Sixers Blow Out Magic, Somehow Only Win By 5

Sixers Blow Out Magic, Somehow Only Win By 5

Well, it's not quite the feel-good win that it was looking like with
two-and-a-half to go, but it's a win nonetheless, and during a stretch
such as this, we'll certainly take it. In many ways, the Sixers caught
the Magic at the right time—whether you want to attribute it to a
team-wide slump or just a general lack of heart or effort, the Magic
were just straight missing shots tonight (again), including a 1-18
shooting stretch and a nine-point third quarter that had Enrico and I
wondering if the Magic weren't about to break their franchise low of 56
points in a game—set about a week ago in Boston.

But then a weird thing happened—the Magic's garbage time unit started to
surge against the Sixers. All of a sudden, the treys that were clanking
all night starting dropping, including a Glenn "Big Baby" Davis
28-footer that must rank among the more unlikely buckets of the season,
and for two-and-a-half minutes, the Magic could do no wrong on offense.
The Sixers said bye-bye to their streak of winning home games by ten
points or more as Orlando cut the lead to single digits, forcing the
Sixers to make free throws (always an interesting proposition with Andre
Iguodala and Evan Turner) and taking a couple months of Coach Doug
Collins' life. A J.J. Redick three at the buzzer cut the lead to 74-69
as time ran out, resulting in a five-point win that, while never really
in question as of the third quarter, still felt more head-scratching
than victorious.

Much credit must go to the Sixers' defense for shutting down the
Magic—Orlando missed a couple open shots, but mostly their threes (on
which they were 7-22 for the game) were taken on the run, off quick
releases, and/or late in the shot clock, thanks to the scrambling Sixers
D. (Special credit as always must go to 'Dre—opposing small forward
Hedo Turkoglu, having his best season in years, was kept to three points
on 1-9 shooting.)

The defense on Dwight was doubly impressive, considering the Sixers only
had one real center on the roster tonight, Dwight's old teammate Tony
Battie. Tony, Lavoy and especially Elton Brand did a good job of not
giving up anything easy to D-12, forcing him to make legit basketball
moves and/or knock down foul shots to score his points. Sometimes he
did, sometimes he didn't, but his success rate was kept at a sustainably
low level, so that the Sixers weren't forced to double, and could stay
glued to their knockdown shooters. It was about as well as the team
could expect to play the league's most dominant big man, especially with
Spencer Hawes still out and Nik Vucevic an emergency valve on the
bench.

Meanwhile, it wasn't a pretty game for the Ballers on offense—only two
Sixers shot 50% or higher, the 3-5 Battie and the 4-7 Evan Turner—but
they got the job done in a grind-it-out game, with Brand keeping the
team afloat early and Lou coming alive at just the right time in the
third to get the team a little separation. You never want to shoot 38%
for a game, but in the slow-down, half-court style that both teams were
playing here, it wasn't completely unseemly either, and at the least,
the team never stopped moving the ball, ending with 22 assists to the
Magic's 11.

So what do make of those final two-and-a-half minutes, then? Well,
ultimately it was sort of a moot point, since the Magic never really got
into striking distance of the Sixers before the clock ran out. But it
was a little disconcerting to see Collins hollering at the young guys on
the sidelines during timeouts for letting Orlando chip away at what
should have been an unimpeachable lead, and actually making him sweat it
out a little. This might have been a time for DC to show a little
patience with his young team, to remain firm but understanding that the
game was, for all intents and purposes, out of reach for the Magic, and
that the Sixers phoning in the last few after playing impossibly hard
for 46 might not be the biggest crime in basketball. If the team starts
to tune Collins out in a year or two—as his teams have historically done
around that time period—we'll look back on games like tonight as early
warning signs.

Ultimately, though, despite whatever the final score says, the Sixers
were the significantly better team tonight at the Wells Fargo Center,
and we now start the toughest stretch of the season with a one-game
handicap. Next up will be a much tougher challenge: The Chicago Bulls,
they of the best record in the East, on Wednesday night. It'll be the
toughest opponent the Ballers have faced at home thusfar, and will be
another chance for that "statement win" the team has yet to secure this
year. In the meantime, Philly is 15-6, and 4-1 against other Eastern
Conference teams who would be in the playoffs if the post-season started
today. If they're still considered unproven at this point, they're
certainly one of the greatest unproven basketball teams in all of 21st
century hoops.

Villanova stays put at No. 2 for the 3rd straight week

Villanova stays put at No. 2 for the 3rd straight week

Villanova stayed put in the national rankings this week.

The defending champion Wildcats remained the No. 2 overall team in the Associated Press top-25 poll behind 24-0 Gonzaga. The Bulldogs received 59 first-place votes while Villanova received five votes. Kansas, which came in at No. 3, received the other No. 1 vote.

