Union manager John Hackworth is back on the defensive

Union manager John Hackworth is back on the defensive

To start his midweek press conferences, Philadelphia Union manager John Hackworth usually just walks up to the podium and immediately fields questions.

But on Wednesday, the Union manager decided he first needed to get something off his chest, launching into a defensive about how Sunday’s 5-1 loss to the New England Revolution was not nearly as bad as some made it seem.

“I think sometimes perception becomes reality when people don’t see all of the facts,” he said. “I think our team right now is under a little bit of pressure from having a really tough result.”

His general point was a sound one: two disallowed goals that would have put the Union ahead in the second half dramatically changed the course of the game. And if not for those two referee whistles – one of which was a particularly bad call – Hackworth claimed, “My feeling is that we would have gotten out of there with a good result.”

Maybe so. But the fact remains that the Union completely fell apart after getting hosed by the ref, giving up four unanswered goals in the span of 15 minutes. Also, just whom is Hackworth defending his team against? At least from what I saw and heard, much of the in-game talk and postgame articles seemed to be about those momentum-shifting disallowed goals.

“I’ll give you a for instance,” Hackworth explained. “When I went back to the hotel Sunday night, I’m watching the ESPN game, Seattle-Portland, and Taylor [Twellman], who I think does a great job, he clearly didn’t see the game, so all he knows is that it’s a 5-1 result. Is that the reality of what happened in that game? Well if you just look at the score, you certainly have something to judge on. But if you know we didn’t play well in the first half and in the first 10 minutes of the second half we literally put the ball in the net three times against a team that’s had 12 shutouts in the league and know that two of them got called back, you probably have a different perception of what happened there.”

Twellman, who used to broadcast Union games before striking big with ESPN, caught wind of this and reminded his Twitter followers that he did in fact watch the game and even pointed out at the time that the disallowed Casey goal was a terrible call.

And here’s his original Tweet:

To be honest, there’s not really any kind of beef between Hackworth and Twellman, and anyone who says there is probably missed the tone of the press conference. The main point is simply that Hackworth seems to sometimes be too sensitive.

Case in point: also during the press conference, the Union manager claimed that Conor Casey is “on the wrong end of a lot of [referee] decisions," before later continuing his defense of not playing his highest-priced player, saying that “if the only problem with the Philadelphia Union is that we’re not playing Kleberson, that’s not a problem for me at all.”

Granted, the Union might not get enough national respect, Casey might not get enough calls and Hackworth’s lineup decisions might be too sharply criticized. The Union, after all, do boast a solid 10-8-8 overall record and are still in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race despite the loss Sunday that Hackworth believes was over-exaggerated. And sticking up for his team is certainly a good thing and could perhaps even a source of pride for his players as they head into a critical game against the first-place Montreal Impact on Saturday night at PPL Park.

But is being so defensive a good quality for a coach? And just whom exactly is he trying to convince?

Nerlens Noel to get one-on-one experience while Sixers on road

Nerlens Noel to get one-on-one experience while Sixers on road

Being immersed in the team is important for Nerlens Noel, and so is continuing his rehab. 

While the Sixers are on the road for three days to play the Grizzlies and Pelicans, Noel will remain in Philadelphia to work out at the training complex in Camden, New Jersey. The team is not scheduled to practice in between games, so staying back allows Noel another day to get on the court.

“[I want him to] just start playing more and have a ball in his hands, get hit, physical, feel people, play one-on-one,” head coach Brett Brown said.

Noel has yet to play this season because of elective arthroscopic left knee surgery in October. He rejoined the Sixers after completing the first phase of his rehab in Birmingham, Alabama. There still is no timetable for his return. 

Brown has said there is a “classroom” element to Noel’s return. He has to learn a roster with new players and schemes. 

The on-the-court side of it is a reacclimation to the intensity of the league. Regardless of how many games Noel already has played in the NBA, there is an adjustment period getting back into the grind of the competition. Brown believes the time in the gym this week will help Noel prepare for the level of intensity he will face in his return. 

“It’s such fool’s gold to think somebody’s going to jump back into NBA basketball after you haven’t played for so long. I don’t care how athletic he is,” Brown said. “It’s a man’s world, this league, and there’s a physicality and there’s a real-time reaction you have to have to play in the game. You can’t make that up in practice, you can’t make that up playing one-on-one, but you can better position him instead of just going out to get shots. I want him to feel a body, get hit, hit back, play one-on-one, those types of things.”

Noel had been assigned to the Sixers’ Development League affiliate, the Delaware 87ers, to get in practice time when the Sixers had a game. The Sixers may forego another assignment and keep Noel at their facility as the Sevens also have two games in the next three days. 

Joel Embiid finally struggles in Sixers' loss to Nuggets

Joel Embiid finally struggles in Sixers' loss to Nuggets

BOX SCORE

Joel Embiid has been making the NBA look easy. Rookie of the Month honors, five double-doubles in 13 games, seven performances of 20 points or more … all having missed the last two years rehabbing from foot injuries.

Embiid, though, still is a player learning the league. Night’s like Monday’s lackluster showing are going to happen, even if it seemed unexpected against the struggling Denver Nuggets. 

“We’ve been used to seeing Jo have superhuman nights,” Brett Brown said after the Sixers’ 106-98 loss (see Instant Replay). “I thought Joel was down tonight.” 

Embiid tallied a total 16 points (5 for 15 from the field, 1 for 3 from three, 5 for 6 from the line) with four rebounds, one assist, a career-high five blocks, three turnovers and three fouls in 25:32. 

He had a quiet first half with six points (2 for 5 from the field) and one rebound in 9:21. The biggest struggle came in the third quarter. Embiid scored a single point off a free throw and shot 0 for 6 from the floor. By the end of three, he was shooting 18.2 percent. 

The big man said he needed to be better at passing out of the double team. He committed two turnovers in the third. 

“I wasn’t getting to my spot and I wasn’t getting what I’m used to getting,” Embiid said of the first three quarters. “I’m going to go back and watch the tape and see what I did wrong.” 

Embiid bounced back for another Embiid-like offensive effort in the fourth. He dropped nine points off an efficient 3 for 4 shooting in 7:31. Still, it wasn’t enough. 

“I made a couple shots,” Embiid said. “It didn’t help us win, so I don’t think it matters.”

Brown noticed Embiid rushing his game. He also thought Embiid’s balance was off, something the big man has been dealing with all season as he continues to find his legs. 

Embiid will not play in Tuesday's game against the Grizzlies. It is part of his workload management in which he does not play both games of a back-to-back. Expect him to hone in on game film until his next matchup, and get back on the roller coaster that can be a first year in the NBA. 

“It's just part of a young man's growth,” Brown said. “It just happens. I don't think we need to read too deeply into it. I think, in many ways, to expect from time to time not as good of a performance as we have been used to is fair enough.”