Saric Nearly Lifts Sixers Past Celtics

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

The Sixers entered play Saturday night on the second night of a back-to-back, facing one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, and without their Voltron legendary defender, Joel Embiid. Prospects did not look good for an entertaining evening of basketball. However, all that was thrown out the window in a spirited effort from the hometown crew, led mainly by the team’s other, high-profile rookie.

Dario Saric entered play ice cold, having averaged a meager 5 points on 25.6% shooting in his previous 6 games. Saric became incendiary on Saturday though, tying a career-high with 21 points, and recording his 3rd double-double of the season with 12 rebounds.

The Croatian star was the go-to guy for Philadelphia throughout the game. Earlier in the night, he put Jonas Jerebko on skates with this epic crossover, stepback jumper. The Wells Fargo Center operations staff is still finding shards of Jerebko’s ankle strewn across the hardwood.

Then in crunch time, Saric came out huge with a game-tying bucket to knot the game at 100 with under a minute left.

Unfortunately, for those hoping the Sixers would not drop their 6th straight game, Isaiah Thomas was a little too much to handle for Philadelphia. Thomas went off for 37 points on 11-19, answering Saric’s tying bucket with a driving lay-up to put Boston ahead for good. Now, you’re probably tired of me pointing out the main culprit for the Sixers’ defensive woes, so let’s hear this time from the opposition.

Jahlil actually had a great game offensively, scoring 15 points on 6-9 shooting, finishing a couple of really slick moves along the baseline. Still, the defensive concerns are ever-present, and on a night the Sixers led by double figures and easily could have won, the absence of Joel Embiid’s rim protection was a glaring weakness.

Still, it was a fun night of basketball and the Sixers helped their odds of securing Markelle Fultz. Really not a bad outcome in the grand scheme of things. The Sixers will be back in action Monday against Denver.

Other Game Notes:

  • Philadelphia hit a season-high 9 threes in the first half, and finished 15-33 from behind the arc on the game. Sergio Rodriguez went 4-7, Saric was 3-6, and Ersan Ilyasova knocked down 3 of his 7 attempts. Adopting the David strategy of  high-variance three-point attack against the better opponent was a good move, and it almost paid off for Brett Brown’s squad.
  • Nik Stauskas received the start with Robert Covington sidelined by a sprained knee. Although it wasn’t Stauskas’ best outing, going just 3-11 from the field for 10 points, we were treated to T.J. McConnell pouring out the sauce after a big Stauskas play in the 4th quarter.

Sixers Fall to Magic In Friday Night Snoozefest

By Andrew Curran (@andrewjc417)

Orlando 105, Philadelphia 88 – Box Score

From the 17th row of the Wells Fargo Center Friday night, I waited in anticipation for my first live viewing of Joel Embiid. I have been to two previous Sixers games in recent years and the total point differential had been somewhere around -35. I assumed that would all change in this game against a struggling Orlando Magic team that entered play 7-12. Sadly, I was wrong, and ultimately, the 76ers fell 105-88 on a night where they just couldn’t find the bottom of the hoop.

The first quarter did not start off well for the home team, as the Sixers hit just 6 of their first 26 shots, and took around 10 minutes to get into double figures. Early in the first, Joel Embiid missed what would have been a monstrous dunk with the Center ready to explode. He struggled inside at times initially, but was crisp from beyond the arc, hitting 3-5 from long range on the night.

Defensively, the coaching staff had Embiid double guards surprisingly quickly and often. The net effect of this move was about zero, the Sixers didn’t come up with many steals, but the Magic rarely got easy buckets either. Nonetheless, it is great to see Joel recognizing when he can and can’t double on defense.

Jahlil Okafor once again looked destined for another poor defensive game. Early on, he gave his man too much room to operate, and this made life easy for his assignment. All that room either allowed the offensive player to get open shots, or caused the perimeter defenders to collapse in and give the Orlando wings open looks. Also, he lost his man completely a few times, the most obvious of which led to a TJ McConnell on Nikola Vucevic mismatch in favor of Orlando.

Luckily, Okafor stepped up quickly and appeared, dare I say it, adequate for the rest of the game defensively. He had two wonderfully timed blocks in the first, and appeared to give a damn. Somehow, after a horrendous quarter of shooting the ball, the Sixers trailed by just 7.

