Sixers hang in second pre-season game, lose to Thunder despite hot shooting

Sixers hang in second pre-season game, lose to Thunder despite hot shooting

The Philadelphia 76ers can only hope that in three or four years they're anywhere close to where the Oklahoma City Thunder are as a team and a franchise, but as they say, on any given pre-season Tuesday night in Manchester (at a building called the Phones 4u Arena??). Anyway, the Sixers held tough against the Thunder in their second pre-season outing, weathering a torrential Kevin Durant downpour in the third quarter and getting it back close late, until bad free-throw shooting and some other stuff did them in. Final score: OKC 103, PHI 99.

Much different game than the Sixers' turnover-soaked pre-season debut--this time, the Sixers only intercepted the ball a mere nine times and gave it away a more manageable 20 times (still unthinkable by Doug Collins standards, but to hell with those). The headliner for this game instead was the team's surprisingly hot outside shooting, which was thought (for good reason) to be a huge liability for this Sixers squad going into the season.

Nearly everyone who sucks from three-point range (and yes, that's just about everyone you've heard of on this team) was lighting it up tonight. Michael Carter-Williams went 3-5 from deep. Tony Wroten went 4-8. Even Thaddeus Young, who made a grand total of one three-pointer each of the last two seasons, went 2-2 from behind the arc. It's good to know that these guys aren't totally incapable of throwing it in from 20-plus, though you'd have to be optimistic bordering on delusional to believe it's in any way sustainable.

In any event, a good effort from the Sixers against an obviously superior team--even with Russell Westbrook out and Durant sitting the fourth. I'll spare you guys the sonnets about each individual Sixer this time out, but a couple notes worth making:

Evan Turner gets the game ball again, his second very strong game in a row. 19 points on 7-16 shooting, seven boards and four dimes, with only one turnover this time. He looked in control for most of the game, making smart decisions in the half-court, converting on a couple tough layups, hitting jumpers he should be able to make, and kicking it out to open men when the situation called for it. Do kinda wish he had a floater in his arsenal--he was 0-2 by my count when he got some space in the lane and tried to push one over the second line of defense, with both misses looking a little awkward--but maybe he can be part of Michael Carter-Williams' study group for that when the time comes.

Best thing about ET's performance (again) was the free-throw shooting. Well, not the shooting, necessarily, since he missed five of his ten attempts, but hey, ten attempts!! That's 22 now over the course of two games. Evan went nearly all of March this year before racking up 22 FTAs. Two of them even came on a jumper where Turner raised as if to shoot, getting OKC defender Perry Jones III in the air--known in some parts of the world as a "pump fake"--and waited until he was coming back down to jump into Jones and draw the obvious whistle. It's the world's easiest way to earn two free throws, and I'm not sure I saw a single Sixer consciously do that in the entirety of last season.

Encouraging stuff, Evan. Might be just two pre-season games, but the pre-season has not exactly been Evan's time to shine in the past few years, so even him performing as solidly as a fourth-year player of his pedigree should be by now is a huge step in the right direction.

The final line for Spencer Hawes isn't terrible--11 points on 5-11 shooting, nine boards--but he was outclassed in just about every way by OKC's top two pivots, 20-year-old rookie Steven Adams and vet Nick Collison. Six years into his pro career, the remaining lack of fundamentals in Spence's game is really pretty frustrating. He doesn't box out, he doesn't get a hand up on shooters, he's slow to rotate over on help defense, and he's forever trying to thread passes into open spaces on the post that simply don't exist. This will undoubtedly be a recurring complaint throughout the season, so I probably shouldn't waste too much of my breath here, but when you make Steven Adams look like Dwight Howard, you probably deserve at least a little bitching.

He did make a nice sweeping hook shot across the line in the third quarter, though. Good job on that one Spence.

