If It's Gaither You Want, It's Gaither You Got & Other Notes From Game 3

If It's Gaither You Want, It's Gaither You Got & Other Notes From Game 3

The experiment appears
to be over, and the Eagles have inserted Omar Gaither back into the
starting middle linebacker job this week.  Nobody campaigned louder for
Joe Mays' opportunity than us, but with the season quickly approaching
and roughly zero positive standout moments for the second year player,
it's time to make the switch.

Hugh Douglas' description last
Thursday that Mays has played "timid" was perfect.  It's not that Mays
has been awful; he hasn't really been beaten for any huge plays. 
Actually, the problem is he's in on very few plays at all, a major departure from last
preseason where he racked up one tackle after another.  At the time, he was
playing without hesitation, simply running to where the ball is and
making the stop.  While trying to run the Eagles' true scheme though,
he's been lost even where he was thought to excel, in run support.

For what it's worth, Moise
Fokou wasn't any better.  He's had an excellent preseason, but his
trial with the first team went as expected.  Fokou was nailed for a
pair of penalties, including one that gave the Jags a first down on 3rd
and 19, and he seemed even more likely to be out of position than Mays. 
You still have to like what you see from the seventh round pick, it's
still just too raw for such a huge role.

As for Gaither, we know what the defense will get,
which is a solid contribution from a player who knows the system.  He's
not as aggressive as the coaches prefer, but he's a competent defender and
good in coverage.  I still think Mays has a ton of talent, he just
didn't make the most of his shot, and it's time to move on for the time being.

Defense

- Trent Cole is an absolute beast.  The front four is completely different with him in the game.

- Asante Samuel obviously had a great game, but Ellis Hobbs rebounded after last week's stinker as well.

-
Quintin Demps bouncing off of TE Mercedes Lewis in the open field was
way too reminiscent of last year's NFC Championship.  Dawkins brings
the big fella down.

Offense

- Kevin Kolb
looked terrible, there's no other way to slice it.  10 for 18 for 102
yards and a TD doesn't sound too bad, but it was ugly.  Twice with pressure
in his face, he backpedaled deep behind the line of scrimmage and threw the ball away, once intentionally
grounding for a safety.  On successive plays, he overthrew then
underthrew his receiver, and several times targeted covered receivers,
including the touchdown throw that just barely threaded the needle. 
Maybe we should get more of Vick the QB next week and less Vick the
gimmick.

- Eldra Buckley is always the first man down the field
in kick coverage and is a pretty good tackler for a running back.  Next
week is probably the end of Lorenzo Booker.

- Props to the wide
receivers, particularly Jackson and Avant who combined for 9 catches
and 139 yards.  Maclin added another 4 for 53, indicating he's coming
along nicely.  Through three games, you have to wonder if Kevin Curtis
has much of a role in this offense by the end of the year.

- On McCoy's TD run, Celek sealed the edge nicely, allowing the runner to bounce the play outside for an easy six.

-
Once the Eagles quit all that trick stuff, the whole offense seemed to
get into a rhythm, including the O-line.  There are still question
marks though.  Peters seems to get fooled every time the defenders
stunt, and almost got McNabb killed again on a play the DE attacked inside.  Peters inexplicably followed him into no man's land, leaving McCoy on the edge to block two blitzers. 
Cole continues to look sloppy, especially bad news with the announcement Herremans
will be out for awhile longer than expected.  And while
Justice has improved greatly, he's still not much of a run blocker at all and
makes his share of mistakes.

At least Shawn Andrews finally returned to
practice
, and could play as soon as Thursday.

- Overall, the Eagles are going to
be fine, in large part due to their defense.  Patt and Bunk continue to
hold up the line of scrimmage, which is a big key to their success. 
They have playmakers in Cole, Samuel, and Mikell, and solid contributors
Brown, Gocong, and Gaither.

The offense might start off
inconsistent as the line continues to gel, but suddenly their Week 4
bye looks like a blessing as it will give them more time to prepare
for the brutal stretch of NFC East opponents.  You would like to see them manhandle a team
like the Jags a bit more, but under the circumstances (Vick) and
accounting for a few fluke plays, this wasn't bad for a preseason game.

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

BOX SCORE

Brett Brown was ready to do it Wednesday night. The matchup against the Kings presented an opportunity to experiment with playing Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together. That pairing had to wait two days, though, after the Kings game was postponed

On Friday, Embiid and Okafor shared the court for just under 13 minutes in the Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic (see Instant Replay), who also rolled out a duo of bigs in Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. 

“I thought we had our moments,” Embiid said. “We shared the ball, we made shots. Obviously we need to play more together and learn how to play with each other.”

Embiid and Okafor first played together for 5:29 in the second quarter. They scored all of the Sixers' 12 points during that time, including a pair of threes by Embiid. They also combined for five boards. The Sixers outscored the Magic, 12-9, with the bigs in together.

The benefits of the floor spacing was apparent. Oftentimes in the game, Okafor could be seen open at the basket with a hand up for the ball while Embiid was also getting looks from long range. 