In the second, we got to see Embiid and Okafor play together, something we had only seen for a few minutes entering the night, but coach Brett Brown said he would try more moving forward. Many Sixers fans cringed when they saw the duo take the court simultaneously, but interestingly, it did not result in full blown failure. Embiid dominated as usual, and Okafor played with as much energy during this 5 minute stretch as he did during any other shift in this young season.

Jahlil had some nice finishes after a shaky start, and nearly had an awe-inspiring block at the rim, but it was too good to be true, the refs called a pretty horrendous foul on McConnell to negate the block. As a whole, Okafor impressed tonight, shooting 80% from the floor (8-10 for 16 points), and scrapping for an inspiring, season-high 13 boards, 6 coming on the offensive side.

After being down only 8 at the break, the wheels fell off the wagon for Philadelphia in the second half. They were outscored by 13 during the third, partly due to a lackluster start. The Magic drained threes at will the whole second half, making a mind-boggling half of their 26 attempts from long range on the evening.

On the bright side, Embiid got his inside game going, flashing some nice, hard moves off the dribble. But the final frame displayed more of the same, the Magic seemed to be playing with a wider basket than the Sixers. Perhaps someone replaced the Sixers net with one of those thin hoops they have in the carnival games. Things were that bad,  like Tim Frazier era bad (and not New Orleans Tim Frazier). Philadelphia shot a gag-inducing 37.9% on the night, to go with a horrid 28.1% from distance.

Other than the two bigs, everyone else left a lot to be desired. Robert Covington had a decent game prior to his late injury, connecting on 3 of 7 of his threes. Ersan Ilyasova had, at best, a below average day. After showing so much promise thus far, Saric and Stauskas were non-factors. Finally, we saw more of the same from Gerald Henderson (9 points) and Sergio Rodriguez (8 points, 7 assists). One silver lining was that the Sixers had only 10 turnovers, much better than their average of roughly 17.

While my first Joel Embiid experience didn’t go quite as I hoped, he certainly showed me enough make a return trip inevitable. The Sixers are right back in action Saturday night against the Celtics, although those unfortunate fans will not get to see The Process in action.

Other Game Notes:

  • The 76ers organization does such a good job of keeping the live experience entertaining despite large deficits and bad records. It is well worth the price of admission.
  • The song “Wicked” by Future was blasted on the arena’s speakers after the majority of Embiid’s buckets. No other player got music after their made shots.
  • As mentioned, Robert Covington left the game late with an injury after colliding with TJ McConnell (later diagnosed as a knee sprain). The severity remains to be seen.
  • Aaron Gordon can ball. He was all over the court, finishing with 20 points on 9-14 shooting. (Editor’s Note: Now, if only the Magic would wise up and play him at power forward where he belongs.)

Clash of the Cappers – 2016 Week 13

By Josh Mansilla (@Manzilla36)

Throughout the 2016 NFL season, NFL handicapper Josh Mansilla will be providing his weekly plays, along with a brief write-up on how he sees the games playing out. We’ll track his picks alongside those of our other capper, Dan Urda, to see who best assisted our readers throughout the season. Dan’s picks for Week 13 can be found in this week’s podcast.

Season Records

Josh Mansilla: 7-4

Dan Urda: 25-34-3

Bills +3

I hope everyone had a great Thanksiving holiday as I took the week off. In Week 13, I am taking the Buffalo Bills on the road against the Oakland Raiders. Yes, the Raiders have one of the best records in football, but they have been lucky to be on the winning side of a number of close games.

Last week, the Raiders were dominating the Panthers 24-7 in the first half until their defense allowed Carolina to score 25 unanswered points. Oakland ended up having to come from behind to get the win, but their defense’s ability to maintain a lead should be a concern.

At 9-2, both of Oakland’s losses actually came at home, at the hands of the Chiefs and Falcons. The Raiders come into this game ranked 26th in defensive DVOA per Football Outsiders. In those two losses, you can pinpoint the problem as a difficulty in stopping the run; Oakland allowed an average of 161 yards on the ground in those 2 games. 

Enter the Bills, who lead the league in rushing yards per attempt at 5.3 ypc, and are 2nd in the league in total rushing yards (behind the Cowboys). Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy will create a lot of issues for the Raiders defense and should open up some downfield throws on play action. Buffalo also has Sammy Watkins back, who will likely see an expanded role after his debut last week against the Jaguars. I like Taylor and McCoy to move the ball on the ground and look for Watkins to have a huge day through the air; I view him as a strong play in DFS lineups.

