Sixers Return Home With Souvenirs

Sixers Return Home With Souvenirs

Our boys come home tonight, and look, they've brought us gifts from their travels.  A last place basketball team?  You shouldn't have!

The Timberwolves, losers of five consecutive and bringing up the rear along with Oklahoma City in the Midwest Division, are in action tonight against a Sixers team that looks to parlay a successful west coast swing into some additional momentum for the stretch run.  Minnesota won the last game 102-96, but that was back in November when this team was really searching for itself.

The Sixers have had a tendency to play down to their opponents and could still be a little road weary, so this might not be some walk in the park.  Although, as it turns out, the Twolves will run with five bench players tonight instead of their usual starting lineup.  If the Sixers don't get off to a fast start against the likes of players such as Kevin Ollie, it would be disappointing.

From Chip Kelly's offense to Doug Pederson's, Eagles seeing what they missed


From Chip Kelly's offense to Doug Pederson's, Eagles seeing what they missed

It's only May, but already something is very different about the Eagles' offense. It's moving a lot slower these days — and that might actually be a good thing.

Gone from practice is the frenetic, breakneck pace that focused on quantity of repetitions and play calls over quality, what became the hallmark of a Chip Kelly team. Under Doug Pederson, the offense huddles and makes adjustments at the line of scrimmage, uses snap counts instead of sheer speed to keep the defense off-balanced, and the head coach will even briefly halt the action if he feels the need to bark out instructions.

The two philosophies couldn't be more opposite, although there's probably a reason why Pederson and 30 other coaches in the league don't do everything as fast as possible, 100 percent of the time. One of those is to keep players fresh for the grueling football season that lies ahead.

"We have a lot more time to preserve our bodies," right tackle Lane Johnson said of Pederson's offense. "We're still going hard, but we're still going to have a lot in the tank come December or January, whenever we need our bodies to perform for us."

While it was often noted how Kelly's uptempo attack put pressure on his own defense, rarely was any mention made of the added strain it put on offensive personnel, as well. After all, they were running a higher number of plays than average too, which Johnson admits may have had an adverse effect on his performance and that of his offensive line mates.

"I can speak for myself, I can speak for a lot of the guys on the O-line, we don't have any rotation, it's us the whole year," Johnson said. "You go so fast for so long, there's only so much your body can do before ultimately it's going to fail you. I don't care who you are.

"But I think we're taking a better approach this year. We're getting our work in, but it's a better approach."

Reducing fatigue is only one potential benefit to Pederson's more traditional tactics. Players are also noticing they have more time to observe and react to what the defense is doing, rather than simply carrying out the calls that come in from the sideline as quickly as humanly possible.

The mental dynamic — at least on an individual level — had long been absent from the Eagles' offense. Players were given minimal time to prepare for what was coming on the next play, and if a call put somebody in poor position, there was precious little ability to adjust. Now all of a sudden, the quarterback has more freedom to change the play, while everybody has the opportunity to read the defense pre-snap.

"The biggest thing, obviously, is coming in out of the huddle," wide receiver Jordan Matthews said. "More time to assess situations, different checks, audibles, things like that that didn't come with a fast, hurry-up offense."

"You just have a lot more time to assess everything that's going on with the defense," Johnson said. "Instead of getting up to the line and snap the ball quick, you have more time to glance around, see where the blitz is coming from. You have more time to operate."

Another benefit to Pederson's traditional approach was on full display at Tuesday's practice (see 10 observations), during which the defense was caught jumping offsides numerous times. The Eagles have been reintroduced to snap counts, a seemingly minor wrinkle that's proven to be a very welcome return for the offense.

Snap counts are a simple device that keeps defenses honest, forcing linemen and blitzers to go off the sight of the ball moving alone rather than the sound of the quarterback's call. And if the defense crosses the line of scrimmage before the snap, it's a penalty that results in five yards and, sometimes, a free play.

It's not quite the same as getting lined up and snapping the ball in under 15 seconds, but it does give the offense a slight head start, even when it doesn't draw a flag.

"They're taught to get off the ball, but we're taught to have different snap counts," Johnson said. "That's the beauty of it. If they want to jump offsides, we'll take five yards every time.

"It just helps the offensive line. Guys want to jet up the field and rush and try to get off the ball quick, and if they do that and the ball's not snapped, then it's gonna be five yards for us. We try to incorporate that. It's different for us because we haven't had that the past few years with Chip. We just got up there and snapped the ball, tempo operation, so I think it's definitely going to be to our advantage."

Who would've thought something as basic as a snap count, which is employed by nearly every team at every level of football, might be something the Eagles would want to try?

If it sounds at all like any of this is throwing shade at Kelly, well, maybe it is, if only a little. While describing the differences between offenses, Matthews sort of implied tempo is used in part to hide flaws, rather than to attack the opponents' vulnerabilities.

