 win over Ducks
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Adam Larsson scored his second goal of the third period with 4:40 to play, and the Edmonton Oilers blew a two-goal lead in a wild third period before beating the Anaheim Ducks 5-3 on Wednesday night in their second-round playoff series opener.

Mark Letestu scored two power-play goals and Cam Talbot made 33 saves for the upstart Oilers, who seized home-ice advantage from the Ducks with a four-goal final period.

Jakob Silfverberg scored the tying goal with 9:13 to play in regulation for the Ducks, who lost in regulation for the first time in 19 games since March 10.

Larsson scored just four goals in his first 85 games this season, but the Swedish defenseman improbably got two goals in 7 1/2 minutes.

Game 2 is Friday night in Anaheim (see full recap).

Phillies push win streak to 5 behind continued growth from Maikel Franco, Vince Velasquez

Phillies push win streak to 5 behind continued growth from Maikel Franco, Vince Velasquez

 

BOX SCORE

This is what the Phillies could look like some day, maybe in a year or two, when the rebuild has moved further down the road and the club is approaching contender's status.

Maikel Franco clubbed three hits, including a grand slam, and Vince Velasquez pitched his best game of the young season to lead the Phillies to a 7-4 victory over the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay).

The win was the Phillies' fifth straight as they inched over the .500 mark at 10-9 and it offered a glimpse of the tantalizing tools of two of the team's most enigmatic young players — Franco and Velasquez. Both players are 24 years old. Both have had individual highs and lows in a Phillies uniform. Both have the ability to be cornerstone talents for the franchise — if they can put together more nights like this one.

"It's a long season and it doesn't happen overnight," said manager Pete Mackanin, acknowledging the ups and downs that each player has had in the early part of this season and before.

It was just last week that Franco was riding a career-worst 0-for-22 slump that dragged his batting average to .145.

On Wednesday night, he stroked three hits — he had two hard-hit singles to go with his grand slam — to push his average to .203, not good but moving in the right direction.

Even as he struggled, Franco continued to hit balls hard and produce runs. He now has 20 RBIs, which is just one shy of the NL leaders. He also has four homers, including two grand slams.

It's no secret that new hitting coach Matt Stairs is trying to get Franco to stop pulling off the ball. From Day 1 of spring training, Stairs has had Franco working on driving the ball to the middle of the field. That's just what Franco did three times Wednesday night. His first hit, a single to center in the second inning, set the tone for his night. His grand slam came on a 2-2 fastball from lefty Wei-Yin Chen in the third inning.

"That was Matt Stairs' big rallying cry for Maikel — try to use the big part of the field and not pull everything," Mackanin said. "He still has it in him where he'll pull his head off the ball, but I think with his type of power, he can hit a ball to center field or right field out of the ballpark. Once that sinks in, he's really going to take off. He's starting to look a lot better." 

Two pitches before Franco lined the grand slam over the wall in left center, he lost his helmet while hacking at a slow breaking ball. It was the type of out-of-control swing that Stairs is trying to eliminate. Two pitches later, Franco gathered himself and hit the grand slam with a smooth swing.

That was progress.

And so is this: He's only lost his helmet on a swing one time this season.

"At the time, I just told myself, 'Calm down, relax, don't try to do too much. Just see the ball and put good contact on it,'" Franco said.

"I think last year I lost my helmet like 20 or 25 times," he added with a chuckle. "I'm working on it."

Velasquez is also working on things. He is trying to harness his power stuff and improve his economy of pitches so he can stay in games longer. He'd lasted just four, five and six innings, respectively, while running high pitch counts in his first three starts. He made some improvements in his last outing at New York last week and took another step forward in this one. He pitched 6 1/3 innings, scattered six hits and three runs, walked two and struck out three. The strikeout total was way down from the 10 he struck out in four innings in his first start of the season. But Mackanin was pleased with the results and the improved efficiency. Velasquez threw 97 pitches, 68 of which were strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of 26 batters and that was important to his success.

"Even though he's not striking people out like we know he can and will, he's using all of his pitches and he got us into that seventh inning, which was huge," Mackanin said. "I think he's trying to pitch to more contact and not trying to make perfect pitches and strike everybody out with perfect pitches.

"I think once he puts that all together, he'll have that total ensemble working for him and know when to pitch soft and when to throw hard. He's making good improvements."

And so are the Phillies as a group. They hit three home runs in the game and the bullpen did an excellent job, especially Joely Rodriguez and Joaquin Benoit, who combined on five outs (see story)

Five straight wins is nothing to sneeze at. The Phillies have suddenly become fun. They go for a sixth straight win Thursday.