This game could see a lot of points and I would lean to the over as well. But with the Bills controlling time of possession and tiring out that Raiders defense, I like them to get the straight-up win here in Oakland.

Prediction: 31-27 Bills

Good luck.

2-on-1 Fast Break Podcast: 2016 NFL Week 13

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak) & Dan Urda (@DanUrda)

Fresh off his best week of the season, Dan rejoins the podcast to ride the regression to the mean back to .500 (and beyond!).

Week 12 Record: 5-1-1; Season Record: 25-34-3.

Listen to the podcast on the SoundCloud site.

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Please contact us via twitter or our facebook page to provide feedback on what we’ve done so far, or for questions you’d like answered on future editions of the podcast.

Sixers Mop the Floor with the Kings

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

mop_three_different_mop_handles

Wednesday night was supposed to be a showdown between two of the best big men in the game in Joel Embiid and DeMarcus Cousins. As an added bonus, Embiid had seen his minutes restriction bumped up to 28 minutes earlier in the day, a very welcome surprise after the team had previously announced his minutes would not be reevaluated until around Christmas.

However, instead of 28 minutes of Embiid and 48 minutes of Sixers basketball, zero total minutes were played due to about the closest thing to a rain-out as we’re ever liable to see in professional basketball. Late in the afternoon, it was discovered that there were slippery conditions on the court that deemed it unsafe for play.

There’s still no definitive conclusion about what caused the problem. One theory is that it was unseasonably humid in Philadelphia on Wednesday, which combined with the in-arena temperature being set for winter, caused excess condensation from the ice surface situated below the court. They also talked on the broadcast about how it was somewhat of a film on the court that might have been due to a cleaning solution (by the way, props to Zumoff, Alaa, and Molly for improvising for about an hour while the NBA was determining whether to postpone the game).

The arena staff placed fans (actual mechanical devices, not the people in attendance) on the court, and tried both dry and wet mopping the floor to fix the situation. DeMarcus Cousins even got in on the action.

Nothing solved the problem, however, and the NBA eventually decided to postpone the game until a later date, still to be determined. The Kings make another road trip on this side of the country in late January, so it may be around then.

In the end, all we can really do is try and laugh about the situation. At least, that’s what Joel Embiid is doing.

The Sixers next have a home back-to-back Friday night against Orlando and Saturday against Boston.

Lowry’s Perfect Night from Downtown Sinks Sixers

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Toronto 122, Philadelphia 95 – Box Score

The Sixers had a tall task in front of them entering play Sunday, with 2 games in as many days against the pair of teams who squared off in last summer’s Eastern Conference Finals. But while they acquitted themselves well in a close defeat to the Cavaliers, the same could not be said in Monday night’s blowout defeat north of the border.

The problem was not on the offensive end, where Philadelphia shot 41.2% from three on 34 attempts. The way you end up losing by 27 then, is by allowing the opposition to shoot an even more impressive 13-19 from three (68.4%), and sending them to the foul line 18 more times.

On the same day Villanova head coach Jay Wright won the local charity pop-a-shot competition, one of his former stars had an equally hot hand. The bucket must have looked a mile wide for Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, who hit all 6 of his three-point attempts for a game-high 24 points, to go along with 8 assists. Chipping in with 22 off the bench was Terrence Ross, he of the Nerlens Noel trade rumors last summer, who went 3-5 from behind the arc himself.

Part of the problem was undoubtedly the absence of Joel Embiid, who did not travel with the team on the back-to-back as part of his normal load management routine. Instead, Jahlil Okafor drew the start and the defensive results were not pretty. Let’s take a look at Jahlil defending the pick-and-roll against the hottest shooter on the floor.

Lowry couldn’t have an easier look at the basket if he was by himself on the court during pre-game warm-ups. Okafor might as well take a seat on the bench for all the good he’s doing to prevent the Raptors from scoring. Okafor apologists will point to his 15 points on 7-14 shooting, and plays like this one where he’s able to score through a crowd.

However, I really want nothing to do with him on nights like this one where he’s not even showing a modicum of effort defensively.

On the bright side for Philadelphia was Robert Covington, who put the nail in his slump’s coffin by knocking down 6 of 9 threes for a team-high 20 points. The 6 made threes were the most by a Sixer this season. Covington is 12-25 from downtown in his last 4 games, and the regression to the mean is well underway with RoCo back up to 32.7% from three on the season.

