What Philly Is Overreacting To: The Sixers

What Philly Is Overreacting To: The Sixers

Until recently, there have been basically two camps of Sixers fans.

We have a peaceful village of people who enjoy this surprisingly competittive basketball team. They understand Rome was not built in a day, and consider stockpiles of young talent their chief form of currency. Let's call these people Ed Stefanski.

The rival tribe consists of sinister, warmongering hockey fans who want to slash and burn all of the club's resources. They've been reading from the book of Chuck, and pray one day the Liberty Ballers will be rebuilt in the likeness of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

My friends, you don't have to choose between these two ridiculous factions any longer. Dissatisfied with the core philosophies that guide both sides, I decided to break away and start my own group, and you are all welcome to join.

Our principal belief: the Sixers could play in the NBA Finals this year.

While the opposing coalitions squabble with each other over blueprints, we are focused on the bigger picture. Right now, that's the Eastern Conference standings.

The Sixers are positioned comfortably in seventh place, and are poised to strike at the higher seeds. A win last night along with a Knicks loss would have elevated them to sixth. Of course, neither of those things actually happened... but with 18 games to play, there is plenty of time.

Atlanta might not want to get too cozy in the fifth spot either. The Sixers are only four games back of the Hawks, who are just 3-7 in their last 10. Nobody seems to be talking about this, but even if Philly is unable to pass New York, the Hawks are very much in their sights.

So the Sixers could rise as high as fifth in the East, which would establish them as what? The best of the medicore teams?

There is some truth to that. We are not an idealistic people, and must concede there is a higher order of competition in the NBA. We also believe the Sixers soon could join their ranks.

First, eliminate that awful 3-13 start from the record book. That might as well have been a completely different team, and had it not been for that horrid stretch, the Sixers would be on pace to easily eclipse 50 wins. It's not an arbitrary total either, as it's usually the minimum number of victories a franchise representing the East in the Finals will reach.

The Sixers have come even further since then though. Just as the team is better now than they were at Game 1, they're better now than they were at Game 41. In fact, in the last 22 contests, they are 16-6. A .727 win percentage spread across an entire season would put them in the hunt for 60 W's, and the best record in the conference.

Obviously, that deserves some context. They haven't beaten a lot elite clubs during that span, have been home more often than away, pissed a few of them away, etc. If nothing else at least, it suggests they still may be on the rise. 

And while it's true the Sixers are only 2-7 against the top four seeds in the East this season, would you consider any of them unbeatable? Take away a highly unusual 45-point fail at Chicago, and the average margin of losing to these teams is by less than five points.

That Bulls game is clearly an outlier, and they responded with a revenge win a few weeks later. Philly has gone the distance with Boston and Orlando every time they stepped on the court, falling by no more than four in any meeting so far. Miami looks like they are imploding.

Is that crazy cult leader really suggesting the Sixers can match up with anybody in the East?

Well, sort of. All things being equal, I have to admit any one of those teams is still in a better position to make a Finals run in 2011. Key components from the Celtics, Heat, and Magic have all been there before, and the Bulls are incredibly talented. Chances are Philadelphia can't outlast three out of four of them in seven game sets.

Why is everybody so quick to count the Sixers out though? Because they don't have a superstar? Yeah, there's a revelation.

With the recent emergence of Evan Turner as a respectable NBA player, what the Sixers do have is a dynamic team that is eight or nine players deep, several of whom the sky is the limit for their potential. Maybe somebody will finally realize theirs at the end of one of these close games they keep losing.

And maybe this Finals talk is only a pipe dream. Maybe I should go back on my medication.

Maybe the fact that the Sixers are good—and fun to watch—yet incomplete isn't a bad thing either. Maybe, when the time is right, they will take the next step, and this is simply all part of that process.

AP Photo

Aaron Rodgers tosses 3 TDs to help Packers pull away from Bears

Aaron Rodgers tosses 3 TDs to help Packers pull away from Bears


GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers set a record. The Chicago Bears lost another quarterback.

After a slow start in the red zone, the Green Bay Packers picked up the pace in the second half to overpower their offensively-challenged NFC North rivals.

Rodgers threw for 326 yards and three touchdowns, Davante Adams and Ty Montgomery emerged as playmakers in the second half and Packers beat the Bears 26-10 on Thursday night.

Rodgers was 39 of 56, setting a franchise mark for completions in a game. It was the Packers' first contest without injured running back Eddie Lacy .

"A lot of moving parts, a very satisfying victory at home," coach Mike McCarthy said.