The most interesting Sixer on the night was probably Tony Wroten, who looks to be the natural successor to Lou Williams in terms of open-court and playmaking talent and just absolutely mortifying decision-making. At one point after hitting four threes, Wroten jacked a step-back 28-footer--a contested one, no less--which even calling a "heat check" would be giving too much credit. He also hoisted an easily-blocked three in transition at the end of the first half (even though there were five seconds left on the clock) and squandered a three-on-two opportunity by going full-throttle into both defenders.

Wroten's excellence in pushing the ball on the break and playing physically near the basket are obvious, and his line on the night was quite good--a team-high 20 points on 5-13 shooting (6-6 from the line), four rebounds and three assists. But giving him any amount of control with this team does worry me a little, since not only is his ability to make snap judgments on the court highly suspect, but there seems to be a little selfishness and immaturity to his game that could disrupt what seems to be an otherwise fairly good ball-sharing team. Minor concerns on a young lottery team, and it's great (and far more important) to see that the potential is there with T-Wrote, but I don't think he should be pushing MCW (who had another solid game today) for the starting PG role anytime soon, certainly.

And holy hell, a couple words about Kevin Durant, who nearly racked a triple-double while barely breaking a sweat in 33 minutes of game action--21 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds. He seemed to be taking it easy for the first quarter, but he had a couple shots in the third quarter that forced the Sixers to start doubling, and then it was just over--KD's getting LeBron-like in his whip-passing out of the double team, finding the open man for an uncontested three or drive to the basket. He's really getting to that level where double-teaming him is even more dangerous than leaving Evan Turner against him in isolation, and the entire Western Conference should be petrified by this development.

Sixers come back to the States now for a Friday game against the Celtics at their D-League affiliate 87ers' new stadium in lovely Newark, Delaware. No idea yet how good this team is going to be this year within the gamut of regularly bad to historically bad, but I expect I will enjoy watching them. #TeamWHOP

FIlm Review: What led to Eagles' poor run defense against Washington?

FIlm Review: What led to Eagles' poor run defense against Washington?

The Eagles have vowed to get better. 

They desperately don't want to have a performance from their run defense like the one against Washington, when they gave up 230 yards on the ground. 

Head coach Doug Pederson said the run defense is "a pride thing" and the guys responsible for the performance, Jim Schwartz included, say things will get better. The defensive coordinator cited bad angles as a reason there were so many missed tackles on Sunday afternoon. 

In all, the Eagles missed 10 tackles and gave up 156 yards after contact — both more than they had given up in the first four games of the season. 

Washington's rushing yards came in some big chunks. Here's a look at some of the key running plays from Sunday as we try to figure out what went wrong: 

This is a key 3rd-and-7 from the Washington 13-yard line. On this drive, Washington ends up scoring a touchdown to go up 14-0, but it doesn't happen without this key third down conversion. 

The Eagles collapse the pocket and force Kirk Cousins to his left. That's exactly what Schwartz said he wants, to force the quarterback to his non-throwing side. Everything at this point is working out perfectly. 

Here's the angle that's really troublesome. At this point, Nigel Bradham (circled in green) has Cousins in his sights, while Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham (farther behind) are in pursuit. Curry and Graham seem to let up in their pursuit when it looks like Cousins will go out of bounds. But he doesn't. 

Schwartz talked about bad angles, and this is the perfect example from Bradham. He overshoots it and when Cousins makes his cut back inside, all of Bradham's momentum is heading toward the sideline. Curry ends up making the tackle but tackles Cousins forward for a big first down. 

This next play was just a little counter draw that ended up going for a huge 45-yard gain. Rob Kelley takes the handoff, which looks to be going right. The entire Eagles' linebacking group bites hard. Still, right end Connor Barwin is free and has a chance to make the play. 

He doesn't. Just a missed tackle. 

Kelley finds some open field. Rodney McLeod is the next guy to beat and Kelley simply turns him around. You'll see Mychal Kendricks enter the frame. Kendricks showed great recovery speed to get back in the play and has a chance to finally bring the running back down. 

Nope. Can't do it. Eventually, McLeod recovers to bring him down. 