“I liked our spacing, I liked the high-low stuff we were doing,” Brown said. “I think when you post Joel, that Jahlil is going to play sort of hide-and-seek on the other side of the floor, and work that low zone, and become — I hope — a potent offensive rebounder. When you post Jahlil, Joel has the ability to space to three.”

Brown turned to Embiid and Okafor again in the fourth. At that point, the Magic had a 23-point lead. Their next 7:25 together was a chance to give them a long run in live game action. They combined for another 12 points and four rebounds. All of their buckets were layups, dunks or free throws. Both teams scored 19 points with Embiid and Okafor in that segment.

Both Embiid and Okafor finished the game with double-doubles: 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Embiid; 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks for Okafor. 

“I thought they played well together,” Vucevic said. “I thought it was tough to guard them because they’re both really good offensively.”

Okafor credited his friendship with Embiid, which dates back to high school, as a key to coexisting well on the court. Both emphasized their off-the-court relationship would help them in a game situation. 

“I think the communication piece went really well,” Okafor said. “He was talking to me, I was talking to him.”

Scoring and communication always seemed to be the easier parts of the pairing to tackle. Defense, though, was the challenge given that one of the centers would have to guard the four spot. Okafor noted their transition D as an area that needs improvement.

“We’re both used to going right to the rim,” Okafor said. “I think I had a couple easy buckets. That’s something we’ll be able to fix.” 

Brown had based his decision of when to play Embiid and Okafor together on the matchups. While the two could boast their own edge on the offensive end, Brown didn’t want to play them in a scenario in which they’d be at a huge defensive disadvantage. 

“It’s not offense to me, it’s defense. That’s the thing that is most challenging,” Brown said. “We want to play fast. We want to put points on the board. You don’t want to play in the 80s. You don’t want to do that, that’s not our sport anymore. So you want to make sure that you're capable of guarding the opposition.”

Vucevic noticed the challenge from an opposing perspective. He understands the necessary changes since playing alongside Biyombo.  

“It takes time for them to get adjusted, especially for the guy that will be playing the four defensively,” Vucevic said. “They’re not used to that because they always back down to the paint guarding the fives. It’s a different look. They have to work on it, communicate, and I think they’ll be fine.” 

On a night with few highlights in a 17-point blowout loss, Brown was able to take away a positive from this anticipated duo.

"I thought Jahlil and Joel did a really good job," he said. 

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Joel Embiid didn’t see four quarters of basketball from the Sixers in their 105-88 loss to the Magic Friday night (see Instant Replay). Their efforts were inconsistent as they fell flat in long stretches and allowed the Magic to build up double-digit leads as high as 29 points.

The Sixers gave up a 16-0 run in the first and shot just 6 for 26 (23.1 percent) in the quarter. The Magic, who had lost a one-point game to the Grizzlies in Memphis the night before, rallied together to seize this opportunity.

“They just made a lot of shots that we didn’t,” Embiid said. “That’s the game, but we didn’t play hard all 48 minutes and we need to do a better job next time.”

The Sixers didn’t break 30 points until 4:33 to go in the second and attempted just two free throws in the first half. By the end of the third, the Magic had a 21-point lead which they held on to with in ease in the fourth. 

The Magic outshot the Sixers on all areas of the floor: 47.4 percent to 37.9 from the field and 50.0 to 28.1 from three. While the teams had nearly equal percentages from the line, the Magic shot 18 for 26 compared to only 7 for 10 from the Sixers. 

“They missed a lot of shots,” Magic forward Jeff Green said. “We got stops, were aggressive, guys just played hard and created for one another and played as a team.”

Covington injured
The Sixers are waiting to learn more news on the extent of Robert Covington’s injury. In the fourth quarter, Covington exited and did not return after suffering a left knee sprain when he collided with T.J. McConnell chasing a loose ball in front of the Sixers’ bench. If the starting small forward has to miss time, Sixers head coach Brett Brown is thinking ahead to possible lineup changes. 

“We'll try to figure out what his next week represents,” Brown said. “If we aren't with him, maybe there's a chance we can look at Dario [Saric] a little bit at the three.”

Covington is averaging 8.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 27.5 minutes per game. Saric has been coming off the bench at power forward behind Ersan Ilyasova. He started 10 games earlier this season at the four spot. 

Embiid honored
The Sixers honored Embiid during a timeout for being named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month (October and November). Embiid was appreciative of the award and has his sights set on the bigger picture this season.

“All the hard work I’ve put in, it feels great,” Embiid said earlier in the day at shootaround. “Obviously, maybe the bigger picture is Rookie of the Year, that’s what matters. … I don’t have my mind set on that. But if I can get it, that would be nice.”

Brown sees this recent showing as just a glimpse into what Embiid will be able to do over his career. Embiid leads the Sixers with 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. 

“This in infant stages, early days for him,” Brown said. “His body of work, given his lack of playing basketball, really is jaw-dropping for what I think he can be. To jump in and get rookie of the month I think is a real, sort of, quick snapshot view of him now. I think what he’s going to be is going to be extremely special.”

Embiid also is shooting 51.4 percent from three, including 3 for 5 against the Magic. When asked if he would like to participate in the three-point contest All-Star weekend, he said "it would be nice" and noted he would have to work on the speed of his release.