Three big misses the Union will regret if they miss the playoffs

Three big misses the Union will regret if they miss the playoffs

Real Salt Lake's Javier Morales (11) takes a penalty kick and scores the tying goal during stoppage time against the Philadelphia Union at Rio Tinto Stadium on July 3.

From afar, if you simply looked at this year's standings with two games to go and last year's standings, you'd call this season a success for the Union, whether they make the playoffs or not (this cool graphic shows the Union's form this season).

The team already has 10 more points than it earned all of last season, and controls its own playoff destiny with two games to go. A win on Saturday in Montreal (2 p.m. -- Comcast Network) and another next weekend at home against Sporting Kansas City would clinch a playoff berth, no matter what happens elsewhere in the incredibly tight Eastern Conference.

But if you have followed the season closely, there is a feeling of frustration with this year's team. That's because there are a few specific cases where the Union "dropped points."

There's two kinds of games where you can drop points (an oft-used soccer term meaning a match you lost when you should've drawn, or settled for a draw when you had three points in the bag).

The first is a game  you were expected to win from the jump. A bad team, or a home game -- or a bad team in a home game. These are games where you looked at the schedule back in March and said, "That's three points right there."

The other kind of miss is a little trickier to identify. These are games where maybe you weren't expecting much at kickoff, but with 15 minutes left to play, you look up and say, "Hey, we can win this thing!" It doesn't matter the opponent, it doesn't matter the venue. This is where you learn if your team can close things out.

The Union have had a few misses this season in each category. Should they miss the playoffs, here's three they'll really regret -- six dropped points that should have them fighting for the Supporter's Shield instead of scrambling for a playoff spot.

Without further ado, in reverse order from "gut punch" to "throwing things around the living room."

April 13 -- Union 1, Toronto FC 1

This falls in the first category: a bad team in a home game. Toronto is a team you MUST beat at home. And if not for Kleberson's amazing free kick a few weeks ago, the Union would have two home draws this year against the Reds.

In the first meeting, the Union not only settled for a draw, they needed a stoppage-time equalizer from Jack McInerney to get the one point. Danny Cruz missed a gifted first-half chance, Toronto goalie Joe Bendik made two big saves early in the second half on a Jack McInerney header and Conor Casey drive, and the Union had a goal disallowed due to a foul.

The late goal may have left Union fans feeling relieved. But another look at the Toronto goal makes you realize just how bad a draw it really was.

June 29 -- Union 2, FC Dallas 2

This one actually fits in both categories. Dallas is a below average team that was winless in five games coming in, the game was at PPL Park, and the Union had a win in the bag if they could close it out.

But they didn't.

After Casey, McInerney and Sebastien Le Toux combined to waste an early counterattack, Amobi Okugo put the Union on top in the first half. After giving up an equalizer, Aaron Wheeler appeared to lock it up with an 87th minute goal to give the Union a 2-1 lead.

From there, it got crazy. Dallas -- which was playing a man down -- should have tied it if the ref had seen that a Blas Perez shot went across the line. Minute later, DEEP into stoppage time, Union goalie Zac MacMath came out weakly for a ball in the area and watched from his butt as Perez tied the game. Remember, they were STILL playing a man down.

July 3 -- Real Salt Lake 2, Union 2

The only road game on the list is yet another draw. A road draw against a team that can still win the Supporter's Shield for the most points in the league. A game where you'd GLADLY take a draw when looking at the schedule, especially without an at-the-time-red-hot McInerney, who was away with the U.S. National Team.

But a closer look reveals a game that might be the toughest result to swallow this season.

Le Toux gave the Union a first-half lead, and the Union went up a man for the final half hour after an RSL red card. Philadelphia lost the lead on a nice header off a corner, but quickly regained it on a nice play from Antoine Hoppenot and Casey.

With a 2-1 lead, Le Toux had an absolute gimme breakaway in stoppage time to ice the game, but failed to finish.

He would regret it a few minutes later.

Just Missed the Cut: Oct. 12 at D.C. United (1-1 draw); Sept. 14 vs. Houston (1-0 loss); Aug. 31 vs. Montreal (0-0 draw).

Prediction Sure to Be Wrong

The Union play a Saturday matinee in Montreal. Normally, it would be a game where you'd accept a road draw. But the Union would lose playoff tiebreakers to Houston, Montreal and Chicago, so they need to separate themselves. They go into a tough setting needing a win.

