The Post-Speights Era Begins in New Orleans

The Post-Speights Era Begins in New Orleans

There may be some long faces on the Philadelphia 76ers' sideline tonight
as a result of the team's recent trade of backup power forward Marresse
Speights for a couple second-round picks—particularly Lou Williams,
Mo's three-season partner in second-unit play and general internet
tomfoolery. Nonetheless, the team must soldier on without their 2008
first-rounder, and they begin the healing process with their fifth game
of the year tonight, in New Orleans against the 2-3 Hornets.

New
Orleans, in a rebuilding year after trading start point guard Chris
Paul in the off-season, got off to a dynamite start to '11-'12, beating
the Suns on a late-game jumper by likely new face of the franchise Eric
Gordon in their opener, and then blowing out the visiting Celtics in
their second game. But it's been tough sledding for the Hornets since,
with consecutive losses to lackluster conferences foes Phoenix,
Sacramento and Utah, all without Gordon, who was out with a sore knee.

Gordon should be back in the lineup tonight, in time to catch the Sixers
off their longest period of rest until the all-star break (three whole
days!), after handily dispatching the Warriors in Oaktown on New Year's
Eve. The Sixers were lights out in that contest, shooting a stunning
11-20 from three, including a combined 7-9 from Lou Williams and sudden
deep threat Andre Iguodala, who has hit multiple threes in every game
thusfar. Philly now has a chance to finish their opening road trip with a
winning record, and to move above .500 for the first time this season,
as they close out their Western Conference swing in the Big Easy.

To do it, they'll need to get more out of their two-guard position.
Starting SG Jodie Meeks has been abysmal to start the season, shooting
36% from the field and 23% from deep, and while you'd think that would
re-ignite the starter controversy between Jodie and Evan Turner, the
Extraterrestrial hasn't been that much better, shooting 39% and
averaging four fouls in barely 25 minutes of PT a game. With Spencer
Hawes looking more and more legit as our team's starting pivot—his 12
boards last night gave him double-digits for four consecutive games for
the first time in his career, and he's averaging a double-double for the
season while shooting 68% from the field—we just need some solid two-guard play to be firing on all cylinders.

8:00 tip from New Orleans Arena. By the way, the Hornets were the third
team involved in that three-teamer shipping Mo Speights to the
Grizzlies, getting 2010 lottery swingman Xavier Henry from the Grizzlies
in exchange for sending the Sixers a second second-round pick. Works
for us.

Carson Wentz goes through lengthy pregame warmup in Indy

Carson Wentz goes through lengthy pregame warmup in Indy

INDIANAPOLIS -- Carson Wentz isn't playing on Saturday night against the Colts, but the No. 2 overall pick might have a chance to play in the preseason finale on Thursday, which has been the hope all along. 

Wentz went through a lengthy pregame warmup -- about an hour -- on Saturday as his teammates prepared to face Andrew Luck and the Colts. Long after Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel went into the locker room, Wentz continued to throw. 

This week's pregame warmup was much more intense than the one he was put through last week in Pittsburgh. On Saturday, he dropped back to throw and looked smooth throwing on the run, even across his body. Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo put Wentz through the hour-long workout on Saturday. Leaving the field after the workout, offensive coordinator Frank Reich agreed that Wentz looked good. 

The real test will be the X-ray, because no matter how good he feels or how much he lobbies, he'll need to be cleared before he's allowed to return. Shortly after the injury, Wentz said practice would be determined by his pain tolerance and game action would be determined by medical personnel. If he doesn't play against the Jets, it could be a while before Eagles fans get to see their quarterback of the future. 

Another hurdle is the short week of practice thanks to a Thursday game coming after a Saturday game. 

"It's interesting because next week we only got really two days of practice," Doug Pederson said earlier in the week. "We'll see. We'll evaluate him through the weekend. [We’ll] take him on this trip and work him out a little bit when we get to Indy [Indianapolis], and then again next Monday and Tuesday. We've got to at least get a day's work with him in order for him to go in the game next Thursday."

