Notes from a week of losing Sixers basketball

Notes from a week of losing Sixers basketball

While you were out tryptophanning it up this Thanksgiving season, the Philadelphia 76ers played a trio of basketball games, and like a good little bottoming-out basketball team, they lost all three of them. As I wrote earlier, this was the start to a pretty key stretch of the season for the 76ers, one that saw them playing a good number of teams they'll be in competition with for lottery balls come late May, and it was important for them to start to gain some separation from them in the race to the bottom. They've done that now--at 6-12, they now have the seventh-worst record in the league, with plenty of opportunity to sink even further--and though it's not always fun to watch, it's unquestionably important for the team's future.

Anyway, for a variety of reasons, it'd be pretty understandable if you took this last week off from Sixers basketball. If you did, here's a handful of things you missed that are of minor significance to the team's short-or-long-term outlook.

1. Defense is becoming increasingly come-as-you-are. In the three L's, the Sixers gave up an average of about 114 points per to the Magic, Pelicans and Pistons, and currently rank dead last in the league in terms of points, assists, blocks, steals, and three-pointers given up per game. That's due to a certain extent to the team playing at the top-rated pace in the league, leading to bigger totals in just about everything, but the Sixers are also giving up the fourth-worst three-point field-goal percentage and the eighth-worst two-point field-goal percentage on that gargantuan number of attempts, leading to predictably disastrous results.

The team's lassez-faire attitude in defending the three-point arc has always struck me as particularly egregious, to the point where I wondered if it was somehow Coach Brown's strategy to let other teams fire away from three, and just hope to get long rebounds off misses that they could take off the other way with. Given how furious Brown looked on the sideline as Brandon Davies repeatedly failed to switch onto Pelicans sharpshooter Ryan Anderson behind the arc off pick-and-pops on Friday night, I'm guessing that's probably not actually the case. Get it together, guys.

2. Thad's back. In the literal sense, Thad has returned to the team after three games missed while he was with his family after the tragic death of his nephew. In the less literal sense, however, Thad has also returned to form in the past week, averaging 21 and eight on 51% shooting over last week's three outings. He's also hitting from three again, draining six triples in 13 tries after going just 2-10 in his nine previous contests, and playing with the kind of energy and activity we've come to expect from Thad, especially over last season. It's not enough to help the team win games when nobody else seems to be giving a damn on the defensive end, but that's fine for now.

3. Evan is hitting from three again. After an absolutely brutal start to the season from range--an incomprehensible 6-39 over his first 15 games--Evan Turner drained a much more reasonable six of ten tries from deep this week, including a 3-3 night from beyond against the Pelicans. Evan gave good offensive efforts in all three games, keeping up his season-long consistency with an average of 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists on 56% shooting in the three L's. The defense comes and goes (mostly goes) with the Extraterrestrial, but as long as he can keep those offensive numbers up, and if he starts to hit the three with any degree of consistency he'll have some serious trade value when the new year rolls around.

4. Hollis Thompson has taken over from James Anderson in the starting lineup. Not guaranteed to stick, but on Sunday, Coach Brown tinkered with his starting five for non-injury-related reasons for the first time all season, inserting Hollis Thompson at the three, sliding Evan to the two and moving James Anderson to the bench. Thompson had been playing better off the bench, and it's been a season-long struggle for Anderson to find consistency, so the move wasn't terribly surprising, though Brown remarked that the switch was for defensive purposes against the sizeable Pistons, and is not necessarily something to be read into much.

I'm fine with the lineup switch on a per-matchup basis, but I still like Anderson more in the starting five--mostly because I don't like Turner at the two so much for this team, and I still believe in Anderson developing into something resembling a starting two-guard in this league. Anyway, Thompson's performance against Detroit (Six points, six rebounds, three assists, four fouls) was mostly middling, and Anderson had 11 points off the bench, so it seems pretty likely that the adjustment will be reversed in time for tomorrow night's game against the Magic. Worth keeping an eye on, though.

5. Anthony Davis went down. This is obviously related to the Sixers only tangentially, but New Orleans (and the NBA community in general) took a big hit in yesterday's Pelicans-Knicks game when Anthony Davis left with what turns out to have been a fracture in his left hand. Davis could miss about a month or longer with the injury, which is a really bad break for a team that was just starting to find its groove, crawling their way back up to .500. They were able to hold on to beat the ailing Knicks last night without their star forward, but their schedule doesn't have a lot of cupcake games on it the rest of the calendar year, and Davis--owner of the league's second-best PER--will certainly be missed.

