Matchday 12: The Hackworth Era Begins

Matchday 12: The Hackworth Era Begins

It's a new beginning for the Philadelphia Union as the John Hackworth (interim?) era starts today at PPL Park against first-place D.C. United (7PM, Comcast Sportsnet/Galavision). After parting ways with Peter Nowak midweek the Union return to MLS play for the first time since May 26th. 
Dating back to the Sebastien Le Toux trade it has been a tumultuous last five months for the third-year franchise. Consider that in that time they've traded their most popular player (Le Toux), parted ways with two former captains (releasing Faryd Mondragon so he could return to Colombia and trading Danny Califf), traded their first ever draft pick (former first overall selection Danny Mwanga) and parted ways/fired/broke up with manager Peter Nowak. Oh yeah, and they're 2-7-2 and sit in ninth place in the ten team MLS Eastern Conference.
Say what you will about the off-the-field moves, but the fact remains that the Union have been a terribly painful team to watch thus far. Their offensive philosophy seems to consist of completely bypassing the midfield and playing long hopeful balls into space for Lionard Pajoy (who is suspended tonight). They've played well enough defensively, conceding the third fewest goals in the conference, but they remain vulnerable on set pieces.
Speaking of set pieces, the Union will have their hands full today with D.C. United who have scored three goals from corner kicks and two from free kicks so far this season. Branko Boskovic is the trigger man on set pieces. Assuming he plays, he's listed as probable with an abductor strain, his service will present a huge challenge for the Union back four. 
Another massive challenge for the U? Trying to handle reining MVP Dwayne De Rosario. D-Ro leads MLS with eight assists and is tied for seventh in goals with five. Oh, and he was the MLS Player of the Month for May, so he's in good form. As if that weren't enough, Maicon Santos is the fifth leading scorer in the league, scoring 10 goals in 13 games.
So what can John Hackworth do to counter a streaking D.C. United team that is on a three-game winning streak? Your guess is as good as mine. He stated during his introductory press conference that “There will be some changes and some new faces out there". Who could he be referring to? Will we see Jorge Perlaza, who was aquired in exchange for Danny Mwanga, get a start along the front line? Will Josue Martinez get an opportunity to shine with Pajoy suspended?
Hackworth should have goalkeeper Zac MacMath back between the sticks as he returns from concussion symptoms. He'll continue to wear the very Petr Cech-style padded helmet, but he should return tonight.
No matter what Hackworth does with his formation or changes he makes to his lineup the hard truth is that this team has no identity, no style and little margin for error. Yes, we're only at the 1/3rd point of the season, but it's getting late early.
Photo: philadelphiaunion.com

The Sixers are the perfect distraction from the Sixers

The Sixers are the perfect distraction from the Sixers

There's your Philadelphia 76ers season in a nutshell, huh? Nerlens Noel gets traded for an all-lemon pack of Starbursts, Ben Simmons' right foot is still apparently stuck in a beartrap, Joel Embiid can't get himself dismissed from the nurse's office, and Jahlil Okafor is forced back into +1 status after everyone else passed on going to the concert with Bryan Colangelo -- and the Ballers still go out and beat one of the best teams in the East in their first game back from the All-Star break. Nearly everything about the Sixers is depressing right now, except for the team themselves. They're cool. 

Kudos to Brett Brown, man. The team is playing with such fluency and energy right now that it can withstand some losses in personnel without the drop-off being particularly dramatic -- at least for the moment. Replacing Embiid and Noel with Okafor and Holmes for as long as we'll have to do it will catch up with us in time, but for now, all you can do is marvel at the pace, cohesion and (with some mildly glaring moments of exception) discipline that Brown has the guys playing at the moment. I doubt there are five coaches in the league having a more impressive season than him right now. 

But the players were pretty good in this one, too. Dario Saric had 20-11-4 in his first start in three weeks, continuing his unlikely Rookie of the Year surge with his third-straight double-double and fourth game of 20-plus in his last six games. The All-Star Break hasn't cooled Robert Covington's hot hand, as the shooter went 5-9 from deep last night and is now 17-31 on threes over his last four games, also posting a 20-10 night with his 25 points and 11 boards. (Also three assists and four steals, whatever.) Richaun Holmes dunked over some people and reminded a handful of fans why they've gotten way too excited about him at various points earlier in the year. Good times were had by all. 

Games like last night's also just remind you how marginal the difference between winning and losing is. As they've been wont to do forever, the Sixers blew their considerable lead to the Wizards late in this one, which would've undoubtedly resulted in a tragic loss in years past. But these days, the leads are a little bigger going into the Sixers' fourth-quarter tailspins, and their defense is just a little tighter on critical possessions, and that's the difference between losing on a Bradley Beal buzzer-beater and hitting just enough free throws to squeak out a mildly secure 120-112 victory. 

Anyway, after an impossibly discouraging week of Sixers happenings, it turns out some actual Sixers basketball is just what we needed. Hopefully their level of play will continue to get better as news of their off-court developments invariably keeps getting worse .

Best of NBA: DeRozan scores career-high 43 points in Raptors' win

Best of NBA: DeRozan scores career-high 43 points in Raptors' win

TORONTO -- DeMar DeRozan scored a career-high 43 points and the Toronto Raptors rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat the Boston Celtics 107-97 on Friday night.

DeRozan shot 15 of 28 from the floor as he surpassed his 42-point effort against the Houston Rockets on March 30, 2015, helping the Raptors overcome the absence of fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry. Lowry sat out with a right wrist injury.

Serge Ibaka, acquired by trade from the Orlando Magic last week, scored 15 points in his debut, while fellow newcomer P.J. Tucker, picked up from the Phoenix Suns on Thursday, had a game-high 10 rebounds and nine points in his first game for his new team.

Isaiah Thomas scored 20 points for Boston, which also got 19 points each from Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart (see full recap).

Westbrook triple-double lifts Thunder over Lakers
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Russell Westbrook scored 17 points in his 28th triple-double of the season, and his new teammates fit in seamlessly as the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 110-93 on Friday night.

Westbrook also had 18 rebounds and 17 assists for the 65th triple-double of his career.

It was the first game for new Thunder players Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, acquired Thursday in a trade with the Chicago Bulls. Gibson scored 12 points and McDermott added eight, even though they arrived Thursday night and weren't even available for shootaround on Friday.

Alex Abrines and Andre Roberson each set a career high with 19 points, and Steven Adams added 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder.

D'Angelo Russell scored 29 for the Lakers (see full recap).

Pacers beat Grizzlies to snap six-game skid
INDIANAPOLIS -- CJ Miles made five 3-pointers and scored 17 points, Paul George had nine points and nine rebounds after remaining with Indiana following the trade deadline, and the Pacers snapped a six-game losing streak with a 102-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.

Monta Ellis finished with 16 points, Myles Turner scored 12, and Lavoy Allen, Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young each added 10 for the Pacers.

The Pacers outscored the Grizzlies 64-42 across the middle two quarters and never relinquished their lead, leading by as many as 27 points in the second half. The Grizzlies finished the game shooting 41 percent from the floor (35 for 84).

Troy Daniels had 13 points for Memphis and Marc Gasol scored 12. Indiana outrebounded Memphis 50-39 and scored 29 points off 17 Grizzlies turnovers (see full recap).