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?

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

MIAMI — A woman performing the national anthem before an NBA preseason game in Miami on Friday night did so while kneeling at midcourt, and opening her jacket to show a shirt with the phrase "Black Lives Matter."

The singer was identified by the Heat as Denasia Lawrence. It was unclear if she remained in the arena after the performance, and messages left for her were not immediately returned.

Heat players and coaches stood side-by-side for the anthem, all with their arms linked as has been their custom during the preseason. Many had their heads down as Lawrence sang, and the team released a statement saying it had no advance knowledge that she planned to kneel.

"We felt as a basketball team that we would do something united, so that was our focus," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Throughout all of this, I think the most important thing that has come out is the very poignant, thoughtful dialogue. We've had great dialogue within our walls here and hopefully this will lead to action."

The anthem issue has been a major topic in the sports world in recent months, starting with the decision by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to not stand for its playing. Kaepernick cited racial injustice and police brutality among the reasons for his protest, and athletes from many sports -- and many levels, from youth all the way to professional -- have followed his lead in various ways.

"All I can say is what we've seen in multiple preseason games so far is our players standing for the national anthem," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in New York earlier Friday, at a news conference following the league's board of governors meetings. "It would be my hope that they would continue to stand for the national anthem. I think that is the appropriate thing to do."

The NBA has a rule calling for players and coaches to stand during the anthem.

Heat guard Wayne Ellington often speaks about the need to curb gun violence, after his father was shot and killed two years ago. He had his eyes closed for most of the anthem Friday, as per his own custom, though was aware of Lawrence's actions.

"At the end of the day, to each his own," Ellington said. "If she feels like that's the way she wants to stand for it, then more power to her."

Making a statement in the manner that Lawrence did Friday is rare, but not unheard of in recent weeks.

When the Sacramento Kings played their first home preseason game earlier this month, anthem singer Leah Tysse dropped to one knee as she finished singing the song.

Tysse is white. Lawrence is black.

"I love and honor my country as deeply as anyone yet it is my responsibility as an American to speak up against injustice as it affects my fellow Americans," Tysse wrote on Facebook. "I have sung the anthem before but this time taking a knee felt like the most patriotic thing I could do. I cannot idly stand by as black people are unlawfully profiled, harassed and killed by our law enforcement over and over and without a drop of accountability."

Joel Embiid ends preseason on impressive note, has Sixers excited

Joel Embiid ends preseason on impressive note, has Sixers excited

MIAMI — It’s a cautious optimism to be sure — there can be no other type for the Sixers right now given their history of injuries — but you can tell the team is starting to get excited about Joel Embiid.

In Friday’s 113-110 exhibition finale win over the Miami Heat (see game story), Embiid scored 18 points in 18 minutes before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.

The 7-0 center, who missed his first two NBA seasons because of foot surgeries, made 8 of 16 shots and 2 of 2 on free throws, adding a game-high nine rebounds.

“I’ve always felt like I’m a complete player — that’s what I do,” Embiid said. “I’m starting to get easy points.

“I just got better every game [in the preseason], defensively, offensively.”

Sixers coach Brett Brown said he is still learning how to best use Embiid.

Brown added that the rust is apparent in Embiid’s game. But …

“He is as self-taught as any player I’ve ever been around,” Brown said. “He grew up in Cameroon and hasn’t played a lot (because of injuries). But he studies, he looks at stuff. He pays attention. He’s instinctively curious.

“There’s a lot of stuff in his head that he thinks through. His mind is quicker than his feet. At times, his core, his balance and his decision-making are off because his mind is working faster than his body.”

Embiid scored most of his buckets on Friday at close range — a finger roll, a tip-in, a couple of put-back dunks, an alley-oop dunk and a fast-break layup. But he did make a 10-foot jumper and took — but missed — a three-point try.

“He does stuff in a game that makes you step back and say, ‘Wow,’” Brown said. “He will trail and hit a three. He will have a pound, pound drop-step, dunk.

“Like a traditional post, he will turn his face and make a bank shot. He has that up-and-under stuff.

“But he’s raw. His preseason has been highlighted by those few things that you notice, all under the umbrella of, ‘He really has a chance to be very, very good.’"

Brown was asked to summarize the Sixers' 2-5 preseason, and he called it a “completely erratic” exhibition season because of injuries.

“Jahlil [Okafor] hasn’t practiced,” Brown said. “Joel has been steady and incremental. I think we all see that Dario Saric has got a lot to offer. I think the pairing of Joel and Dario was solid.

“We’ve seen Jerami [Grant] have a really good preseason. Richaun Holmes has taken his opportunity to play big minutes. Those type of things come to my mind.”