The Packers (4-2) moved effectively on short gains most of the night, but couldn't break into the end zone until Adams caught the first of his two touchdown receptions with 9:11 left in the third quarter for a 13-10 lead.

Rodgers and Adams combined again for a 4-yard score on the first play of fourth quarter for a 10-point lead.

The Bears (1-6) lost quarterback Brian Hoyer to a broken left arm in the second quarter. With Jay Cutler already out with a right thumb injury, Chicago turned to third-stringer Matt Barkley.

An offense that was already 31st in the league in scoring got worse. Barkley was 6 of 15 for 81 yards and two interceptions.

"Well, when you lose your starting quarterback it can be disruptive," Bears coach John Fox said. "It's not an excuse, it's just a reality,"

He tried to lean on the rush against the NFL's third-best run defense. It didn't work either.

Kadeem Carey had 48 yards on 10 carries, including a 24-yarder. Receiver Alshon Jeffery was held to three catches for 33 yards against a Packers secondary without its top three cornerbacks because of injuries.

It got so bad for the Bears that Rodgers had more completions (37) than the Bears had offensive plays (36) by 5:31 of the fourth quarter.

That 37th completion for Rodgers was a 2-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb for a 16-point lead.

Adams, Montgomery and Cobb each finished with at least 10 receptions.

Hoyer hurt
Hoyer left early in the second quarter after getting hit by Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews on an incompletion on third-and-6 from midfield. The right-handed Hoyer looked as if he landed on his left arm . He was attended to by trainers on the field for a couple minutes before going to the locker room. Hoyer was 4 of 11 for 49 yards.

Triple threat
Adams had 13 catches for a career-high 132 yards, making Jordy Nelson-like moves to spin out of tackles for extra yards. Adams had just been cleared earlier Thursday from the NFL's concussion protocol after leaving the loss Sunday to Dallas.

Cobb finished with 11 catches for 95 yards.

Montgomery, who got the start in the backfield with running backs Lacy (ankle) and James Starks (knee) out, finished with 10 catches for 66 yards, and nine carries for 60 yards.

"You do what you have to do, you play the way you have to play," McCarthy said.

Big Floyd
The Bears' only touchdown came from rookie pass-rushing linebacker Leonard Floyd, who forced Rodgers to fumble on third-and-10 from the 15 on a sack. Floyd recovered the ball in the end zone for a 10-6 lead, 30 seconds into the third quarter.

Floyd had been limited in practice this week with a calf injury.

"He's got those kind of abilities. It's been problematic a little bit having him out there, but it was good to have him back out there tonight," Fox said.

The Packers scored touchdowns on their next three drives.

Slow start
The Packers moved effectively with short passes in the first half but stalled on three drives inside the 22. Mason Crosby salvaged two series with field goals, but the Packers went scoreless on another drive when Montgomery was stopped on a fourth-and-goal run from the 1.

Green Bay, which led 6-3 at the half, exploited the Bears' underneath coverage. They also threw short passes as a substitute for the running game.

"It means we threw it a lot. But a lot of times records like these are achieved in losses when you're way behind," Rodgers about his completions record.

Injury report
Bears: Besides Hoyer, RG Kyle Long left in the second quarter with an arm injury.

Packers: RB Don Jackson, who was just activated from the practice squad Thursday to replace Lacy, left in the first quarter with a hand injury.

MLB Playoffs: Cubs beat Dodgers, move one win away from World Series

MLB Playoffs: Cubs beat Dodgers, move one win away from World Series


LOS ANGELES -- One win away. Two chances at home. Seven decades of waiting.

The Chicago Cubs closed in on their first World Series trip since 1945 by beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-4 on Thursday in Game 5 of their National League playoff.

Jon Lester pitched seven sharp innings, Addison Russell hit a tiebreaking homer and the Cubs grabbed a 3-2 lead in the NL Championship Series.

On deck, a pair of opportunities to wrap up that elusive pennant at Wrigley Field.

"The city of Chicago has got to be buzzing pretty much right now," manager Joe Maddon said. "We're not going to run away from anything. It's within our reach right now."

The Cubs' first opportunity to clinch comes Saturday night in Game 6, when Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw faces major league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks.

"That's a game we expect to win," Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said.

Of course, the Cubs were in the same favorable position 13 years ago -- heading home to Wrigley with a 3-2 lead in the NLCS.

But even with ace pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood starting the final two games, Chicago collapsed against the Marlins in one of its most excruciating failures.

More than a decade later, the franchise is still chasing its first World Series championship since 1908.

"We've heard the history," center fielder Dexter Fowler said, "but at the same time we're trying to make history."