"Last year, we just did stuff pretty much always in two-minute mode," Matthews said. "So it was a regular NFL offense, it was just two-minute drill the whole game, whereas now it's slowed down with longer play calls.

"Usually in that kind offense, the speed and the scheme is what people feel like are going to take care of most of the problems. When you come out slow and are dissecting what the defense is doing, they're not gassed, they're ready for every single play and we have to run plays more so off of what they give us, so it's a little different in that aspect."

Time will tell whether Pederson's style is more effective, but players certainly seem pleased by the changes thus far. Even something as simple as the head coach talking to the offense between plays or asking the players to run something back — not remotely unusual on most practice fields — had become unfamiliar to the Eagles.

"Sometimes in between plays we'll have a little time to discuss it," Johnson said. "We're going back to the huddle so the coach has time to discuss what went wrong on that play, what we can do to fix it the next time.

"It's just more input. We have a lot more time to communicate and get things communicated that way to help fix problems."

Imagine that. By slowing things down, Johnson just made the case Pederson is actually getting more done. Maybe you don't always have to go 100 miles per hour to maximize the offense.

NBA Playoffs: Westbrook, Thunder push Warriors to brink of elimination


NBA Playoffs: Westbrook, Thunder push Warriors to brink of elimination


OKLAHOMA CITY -- Suddenly, these Golden State Warriors who have been compared all season to the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990s are on the brink of elimination.

Russell Westbrook had 36 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Warriors 118-94 on Tuesday night to take a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals. Golden State, which won a league record 73 games in the regular season, lost consecutive games for the first time this season.

The Warriors must win Game 5 on Thursday in Oakland to keep their season alive.

"We all have to bounce back," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "The good news is, we go home. Obviously we play well at home. The idea now is to go home and get one win. Do that, and we put some pressure on them and we'll see what happens."

Klay Thompson led Golden State with 26 points, but two-time league MVP Stephen Curry was limited to 19 points on 6-for-20 shooting. Curry's shooting performance was so uncharacteristic that reporters asked if he was hurt.

"He's not injured," Kerr said. "He's coming back from the knee, but he's not injured. He just had a lousy night. It happens, even to the best players in the world."

The Warriors lost consecutive playoff games by at least 20 points for the first time since Games 2 and 3 of the 1972 Western Conference semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks. Golden State's Draymond Green, who was fined for kicking Steven Adams in the groin in Game 3, finished with six points, 11 rebounds and six turnovers.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma City got a boost from an unlikely source. Andre Roberson, a player the Warriors have ignored at times during the series, scored a career-high 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

Kevin Durant added 26 points and 11 rebounds and Serge Ibaka added 17 points and seven rebounds.

As for Westbrook, it was his first triple-double of the playoffs after posting 18 in the regular season. It was his fifth career playoff triple-double.

"I play every game like it's my last, regardless of who's in front of me," he said. "That's my job, and my job is to worry about my team, and that's all I do."

The Thunder know they have to close. Nine teams have rallied from 3-1 deficits to win.

"I think we're in a good place, but like I said, this game is over," Westbrook said. "We've got to move on to the next game. Every game is different."

The Thunder led 30-26 at the end of the first quarter, then gained control in the second. In the most unlikely of connections, Adams threw a bullet pass to Roberson near the basket for a dunk that gave the Thunder a 56-43 lead with just over four minutes left in the first half.

Oklahoma City finished with a flurry and led 72-53 at halftime. The Thunder matched the most points they have scored in a first half in franchise playoff history, a mark they set the previous game against the Warriors. It also matched the most points Golden State has allowed in a half this season for the second straight game.

Westbrook had 21 points, nine assists and five rebounds in the first half, and Durant had 18 points and six boards.

Thompson tried to keep the Warriors in it, scoring 19 points in just over seven minutes to start the third quarter. But the Thunder maintained their composure, led 94-82 at the end of the period and remained in control in the fourth.

"This is a tough situation to be in, but the series isn't over," Curry said.

Kerr, on the pressure of trying to win a title after setting the regular-season wins record: "We had a tremendous regular season, our guys competed every single night and did something no one has ever done and they're proud of that. But in the playoffs, everybody starts 0-0. So there's no extra pressure, whether you're talking about defending our title or trying to back up the regular season."

Stat lines
According to Thunder Public Relations, the last team to score 72 or more points in the first half of two straight playoff games was the 1987 Los Angeles Lakers.

Warriors: Curry went 1 for 7 in the first quarter, and made just 1 of 4 3-point attempts. ... Thompson committed his third foul with 7:55 left in the second quarter, and C Andrew Bogut committed his third about two minutes later. ... Curry made a 3-pointer for his 48th consecutive playoff game, extending his NBA record. ... The Warriors were 12-0 this season the game after a loss.