This news is of note to the Sixers because of the draft pick owed to them by New Orleans in next year's draft, which the Pelicans get to keep if it lands in the top five. Losing Davis for a month or so won't likely put the Pelicans in danger of dropping that far in the standings, but it might keep at least them in the lottery, which is good news for the Sixers. Still, AD is one of the league's great young stars, and no side benefit to the Sixers would really be worth any threat to his long-term greatness, so we here at the Level wish him a thorough recovery.

Oh, and Tony Wroten's back. He did this the other night, which was cool:

Sixers return to action tomorrow night at home to the Magic. As my father would say, hope you all had a happy Tanksgiving.

Phillies conclude miserable homestand with new low as Zach Eflin demoted to Triple A

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Phillies conclude miserable homestand with new low as Zach Eflin demoted to Triple A

For a moment on Sunday afternoon, Citizens Bank Park sprung to life as the Phillies strung together five hits in a four-run second inning.

But four home runs off starter Zach Eflin sent the Phillies to another defeat and Eflin to Lehigh Valley.

Eflin was optioned to Triple A following the Phillies' 8-4 loss to the Reds, in which he allowed seven runs on nine hits in just five innings of work (see Instant Replay)

"His first 2-3 outings were really good," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He was keeping the ball down, but his last three, including today, he's elevating his sinker and once you elevate that sinker, it doesn't have the effect that you'd like to have."

The Phillies have now lost nine consecutive series for the first time since 1997. The loss was their 22nd in 28 games and handed the Reds their first series win at CBP since Aug. 2006.  

Eflin got off to a rocky start on Sunday with three first-inning singles, allowing one run. He escaped further damage but then proceeded to give up a home run in each of his final four innings. The final home run — Adam Duvall's second on the day — came on an 0-2 pitch and extended Cincinnati's lead to 7-4. All of the Reds' hits off Eflin came on fastballs as their potent lineup feasted on his pitches high in the zone.

Two weeks ago, Eflin's ERA stood at 2.87 as he kept opponents in the ballpark with his hard sinker. However, starting with a May 17 outing in Texas, Eflin has allowed 22 runs in his last 15 innings. He's given up seven homers in his last two starts and at least nine hits in five consecutive outings as his ERA ballooned to 6.13. With Sunday's results, the Phillies were left little choice but to option the 23-year-old righty while he deals with a rough patch.

"There are some things I need to work on," Eflin said. "I need to do a better job of pitching backward, especially in fastball counts. There's a lot of things I need to work on, but at the end of the day, I'm not worried about it. I'm going to go down there, work on everything I need to work on and get back as soon as possible."

The Phillies will likely reinstate Howie Kendrick (oblique) off the 10-day disabled list Monday in a corresponding move after the veteran IF/OF completed a four-game rehab stint (see story)

Kendrick could help boost an offense that is scuffling. After a four-run second inning highlighted by Andrew Knapp's 434-foot three-run home run, the Phillies' bats fell silent. They strung together five more hits. However, three double plays and a few untimely strikeouts killed any further rallies.

The Phillies left a potential run stranded on third base in the fifth inning as Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr struck out against starter Scott Feldman, who waded into and out of trouble in five innings of work. Herrera went 0 for 4 with that strikeout, continuing to slump. His average has fallen to .217.

With Kendrick returning, Mackanin indicated he would give Herrera some days off soon to help him relax amid mounting pressure to hit.

"He's scuffling. A couple guys scuffling," Mackanin said. "I'll probably move him down in the lineup. I can't keep him in the two-hole. But he has to fight his way out. 

"We'll see when Kendrick gets here. We're going to have another outfielder. I'm going to mix and match and try to get everybody in there. Kendrick, I'm going to bring along slowly because I want to make sure he's healthy.

"In other words, I don't have a set outfield. I'm going to mix those guys up."

On the infield, Maikel Franco continued his slide on Sunday, going 1 for 4 with a strikeout and a double play. The slugger is hitting .213 this month, just as he did in April, but his power is down with just two home runs. Kendrick, who only played left field in April, played third base while at Triple A, so he could potentially spell Franco as well.

"He hit a ball hard today but he's not giving us consistent at-bats," Mackanin said. "He's searching both physically and mentally. It's not easy for him. I can tell he's down on himself. He's not happy about what's going on."