Villanova stayed where they were in the rankings after holding their own with two comfortable road wins, in large part thanks to sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson. Brunson was the big man on campus this week, beginning with a team-high 18 points in a 75-62 win at DePaul on Monday. He followed it up with his first career double-double as he put together a 22-point, 10-assist effort in a blowout win over Seton Hall in Newark on Saturday.

The win over the Pirates meant the Wildcats clinched a share of the Big East regular-season title for the fourth straight year. One win in their last three regular season games or one loss each by Butler and Creighton would hand Villanova sole possession of the Big East crown. 

Therefore, it's only fitting that the Wildcats' next two games are against none other than Butler and Creighton. Butler handed Villanova its first loss of the season back on Jan. 4 at Hinkle Fieldhouse, but the No. 22 Bulldogs now have to travel to Philadelphia for the rematch on Wednesday. The No. 23 Blue Jays then head to the Pavillion for a Saturday afternoon duel. The Wildcats beat Creighton, 80-70, on New Year's Eve in Omaha, Neb. 

At this point last season, Villanova had four losses (two in conference) and had just a one-game lead in the conference. This year, they have much more room for comfort, albeit with a tough week with two ranked opponents ahead of them. 

Behind the top three, which remained static this week, the Pac 12 had three teams ranked 4-6 – Arizona, UCLA and Oregon – in the poll this week. The ACC had six teams in the top 25, including No. 7 Louisville, No. 8 North Carolina and No. 10 Duke. Baylor, which lost to Kansas on Saturday, fell from No. 4 to No. 9. 

Sixers were right to reject Pelicans' reported Jahlil Okafor trade offer

Sixers were right to reject Pelicans' reported Jahlil Okafor trade offer

If the reports are accurate, Bryan Colangelo probably made the right decision not trading Jahlil Okafor last week.

After the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins early Monday morning in a shocking, post-All-Star Game blockbuster, ESPN's Ramona Shelburne reported several interesting pieces of information regarding the Sixers.

"The Pelicans were very close on a deal for Jahlil Okafor about 10 days ago, offering a similar package except it didn't include [Buddy] Hield," Shelburne wrote

A few hours earlier, she reported on ESPN that the deal for Okafor would have netted the Sixers Tyreke Evans, a protected first-round pick and a future second-round pick from New Orleans.

The protection the Pelicans sought was heavy — they wanted top-20 protection, according to Shelburne.

That just isn't a meaningful enough return, even for a player without a role in Philly.

Why? 

• Evans is a free agent after the season who has had three knee surgeries in the last two years and can't shoot threes. 

• A second-round pick is just a sweetener, so moving on from that ...

• A top-20 protected first-round pick isn't that enticing at all. Of the players selected between 20 and 30 in the last draft, only Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Toronto's Pascal Siakam and San Antonio's Dejounte Murray even have roles. 

In the previous year's draft, the best picks between 20-30 were Bobby Portis and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. 

The year before, Rodney Hood and Clint Capela panned out for their teams, but the eight others selected in that range have done little.

This sort of trade might have worked for the Sixers if they weren't already accumulating some roster depth. They don't need to go search for another late-first-round pick they can hopefully turn into the eighth or ninth guy in a rotation. With players developing like T.J. McConnell, Robert Covington, Richaun Holmes and Nik Stauskas, the Sixers are already building a decent second unit for the future.

There are a lot of people in this city ready to give Okafor away, but doing so just makes no sense for the Sixers. All it would solve is the center logjam and awkwardness, but the value in that New Orleans proposal just wasn't there for the Sixers. 

At this point, it's looking extremely unlikely Okafor is traded before the Feb. 23 deadline. The Blazers were interested but acquired Jusuf Nurkic from Denver instead. The Pelicans were interested but landed Cousins. 

The only team left we've heard connected to Okafor is the Bulls, who don't have much of intrigue to send the Sixers' way.

But still, hanging on to Okafor and trading him after the season, or on draft night, could yield the Sixers a better return than New Orleans was offering. Forget about Evans and forget about the second-round pick — that offer was basically a pick in the 20-30 range for Okafor. 

Not enough. 

The Sixers held out in hopes of New Orleans' making the pick top-10 protected or lottery-protected instead, but Pels GM Dell Demps knew the Sixers didn't have much leverage and thought to himself, "If I'm trading away a potentially valuable draft pick, I want a better player in return."

And so he got Cousins. That's how we ended up where we are today.

The Sixers' future is brighter because their pick swap with the Kings now holds more value, so last night was a win for them even though Okafor remains on the roster.