No Bigs, No Problem: Sixers Blow Out Wiz at Home

No Bigs, No Problem: Sixers Blow Out Wiz at Home

Well, if we know no other thing definitively about the Philadelphia
76ers this season we do certainly know one thing: They are much, much
better than the Washington Wizards. We fretted in the pre-game about how
the Sixers' lack of size could be a major problem against the Wiz, but
it couldn't have been much less of an issue—the Wizards mostly stuck to
the perimeter, and their big men were all but invisible. (Starting
center JaVale McGee scored two points with two rebounds and two blocks
in 21 unremarkable minutes of game action). The Sixers ran off a 15-0
stretch in the first quarter and never looked back; by halftime the game
was over. The Wiz cut the lead a little in garbage time, but still lost
by 20, 103-83, in a game that was never really even that close. Philly is now 12-5 for the season, and have won their three games against Washington by a combined 64 points.

The player of the game—well, not really, but the guy that most people
are gonna be talking about—was rookie Lavoy Allen. The Temple grad got
17 minutes as the team's backup center without Spencer or Nik in the
lineup, and he responded splendidly, scoring ten points (on perfect 5-5
shooting, including the fourth-quarter basket to put the Sixers into Big
Mac territory.) with six boards and an impressive high-low dime to
Thaddeus Young. We probably shouldn't read too much into Allen's fine
night—it was against the Wizards, with the likes of Andray Blatche and
Trevor Booker as his primary matchups—but for one game, at least, it was
a hell of a step-up job from the first-year player.

Lavoy's fine night also illustrates a strength of this team, which the
coaching staff probably should get some credit for—all of their big men
know how to run the pick-and-pop, and all of them can hit an open
jumper. Andre Iguodala pick-and-popped the Wizards to death in the
first, dropping eight assists to the likes of Elton Brand (17 points on
8-14), Allen, and even once with Tony Battie, getting the Sixers off to
that early lead that they held the rest of the way. Our young bigs have
their deficiencies, especially on the defensive end, but as long as they
can nail those open jumpers, they'll always be able to contribute to
this team while on the floor.

There's not too much else to talk about with this one. Thad was a beast
finishing in the paint in the first half, Jrue Holday was hitting his
jumper all night, Evan Turner played brilliantly in the first half but
got sloppy in garbage time, Jodie appears to have found his stroke for
real this time (10-20 from deep over his last four games), and Andres
Nocioni was kept thankfully bench-ridden throughout. It was another good
team win in which all playing contributed, the kind we've been spoiled
with by the Sixers against subpar competition this year.

Grievances are a little petty with this one, but as long as I have the
floor, two things, only one of which is directed at the team itself. But
here it is: Free throws. The team isn't getting enough of them, and
they're not hitting enough of them when they get them. The former is
slightly more worrisome—as good a scoring game as Jrue had with his 17
points, he only got to the line for an and-one, which he missed. All
he's getting these days are jumpers—he's averaging less than a pair of
free-throw attempts a game this year, unacceptable for as good a
penetrator as The Damaja—and so his scoring is entirely reliant on
whether or not he's hitting. He was tonight, but he won't every night.
He wasn't the sole guilty party this game, either—in a combined hour of
floor time, 'Dre and Evan got to the line four times, and missed all
four FTs. (How Evan, a shooting guard, can still be shooting under 70%
from the line at this point in the season is utterly beyond me.)

My second admonishment goes to the fans, and perhaps just as
importantly, the Sixers owners, for this goddamn McDonald's promotion.
It's one thing to give out free Big Macs to a team whose fans should
need a little extra motivation, but given how good the Ballers have been
at home this year—they're 8-1 ferchrissake, with all eight wins by
double digits—it's embarrassing that the fans continue to fixate so much
on getting the free Big Macs that come with the team scoring 100. It's
time to get rid of the whole thing, and have the biggest cheers of the
night come for the team that's got a five-game lead in their division,
and not for a mediocre fast-food product about 1/100th as good as a
Baconator or Gold Rush sandwich. (And might I suggest that if the
prospect of a free hamburger is really swaying you to buy pro basketball
tickets, you might want to rethink your financial strategy some.)

Anyway, another solid clean-up win for the Sixers, and a hell of a way
to return to the WFC after a tough loss in Miami. New Jersey's up next
on Wednesday, and should be moderately easy pickings for the Sixers, who
hopefully will have at least one of their top two big guys back by then
as well. And in case you still need the reminder of how much better the
Sixers are these year than last year—17 games into this season, they
have three times as many wins as they did at this point last year.
Pretty good, Jeff.

Report: Lonzo Ball, Sixers considering pre-draft workout

Report: Lonzo Ball, Sixers considering pre-draft workout

It may be time for Sixers fans to start setting money aside for some Big Baller Brand gear.

Sources tell ESPN's Chris Haynes that Lonzo Ball is considering working out for the Sixers, who hold the No. 3 pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

"A final decision will be made once Ball's agent, Harrison Gaines, and Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo have had an extensive conversation centered on the identity of the team, sources told ESPN," Haynes writes.