The Phillies came into this week struggling and were unable to rebound against the Rockies and Reds, losing five of seven. They averaged just 2.42 runs during the homestand.

However, the bigger problem comes in the rotation. The team gave up 5.71 runs per game in their last seven despite a 23 2/3 inning scoreless streak from the bullpen. The rotation's struggles continue to plague the team as they carry the worst record in baseball into Miami for a three-game set starting Monday.

"I certainly expected more out of our starters," Mackanin said. "We've had some issues with Nola's arm and Clay Buchholz going down. Although [Jerad] Eickhoff is going to end up having a good year in my opinion. He's been a little bit hot and cold.

"And Eflin, I counted on him to have a big year this year. I think if he gets himself straightened out down in Triple A, I think he's going to come back strong. But certainly, I can't sit here and say I'm happy with [his performance]."

Instant Replay: Reds 8, Phillies 4

Instant Replay: Reds 8, Phillies 4

BOX SCORE

Zach Eflin allowed a career-high four home runs and the Phillies were outslugged by the Cincinnati Reds in an 8-4 defeat Sunday at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phils have now lost nine consecutive series for the first time since 1997. The loss was their 22nd in 28 games. The Reds, who took two of three, picked up their first series win at CBP since August 2006.

Eflin was roughed up for the third consecutive start. The Reds tagged him for seven runs in just five innings. After three hits led to a run in the first inning, he gave up home runs in each of his last four frames. Following the game, Eflin was optioned to Triple A Lehigh Valley.

Jeanmar Gomez allowed a solo home run in relief. 

Andrew Knapp gave the Phillies an early lead with a three-run homer during a four-run second inning. However, three double plays stifled the Phillies' offense, which was held scoreless after the second inning. 

Scott Feldman improved to 4-4 with the win for the Reds. The Phils dropped to 17-31 while the Reds improved to 24-25. 

Starting pitching report
Eflin stumbled through five innings, allowing nine hits. He had held opponents to just four homers in first six starts but has now has let up seven in his last two appearances. Over his past three starts, Eflin's been tagged for 22 runs in 15 innings. He's given up at least nine hits in all five May starts. 

A poor sign for Eflin: Only two of his outs came on the ground. The Reds were all over his fastball and scored in each of his five innings. His ERA has gone from 2.81 to 6.13 since May 17.

Feldman labored through a 32-pitch second inning in which he gave up four runs. He settled down afterward with a pair of double plays to get through five innings. The veteran righty struck out the last two batters he faced with a man on third and one out.

Bullpen report
Luis Garcia threw two shutout innings, striking out one. Jeanmar Gomez gave up rookie Patrick Kivlehan's second home run of the day in the ninth inning, snapping the Phillies' bullpen's scoreless streak at 23 2/3 innings. Gomez allowed three hits and the one run in two innings.

Blake Wood, Wandy Peralta, Drew Storen and Raisel Iglesias each threw shutout innings in relief of Feldman.

At the plate
Manager Pete Mackanin wanted the Phillies to string together 4-5 hits and they did so in the second inning. Tommy Joseph and Michael Saunders led off with back-to-back singles before Knapp drove them in with his 434-foot blast. Knapp laid off two high fastballs after falling behind 0-2 and drilled a curveball into the Phillies' bullpen.

Freddy Galvis followed with a double. Even Eflin aided the cause with his first career RBI on a run-scoring single. 

The top two in the order — Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera — went 0 for 8. Everyone else in the lineup had at least one hit. Saunders and Aaron Altherr each had two hits while Ty Kelly had a pinch-hit double.

Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler and Kivlehan combined for five home runs with Duvall and Kivlehan notching multi-hit games. Jose Peraza and Zack Cozart extended their hitting streaks to 13 and 11 games, respectively, in the first inning.

Up next
The Phillies head on the road and begin a three-game set with the Miami Marlins, whom they beat twice in April at Citizens Bank Park.

Monday, 7:10 p.m. — Jeremy Hellickson (5-2, 4.28) vs. Edinson Volquez (0-7, 4.82)

Tuesday, 7:10 p.m.— Vince Velasquez (2-4, 5.55) vs. Justin Nicolino (0-1, 5.40)

Wednesday, 1:10 p.m. — Aaron Nola (2-2, 4.34) vs. Dan Straily (3.83)