Thunder: Westbrook had five points, six assists and three rebounds in the first quarter. ... Oklahoma City forced 13 turnovers in the first half. ... The Thunder improved to 19-0 this season when Westbrook gets a triple-double. ... The Thunder outrebounded the Warriors 56-40 and outscored them 31-19 from the free throw line.

NHL Playoffs: Penguins fight off Lightning to force Game 7


NHL Playoffs: Penguins fight off Lightning to force Game 7


TAMPA, Fla. -- The Pittsburgh Penguins made good on Evgeni Malkin's pledge to force Game 7 in the Eastern Conference final.

Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist, and Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, Bryan Rust and Nick Bonino also scored Tuesday night in a 5-2 victory that evened the best-of-seven series with the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-3.

Game 7 is Thursday night, with the Penguins hoping to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2009 and the Lightning looking to advance to the Cup Final for the second straight year.

"I just told them to embrace the moment. It's a great opportunity for us. These are the type of circumstances to where you have an opportunity to write your own story," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan.

"They had a certain mindset going into this tonight: `We're going to leave it all out there and do everything we can to bring this back to Pittsburgh,'" Sullivan added. "And, certainly that's what they did."

Malkin was the most demonstrative of the players expressing confidence the Penguins could take the series back to Pittsburgh, saying he believed in himself, his teammates and that they could return home for a seventh game "for sure."

Crosby stepped up with his third game-winning goal of the series. The Penguins captain assisted on Kessel's 5-on-3 power-play goal in the opening period and later skated around Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman into the clear before sending a wrist shot between goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy's legs for a 3-0 lead in the final minute of the second period.

"We know the circumstances. It makes you go out there with a mindset of playing desperate," Crosby said. "I think we had confidence in the whole group. I think everyone played great.

"Everyone contributed in their own way. In a big game like this you, don't do anything special, just do your job. I think that's gotten us this far."

Rookie goaltender Matt Murray returned to the lineup after being replaced as the starter for Game 5 by Marc-Andre Fleury, but his 10th playoff victory did not come without a bit of suspense.

Brian Boyle scored twice in the third period for Tampa Bay, with one of the goals bouncing off Kessel before getting past Murray, who finished with 28 saves. The second score drew the Lightning within one goal with 7:17 remaining.

Instead of flinching, the young goalie who turns 22 on Wednesday retained his composure down the stretch to help the Penguins avoid relinquishing a third-period lead for the second straight game.

"I just think it's part of his DNA. He has a calming influence. He doesn't get rattled if he lets a goal in. He continues to compete," Sullivan said.

"That's usually an attribute that takes years to acquire. And to have it at such a young age is impressive. I think one of his biggest strengths is just his ability to stay in the moment."

Rust's breakaway goal at 17:52 of the third gave Pittsburgh breathing room, and Bonino added an empty-netter to finish it off.

"We had a great chance tonight and just tip-toed around a little bit," Boyle said. "We were tentative and weren't aggressive."

Kessel's goal was his team-leading ninth of the playoffs. Crosby had the primary assist, his first point since delivering game-winners in Games 2 and 3, and Malkin also had an assist to extend his point streak to four games after a slow start in the series.

The Lightning had an apparent goal by Jonathan Drouin waived off a little more than five minutes into the game, when Sullivan successfully challenged that the young Tampa Bay winger was offside on the play before tapping in a rebound off Ondrej Palat's shot that bounced off Murray's pads.

Sullivan announced the decision to go back to Murray following Tuesday's morning skate.

Murray started the first four games of the series. Fleury replaced him during the third period of Game 4, then made his first start in nearly two months in Game 5, which Tampa Bay won 4-3 in overtime.

Before Game 5, Fleury had not started a game since March 31, when he suffered a concussion.

Tampa Bay entered the game determined to not come out flat in Game 6 of the conference final for the second straight year.

The Lightning beat the New York Rangers on the road to go up 3-2 in that series, but were badly outplayed at home the next game and had to return to Madison Square Garden to finish the series.

Now, they'll have to win on the road again to make the third Stanley Cup appearance in franchise history.

"I know we can. I've got confidence in this group. We believe we can do that," Tampa Bay's Ryan Callahan said. "We've had success on the road in the playoffs. We've had success in their building already. It's going to be a good one."

The Penguins were 1 for 3 on the power play and are 4 for 19 in the series. The Lightning were 0 for 1, dropping to 2 for 12. ... Malkin was penalized in the first period for slashing Tampa Bay Bay's Ryan Callahan in what appeared to be retaliation for the Lightning forward whacking him across the wrist with his stick. ... Murray improved to 4-0 following a loss. He's 10-4 overall in the playoffs.