Budding star Javier Baez was in the middle of everything for the Cubs, a common theme this October. The second baseman made a sensational defensive play when the game was still close in the seventh, and his three-run double capped a five-run eighth that made it 8-1.

After busting out of his postseason slump Wednesday, Russell hit a two-run homer for the second straight game. This one was a sixth-inning drive off losing pitcher Joe Blanton that gave Chicago a 3-1 lead.

"Just rounding the bases, it was pretty exciting," Russell said. "Pumped up, not only for myself but for the team and that little cushion that Jonny had to go forward from that."

Baez had three of Chicago's 13 hits, matching the team's total in Game 4, when the Cubs snapped a 21-inning scoreless streak and won 10-2.

Lester allowed one run and five hits, improving to 2-0 in three playoff starts this year. He has given up two runs in 21 innings.

The left-hander struck out six and walked one in a slow-paced game that lasted 4 hours, 16 minutes.

"These guys won the game for us," Lester said, nodding toward Russell and Baez. "I was just kind of along for the ride."

Anthony Rizzo's run-scoring double gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead in the first.

Los Angeles tied it in the fourth on Adrian Gonzalez's RBI groundout.

Russell homered on an 0-1 pitch from Blanton, who gave up a single to Baez leading off the sixth. Baez stole second before Russell's shot to left-center put the Cubs ahead on another unusually hot night at Dodger Stadium.

Blanton took his second loss of the series. The veteran right-hander gave up consecutive homers in the eighth inning of Game 1, including a tiebreaking grand slam by pinch-hitter Miguel Montero.

"Our confidence hasn't wavered," Roberts said. "This series certainly isn't over."

With the Dodgers trailing 3-1 in the seventh, Gonzalez found himself on the wrong end of a replay review for the second consecutive night.

With Baez playing way out on the outfield grass in shallow right, the slow-footed Gonzalez tried to take advantage with a drag bunt leading off the inning. Baez rushed in for a barehanded scoop and off-balance throw, but Gonzalez initially was called safe by first base umpire Ted Barrett. The Cubs challenged and the ruling was overturned.

In Game 4, Gonzalez was tagged out at home to end the second after diving with his left hand stretched toward the plate while catcher Willson Contreras applied a tag. The Dodgers challenged, but the video review upheld umpire Angel Hernandez's out call.

Chicago jumped on struggling Dodgers rookie Kenta Maeda from the start. Fowler singled leading off the game and scored on Rizzo's double to right two batters later.

Maeda gave up one run and three hits over 3 2/3 innings. The right-hander has allowed eight earned runs in 10 2/3 innings this postseason.

The Dodgers' defense fell apart in the eighth.

Gonzalez tried flipping Russell's slow roller to reliever Pedro Baez, who came over to cover first and bobbled the ball for an error.

Contreras followed with a pinch-hit single, and the runners moved up on pinch-hitter Albert Almora Jr.'s sacrifice bunt. Fowler reached on an infield single to first, with Gonzalez losing a foot race when Fowler slid into the bag as Russell scored.

Kris Bryant reached on an infield single to third, with the Dodgers unsuccessfully challenging the call that he was safe.

The Dodgers thought they'd finally escaped the inning when Rizzo lined out to second baseman Kike Hernandez, who nearly doubled up Fowler at second. But the Cubs challenged the call and it was reversed, prolonging the inning.

Baez got yanked after walking Ben Zobrist to load the bases. Ross Stripling came on to face Baez, who doubled to deep right, driving in three more runs.

"We can grab that momentum by one name: Kershaw," Gonzalez said. "We don't want to put it all on him, but if we score a couple of runs, we'll feel real good."

Scully returns
Vin Scully was back at Dodger Stadium for the first time since ending his 67-year career behind the microphone earlier this month.

The 88-year-old Hall of Fame announcer attended as a spectator and proclaimed, "It's time for Dodger baseball!" from an upstairs suite.

Cubs outfielder Matt Szczur isn't on the NLCS roster, but he's contributing. A day after his bat was borrowed by Rizzo to hit a home run, Szczur revealed during an in-game TV interview that Russell wore a pair of his underwear leggings Wednesday after leaving his own at home.

Up next
Dodgers: Kershaw takes the mound in Chicago on an extra day of rest. The left-hander is 2-0 with a 3.72 ERA in three starts and one relief appearance this postseason. Overall, the three-time Cy Young Award winner is 4-6 with a 4.39 ERA in 17 career playoff appearances.

Cubs: Hendricks' 2.13 ERA was tops in the majors this season. The right-hander allowed a solo homer in 5 1/3 innings of Game 2, his longest career postseason start. The Cubs lost 1-0 to Kershaw.