Since they couldn't get three road points against lowly D.C. United last weekend, I can't count on the Union to get three against a much better team in a much more intimidating environment against Montreal.

That means they'll enter the finale against Sporting KC needing a home win and likely some help.

Union 1, Impact 1.

MLB Notes: Mets' manager Terry Collins worried David Wright might be headed for DL

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MLB Notes: Mets' manager Terry Collins worried David Wright might be headed for DL

NEW YORK -- Mets manager Terry Collins is worried David Wright may wind up on the disabled list because of a neck injury.

New York's captain and third baseman was out of the starting lineup for the third straight day Monday because of his neck. He was given anti-inflammatory medicine over the weekend.

Now 33, Wright was on the disabled list from April 15 to Aug. 24 last year when he strained his right hamstring and then developed spinal stenosis. He has a lengthy physical therapy routine he must go through before each game.

Wright homered in three straight games last week before getting hurt. He is batting .226 with seven homers, 14 RBIs and 55 strikeouts in 137 at-bats.

White Sox: Shuck called up with Jackson injured
NEW YORK -- With Austin Jackson bothered by turf toe, the Chicago White Sox recalled outfielder J.B. Shuck from Charlotte and optioned right-hander Tommy Kahnle to the Triple-A farm team.

Jackson left Sunday's game in the eighth inning because of his left foot.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura said before Monday's series opener against the New York Mets that he doesn't think Jackson's injury at this point merits a move to the disabled list. He adds that the team does not "necessarily want to lose him for two weeks right away."

Shuck was batting fifth and playing center field Monday. He was 0 for 9 with the White Sox before he was sent down April 18 when Chicago needed to add a pitcher. He is hitting .299 at Charlotte with two homers and 17 RBIs.

Kahnle is 0-1 with a 2.70 ERA in four games over three stints with Chicago this season.

NBA draft profile: Kentucky G Jamal Murray

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NBA draft profile: Kentucky G Jamal Murray

Jamal Murray

Position: Guard

Height: 6-5

Weight: 210

School: Kentucky

It's tough for a Kentucky star freshman to fly under the radar, but that's exactly what Murray did last season. While Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine dominated the spotlight, Murray was quietly as good as anyone in the country for the second half of the season.

In Kentucky's final 14 games, Murray averaged just under 24 points and shot better than 46 percent from three-point range. For the season, he averaged an even 20 points and connected on 41 percent of his three-point attempts. He also chipped in an impressive 5.2 rebounds. 

Kentucky lost some games early and fell toward the bottom of the Top 25 rankings. But Murray continued to produce and played his best basketball down the stretch, lifting the Wildcats to 27 wins and SEC regular season and tournament titles. 

As good as he was during his only college season, Murray projects to be an even better pro. He's the best guard prospect in the 2016 NBA Draft. 

Strengths
Shooting the ball. He has the best shooting stroke of any prospect in this year's draft. Murray's form on his jump shot is textbook with the results to match. He's able to get his shot off quickly and has range well beyond the NBA three-point line. Murray's outside shot is his greatest asset. Shooters are always in high demand and have never been more valuable in the NBA. The defending champion Warriors offer all the proof you need of that.

However Murray isn't a one-dimensional player. He can get to the basket off the dribble and is a terrific finisher around the basket. He also developed a polished mid-range game during his time at Kentucky. Murray also plays hard — a characteristic that NBA executives monitor closely. He rarely takes a possession off and competes hard on the glass for a perimeter player, as evidenced by his five rebounds per game last season.

Weaknesses
Murray doesn't have a defined position on the NBA level. He's not a true point guard and isn't quite big enough to be considered a prototypical shooting guard. While NBA talent evaluators are concerned by this, I don't necessarily view it as a weakness. Murray projects as a combo guard, capable of playing point guard but also comfortable away from the ball. He's similar to the Trail Blazers' C.J. McCollum in that regard.

Murray isn't an elite-level athlete and by no means is he a great defender. He'll struggle to stay in front of the more dynamic perimeter players in the NBA. But he has a very good work ethic and should be able to improve defensively.

How he'd fit with the Sixers
Extremely well. The 76ers need shooters. That need will only become exaggerated if and when they draft Ben Simmons with the No. 1 pick. With Simmons, Dario Saric, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid, the Sixers have a significantly frontcourt-heavy nucleus. They need quality guards to balance out their lineup.