This last play ended the game on Sunday. The Eagles punted the ball away with the hope that their defense would stop Washington and give them the ball back. Instead, Matt Jones broke off a 57-yard run on 3rd-and-7. 

Jordan Hicks over pursues, probably thinking the run was going wide. But he loses his gap and Jones is off to the races. 

Once Jones gets past the first down, it doesn't really matter that it was a 57-yard run. It could have been an 8-yarder and the game was over. 

So what did we learn? 

Well, Schwartz was right. Angles absolutely killed the Eagles on Sunday. But when they have a guy wrapped up, they need to bring him down. Sure, that's not Earth-shattering, but they couldn't do it on Sunday and it led to a loss. 

Sixers to ease in Jahlil Okafor off bench, expect more from him on D

Sixers to ease in Jahlil Okafor off bench, expect more from him on D

The Sixers struggled to carve a clear role for Jahlil Okafor last season as he and Nerlens Noel split time out of position in the frontcourt. Brett Brown has a more clear picture of how to utilize Okafor in his second year, highlighted by goals and a shift to the bench. 

Okafor has been sidelined from preseason action because of his right knee. He underwent surgery to repair a meniscus tear in March and aggravated it during the final training camp scrimmage. 

Okafor said he felt “pretty sore” after scrimmaging Monday, his first since camp, and he was better after going through individualized training and work in the water on Tuesday. This setback has forced him to exercise patience. 

“I know I told you guys I wasn’t frustrated a few weeks ago, but at this point it has been frustrating because I’ve been doing all the right stuff and I want to see me back out there sooner,” Okafor said after practice Thursday. “But I can’t rush my body, I can’t rush my health. ... I would love to have the opportunity to be there for opening night and play in front of our fans. Right now it’s looking like that’s probable."

The Sixers plan to use Okafor in a reserve role to start the season. Okafor expects to be on a 12- to 15-minute restriction, similar to Joel Embiid, when he is cleared to play. 

“I think about it all the time, but I talk to him. We’ve talked about this for months,” Brown said of Okafor's coming off the bench. “It’s not anything that is going to surprise anybody. He’s been fantastic. ... I talked with Jahlil about a lot of things and that could be, to start the year it will be, a scenario.”

Okafor, the third overall pick in 2015, started 48 of his 53 games last season. He is approaching this year with realistic expectations given his restrictions and is not concerned about being out of the starting five. 

“I’ll be fine,” Okafor said. “That won’t be a tough adjustment for me. I came off the bench a couple of times last year.”

Brown’s focus is not necessarily on how Okafor starts the game, but how he finishes. He would like Okafor and Embiid to be able to play together at the end of games to give the team a fourth-quarter boost.

“If it ends up you’ve got Jahlil coming off the bench and he’s going against backup five men, you think you probably have an advantage there,” Brown said. “If he does anything, he scores the ball, he scores buckets, he gets points. You can see how that can be a really nice role for him and for us.”

Okafor led the Sixers in scoring last season with 17.5 points per game. Brown, though, is focusing on his defensive improvements. The Sixers are looking to play an uptempo system in which they will need Okafor to hustle on defense each possession. Okafor slimmed down and added muscle this summer to prepare for the season. 

“He has to be elite in two areas to me,” Brown said. “Transition defense first — A-plus-plus-plus, get back. If you’re tired, if you’ve got to conserve energy, it’s not that way. It’s running back on offense. We have to get him back on defense.

“Then he has to be better skilled, better drilled by me, [a] high level of accountability with pick-and-roll defense. ... You can go over to defensive rebounding (as) a close third, but those two things happen the most.”

Okafor expects to be more effective on the defensive end after getting adjusted to it as a rookie. 

“(I want) to be smarter on defense, knowing where to be,” Okafor said. “My first year playing in the NBA, it was just a lot going on. Everybody was so fast.” 

Brown sees a focused 20-year-old who is more disciplined and ready to embrace whatever role he is given this season. 

“I can’t wait to coach him this year," Brown said. "I think he’s going to come back and have a great year. His body tells me that, his attitude tells me that. He’s in a good place personally."