Haynes also states that the main concern between Ball and the Sixers would be how the former UCLA point guard would fit in on a team that plans to feature 2016 No. 1 pick Ben Simmons as the primary ball handler.

This news comes after Ball declined to work out for the Boston Celtics, who own the top pick in June's draft.

"We don't deal with [Ball's camp] all that much," Celtics president Danny Ainge said on 98.5 The Sports Hub radio during The Toucher and Rich Show Thursday. "They didn't show up at the combine, which is very common — many of the top 10 or 15 players don't show up for the combine. ... We just tried to get him in for a workout and they politely said no."

Ball's father, LaVar, has previously stated several times that his son would only work out for the Lakers, who will select at No. 2. Plus, Lonzo Ball has said he would rather be drafted by the home state Lakers instead of going at the top of the draft.

"I'm a family dude," Ball said during an interview on ESPN last month. "All my family is in L.A. So, to be able to play in front of them, I think that would mean more to me."

Even with all the pre-draft posturing and the outspoken nature of his father, Ball has proven to be a top-tier talent. The 6-foot-6 Ball averaged 14.6 points, 7.6 assists and 6.0 rebounds as a freshman at UCLA as he was named a consensus first-team All-American.

We previously looked at how Ball would blend with the Sixers, which one analyst called a "perfect" fit.

The Sixers may be having similar thoughts.

500 plate appearances in, Tommy Joseph an above-average offensive 1B

500 plate appearances in, Tommy Joseph an above-average offensive 1B

BOX SCORE

Tommy Joseph is making the Phillies' situation at first base quite tricky.

Joseph on Thursday continued building on his red-hot month of May by going 2 for 5 with a game-tying homer in the seventh and a walk-off RBI single in the 11th inning of the Phillies' 2-1 win over the Rockies (see Instant Replay).

He's hit .329 in May with six doubles, six homers, 15 RBIs and a .657 slugging percentage. The only first basemen in the majors with a higher slugging percentage this month are Yonder Alonso, Justin Bour and Paul Goldschmidt.

That'll hold off the eye-popping production of Rhys Hoskins for now (see Future Phillies Report).

Extending it further, Joseph has played 148 career games with 499 plate appearances in the majors. That's just a bit less than a full season. He's hit .255 with an .804 OPS, 28 home runs and 23 doubles. He's provided above-average offensive production from first base.

Most Phillies fans know Joseph's story — big-time catching prospect acquired from the Giants in the 2012 Hunter Pence trade, series of concussions, position switch, hot start to 2016 at Triple A, promotion, production.

It was a long, winding road for Joseph, and when he was asked Thursday if he expected to be this solid 500 plate appearances into his major-league career, he brought up health.

"My goals were to be healthy, to be able to play in 162 games and that's all I really want to be able to do," Joseph said. "That's something I haven't been able to do in my career and it's something that I'm looking forward to. I'm looking forward to the challenge to go through the mental challenge and the physical challenge and I'd say that's my No. 1 goal, that's my only goal. Because if I'm able to stay healthy and stay on the field then I'm able to enjoy this great game and getting to share it with my teammates."

As for the May adjustments, Joseph said the standard things about communicating with hitting coach Matt Stairs, working in the cage and staying consistent with his approach. His timing wasn't there in April but it's certainly been there in May.

"There's no telling what clicks in a guy, it's just a matter of making a minor adjustment sometimes, possibly getting better pitches to hit," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's no telling what it is, but he just looks a lot more comfortable at the plate."

Bullpen bouncing back
It's been completely overshadowed by the Phillies' recent skid but the bullpen has pitched very well of late. The unit that was overworked and criticized in April has combined to allow just two earned runs in its last 22 2/3 innings. On Thursday, six Phillies relievers — Edubray Ramos, Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit, Hector Neris, Luis Garcia and Jeanmar Gomez — pitched six scoreless innings.

Neshek made the play of the day, diving and landing on his head to snag a pop-up bunt attempt before turning and firing to first base for the double play.

"I said early on that I think it's one of our strengths," Mackanin said of the bullpen. "And after today you can see why I have a lot of confidence in them."

Neshek, who has pitched in the postseason for four different teams, said Thursday that he thinks this is one of the best bullpens he's ever been around. It's not lip service, either. The unit was terrible in April, there's no getting around that. But some of that really did have to do with the overuse. Setup men were entering in the sixth inning. Opportunities for holds and saves were few and far between. Roles were not defined.

Stuff-wise, repertoire-wise, there is a lot to like about the Phillies' bullpen. Neris, Benoit and Neshek all offer vastly different looks and have track records of success.

While Neshek didn't totally endorse Benoit's comments from a few weeks ago that everything would settle down once the relievers knew specifically which inning they'd pitch, he did say that he too feels most comfortable coming in during a hold opportunity.

"I think my numbers show that I'm best in those situations, coming into a hold opportunity when we're ahead," Neshek said. "We haven't had much of those lately."

The horrendous start to the season for the Phillies' relievers will skew their stats all season long, but it's nice to see that at least one aspect of this team is starting to get into a groove.