The much-discussed hypothetical trade that would send Okafor to the Celtics for the No. 3 pick makes a ton of sense for the 76ers. They could clear out space in their frontcourt rotation as well as acquire Murray with that third pick. Murray would flourish playing alongside Simmons, knocking down the open jump shots that Simmons creates.    

NBA comparison
I see a mix of Bradley Beal and Eric Gordon in Murray's game. Beal and Gordon have similar builds to Murray and both entered the NBA as exceptional shooters. All three are natural scorers who have no problem getting their own shot on the NBA level.

Draft projection
Murray will be a high-end lottery pick. He could go as high as the No. 3 to the Celtics and shouldn't fall any lower than No. 6 to the Pelicans.  

Western Conference Finals: Warriors-Thunder ready for Game 7

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Western Conference Finals: Warriors-Thunder ready for Game 7

OAKLAND, Calif. -- After a record 73 wins and a memorable Game 6 comeback on the road, the Golden State Warriors' goal of getting back to the NBA Finals and defending their title comes down to Game 7 at home against the powerful Oklahoma City Thunder.

All along, the Warriors have said the numerous team milestones and personal accomplishments they set during this special season won't matter a bit unless they repeat as champions.

They need one more victory to become the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 postseason deficit.

"I've learned that our players are tough, they're mentally tough," Coach of the Year Steve Kerr said Sunday, when his team took a day off from film and practice. "I don't know if I really learned that. I already knew that. But they've firmly confirmed that. It's been a great comeback. Now we still have to play. We still have another game."

Kerr just wanted his Warriors to grab back some momentum from Kevin Durant and the Thunder. Now, they have it, all right, heading into the decisive game of the Western Conference finals Monday night after winning two straight.

When his team won Game 5 on Thursday night, MVP Stephen Curry hollered "We ain't going home!" -- and Golden State wants no part of the Thunder having the last say in the Warriors' summer plans.

"We got a big one last night to stay alive, and now we've got some momentum. But it can work in reverse," Kerr said. "One game changes everything, and we've got to come out and play our game and play well to finish the series out."

Golden State hardly considers this a gimmee just because the team is playing at deafening Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have lost just three times this season. They have had their problems against Durant, Russell Westbrook and the towering Thunder.

Oklahoma City is fueled by trying to reach its first NBA Finals since losing to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012. James and Cleveland are waiting on Monday's winner.

"It's going to be a hard game. If we thought tonight was hard, Game 7's going to be even tougher," Curry said. "Everybody on both sides of the ball is going to leave it all out on the floor. It's win or go home. So we can't expect just because we're at home that we can just show up and win."

As has been the case all playoffs with Curry ailing, Golden State got a huge performance from Klay Thompson. He made a playoff-record 11 3-pointers and scored 41 points in a 108-101 win at Oklahoma City on Saturday night, and will need an encore Monday.

"Lot of people probably counted us out," Thompson said.

Kerr said last week that his group might be different than the all the other teams that have tried to come back from 3-1 down: because the Warriors won it all last year.

The Thunder certainly would have preferred to close out the series at home over traveling back across the country to the Bay Area for the deciding game.

Yet they never expected it to be easy against the 2015 champs.

"This is what you dream about, getting this opportunity. We've got to take advantage of it," Durant said Sunday. "Go up into their building, and it's going to be great atmosphere. ... No matter where you play, you've still got to play. That's how we look at it."

That's partly because first-year Thunder coach Billy Donovan has talked to his team about the mentality it takes to win in a hostile venue like raucous, sold-out Oracle Arena, and Oklahoma City came in and did it in Game 1.

"We lost Game 6, and it was a tough, hard-fought game," Donovan said. "We're disappointed about not having a different outcome. But we haven't lost the series, and we have an opportunity again. I think just being around these guys, they're a resilient group."

Curry and the Warriors expect another entertaining, great game.

From an ankle injury that sidelined him in the first round against Houston to a sprained right knee and puffy elbow, Curry has dealt with his share of pain this postseason. He has to push that aside for what he hopes is one more game this series and then a second straight trip to the Finals and another championship.

"I actually kind of like it, because you understand the moment of the playoffs and just kind of gets you going," he said. "I'll be ready to go and give it everything I've got for Game 7."