Along with Wentz, there are several other Eagles who won't play against the Colts: Aaron Grymes, Alex McCalister, Joe Walker, Jordan Matthews, Isaac Seumalo and Mike Martin.

Tonight's Lineup: After hitting 6th Friday, Odubel Herrera moves up to 2-hole

Tonight's Lineup: After hitting 6th Friday, Odubel Herrera moves up to 2-hole

After watching his club get smacked around in a 9-4 loss to the Mets on Friday, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has tinkered with his lineup for Saturday's game at Citi Field.

Odubel Herrera moves up to the two-hole after hitting sixth Friday, while Aaron Altherr goes from second to third and Jimmy Paredes gets the start in left and bats seventh. Ryan Howard starts again at first base and bats fifth.

Herrera, who has been struggling since the All-Star break with a .257 average, has lost his leadoff spot to Cesar Hernandez but is starting to find his swing again.

In the last seven days, Herrera is 5 for 17 with a double and a run scored. In August, the centerfielder is hitting .288 with two homers and five RBIs.

Altherr, who played left field Friday, moves over to right field and Peter Bourjos gets the night off. Altherr is hitting .255 with four home runs and 19 RBIs on the season.

Here is the full Phillies lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Aaron Altherr, RF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Jimmy Paredes, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Jeremy Hellickson, P

For more on tonight's's game, check out Steven Tydings' game notes.

Jake Metz, Soul credit strong 4th-quarter defensive effort for championship win

Jake Metz, Soul credit strong 4th-quarter defensive effort for championship win

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Despite the Soul leading by three touchdowns early in ArenaBowl XXIX, there was little cheering from the their bench.

Given the volatility that is Arena League football and the frequency from which teams can strike, the approach remained resolute and determined. Defensive tackle Jake Metz kept the mindset of a scoreless game and could not stop hearing words coming from Ron Jaworski, a highly vocal partner in the Soul’s ownership.

“He kept yelling that offense gets headlines but defense wins championships,” said Metz, who currently lives in Schwenksville, Montgomery County, and went to Shippensburg University. “That resounded with me, and brought the championship.”

Metz and his defensive teammates then went out and shut down a highly hazardous and explosive Arizona Rattlers offensive unit en route to a 56-42 win (see story). Led by quarter Nick Davila, the only three-time MVP in Arena Football League history, the Rattlers could manage only seven points in a critical fourth quarter.

At the same time, Metz recovered a fumble by Davila with the Soul holding a slim six-point margin with just under six minutes to play. That turnover was the key point in the Soul’s eventual win, and cemented the role of the defense as a shut-down unit.

On the subsequent possession, Soul quarterback Dan Raudabaugh connected with Shaun Kauleinamoku on a 30-yard scoring strike. That created a 14-point comfort zone and the final margin of victory.

“These players deserve this championship,” Soul head coach Clint Dolezel said. “This is a first class organization and ownership gives the players a first-class experience. That way, we can attract great players, and with great players comes success.”

In capturing the league title Friday night, the victory was the second in franchise history. In 2008, the Soul and Phillies each won championships, and that was the last time a professional team captured a title in Philadelphia.

Metz remembers the Phillies' win over the Rays, and pointed out, “I went to those games as a kid.” That championship stuck with the 6-foot-6, 265 pounder, and helped to forge a championship mentality.

Early in the fourth quarter, Arizona caught the Soul at 42-42. From that point, Raudabaugh directed two scoring drives, and along with Metz’s important fumble recovery, carried the Soul to the title.

“It’s all about how you respond,” said Raudabaugh, who finished with 20 for 36 for 278 yards and six touchdowns. “Granted, they have a very explosive team, but we were never out it. They did come back, but we had an answer for them.”

The answer was a strong defense which Dolezel indicated was playing at their peak just prior to the title game.

Defensive back Tracy Belton, the AFL defensive player of the year and DB Dwayne Hollis, whose fumble recovery for a touchdown early in the game was another key defensive play, clearly showed how a defense can carry a team to a league title. That was the effort the Soul brought together in an environment as unpredictable as the Arena Football League.