Phils 2 Games Out of First...

Phils 2 Games Out of First...

Yep. Thanks to a sweep of the once mighty Chicago White Sox at home, the Phillies are now tied with the Braves at 2 games back of the Mets. Beating up on the White Sox helps, but the recent rise in the NL East standings probably has more to do with the Mets and Braves both falling apart and coming back to the middle. Over their last 10 games, the Mets are 1-9, the Braves are 3-7, and the Phillies are 7-3 (imagine if they could have taken that Royals series...).

The Mets have been hampered by some injuries, but so have the Phillies, with Brett Myers and Tom Gordon leaving the bullpen to El Pulpo and the boys and Freddy Garcia's spot in the rotation going to Double-A arm Kyle Kendrick. Surprisingly, the Phillies haven't looked as horrible as you might think, especially against Ozzie Guillen's club to start the week. Of course, the White Sox are the least productive offense in baseball (can you believe that?), but it's good to see that the Phillies didn't fall to the occasion, with Chase Utley and Aaron Rowand taking a torch to Guillen's job security. It's not too early to start the MVP chants, by the way.

Up next are the Detroit Tigers, who come to town for a weekend series starting tomorrow. And yes, the Phils will face Justin Verlander, who notched a no-hitter in his last appearance. Kid is good. Look for him on Sunday against Adam Eaton, who just threw 7 innings of shutout ball and has won 4 of his last 5 starts. Friday we'll see Jon Lieber take on Jeremy Bonderman, and on Saturday Jamie Moyer will face youngin Andrew Miller.

A quick look at the numbers shows the Phillies leading the NL in runs, OBP, and OPS (the best markers of offensive success), and 2nd in slugging and steals. I can't believe it. The Phillies are second in steals? Billy Beane might not think they matter much, but I love to see that spirit on the base paths. Utley is tied for the league lead in RBI, and Cole Hamels has an NL-best 9 wins and the most strikeouts in the majors at 104.

The Mets have to play the white-hot Yankees this weekend, so by the time your ass hits the desk chair on Monday, the Phillies could be in first place. Or third. The Tigers are pretty good too.

Sixers fail to take care of business against Denver Nuggets

Sixers fail to take care of business against Denver Nuggets

It really felt like we could've gotten this one. The Denver Nuggets are hardly pushovers, but they came into this one a 7-13 team that'd lost their last three games, and even last night they seemed fairly beatable, even for a Philadelphia 76ers team still missing Robert Covington (in additional to our usual mini-roster of absentees). But Philly's energy sagged in the third quarter as Denver caught a second wind, and they spent the final frame hitting shots that the Sixers couldn't answer. Final score: Nuggets 106, 76ers 98. 

The most sobering part of the loss was that Joel Embiid finally played what would best be described as "a bad game." Not that bad, of course — even at his worst, Joel still managed 16 points and notched career-high five blocks. But he only shot 5-15 from the field, turned ball over three times, grabbed just four boards and played a large part in the sinkhole offense that the Sixers played in the late third and early fourth that ultimately cost them this one. JoJo still has trouble reading double teams and knowing when not to attack into traffic, and his frustration was extremely evident as he kept trying to do too much and paying the price for it. 

Nonetheless, even with an off Embiid night and a still-slumping Sauce — officially down to Left in the Car Overnight temperature after a night of 4 points on 1-7 shooting in 35 minutes — Philly probably still coulda gotten this one. Sergio Rodriguez appears to have swiped Nik's swag at least temporarily, with a season-high 17 points on 7-14 shooting to go with seven dimes and three steals, while Dario Saric and Ersan Ilyasova also poured in 17 and 8 each, and the Nuggets wings were largely kept quiet for two and a half quarters. But even while struggling, the Nuggets paraded their way to free-throw line — 34 FTAs for the night, including 12 for Danilo Gallinari alone — and once they caught fire late, the Sixers just couldn't keep up. 

A bummer for a team that's now lost seven in a row, and has to face the Grizzlies tonight in Memphis — their fourth game in five nights, and the first of a three-game road trip — without Embiid and also without Jahlil Okafor, out with illness. Even with the Grizz missing their own big names (no Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons, Zach Randolph or Vince Carter lately) and likely suffering from fatigue of their own after a double-OT road win last night in New Orleans, the 4-17 Sixers are gonna have a tough go matching Memphis' grit and grind tonight. Anytime you feel like Supermanning in and saving the day now would be cool, Nerlens Noel. Just sayin'.

Sixers name Elton Brand as Player Development Consultant

Sixers name Elton Brand as Player Development Consultant

Elton Brand is back with the Sixers, albeit not on the court.

The Sixers agreed with the former NBA forward to name Brand Player Development Consultant. In a press release, the team said Brand will be working with Sixers players in 'every facet of their on- and off-court development' while also working in the front office.

“We are extremely excited to bring Elton Brand back into the organization where he will be a valuable resource to our young and developing team," Bryan Colangelo said in the release. "Elton’s leadership and character displayed throughout his playing career as a player align perfectly with our vision, direction and culture of this basketball team, coaching staff and management group."

Brand retired during training camp after 17 NBA seasons, including five with the Sixers over two stints. The 6-foot-8 forward came out of retirement last season to provide a veteran presence for the Sixers and eventually played in 17 games when the team was snakebitten by injuries. 

He will now continue to be an influence on the Sixers' young core thanks to his new role with the basketball operations department.