Making a case to receive more consistent playing time, Richaun Holmes recorded 11 points and 9 rebounds (4 offensive) in 23 minutes. Holmes drained hit a corner three (1-3 on threes total), and is now 7-15 on the season. I’ll take the guy who aggressively goes after rebounds, can stretch the floor on offense, and shows a pulse defensively, but often times, past draft status takes priority.

Finally, Nik Stauskas stayed hot with a 3-6 night from three for 11 points off the bench. He’s now shooting 45.1% from three, which combined with his new aggressive, attacking mentality, has made Sauce an extremely effective sparkplug for the second unit.

The Sixers will next host Sacramento on Wednesday night, with the ever-present swap rights thrown into the mix for added intrigue.

Cavaliers Pull Past Sixers in the 4th

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Cleveland 112, Philadelphia 108 – Box Score

After attending the first three quarters of the Ohio State-Michigan game Saturday before flying to Philadelphia for a 1:00 PM Sunday matinee, it was no surprise that Cleveland started the game looking sluggish. The Cavaliers began the contest 0-14 from the field, allowing the Sixers to jump out to a 10-2 lead.

However, the good thing about having three of the best players in the league is that you can fail to show up for the first half of the opening quarter and still turn it on when you need to pull out a win. Though the Sixers fought hard to maintain the lead until just outside of 9 minutes remaining in the game, the defending champs quickly stretched their newfound advantage to as many as 11, withstanding a late Philadelphia flurry to pull out the victory.

As usual, Cleveland’s Big Three proved to be the difference. Kyrie Irving went off for a game-high 39 points, including 19 in the 4th quarter alone, and hitting 5 of 11 threes on the afternoon. LeBron James was his dominant all-around self, recording his 3rd triple-double of the season with 26 points, 10 rebounds, and 13 assists. The Sixers did a poor job fighting through screens in the pick-and-roll and often got stuck with someone like Nik Stauskas or TJ McConnell trying to guard James. Predictably, those sequences did not end well. James also made Robert Covington see the ghost of The Block from last year’s Finals, as RoCo botched a breakaway lay-up with James lurking behind him. Kevin Love was no slouch either, playing through a cut he suffered above his right eye to score 25 points on just 13 field goal attempts, to go along with 11 rebounds.

Facing a Cleveland team that often went with a 5-out line-up with Love playing center, it was good to see both Sixers centers have a nice game. Joel Embiid finished with 22 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 blocks in 25 minutes. He hit 3 of 4 threes and is now shooting 50% from behind the arc on the season. Embiid also did a nice job recognizing double teams and making the appropriate reads. In fact, it was the first time in his career that he finished with more assists (4) than turnovers (3).

Really though, he has to be considered a basketball unicorn, when a guy a couple inches above 7 feet is able to pump fake at the three-point line and drive to the hoop like this:

Although he may want to avoid taunting in the future, as veteran Richard Jefferson had some heated words for Embiid following this exchange:

When Embiid wasn’t out there, things didn’t completely fall apart, as Jahlil Okafor had one of his better games this season. The defense was still a trainwreck, but Jahlil actually did a nice job on the boards, finishing with a season-high 9 rebounds. It’s sad that his previous season high was 6, but we’ll take any sort of progress.

Offensively, Okafor was excellent, making quick, decisive moves to score 14 points on 7-11 shooting. I only recall one or two occasions where a look to Jahlil resulted in a slow-developing post-up too far from the basket and a low-percentage shot. This game was the version of Okafor I can live with moving forward.

The Sixers are right back in action tonight against the Raptors in Toronto. No Embiid, who did not travel with the team, so Philadelphia will need another strong effort from Okafor and the rest of the roster to pick up their games. I’m not overwhelmingly optimistic about their prospects.

Hot-Shooting La Salle Too Much for Drexel

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

#3 Cleon Roberts hit his first 6 threes for the Explorers.

#3 Cleon Roberts hit his first 6 threes for the Explorers.

La Salle 89, Drexel 76 – Box Score

With Thanksiving weekend winding down, a meeting between city rivals Drexel and La Salle made for an interesting matchup Sunday afternoon. After disappointing 2015-16 campaigns, both clubs are looking to prove they have turned the chapter toward a brighter tomorrow.

The Dragons are now led by first year head coach Zach Spiker, who took over for longtime coach Bruiser Flint following the worst season in school history. Meanwhile, La Salle is looking to prove that a 9-22 record last year, hindered by injuries and transfers needing to sit out, was an aberration, and that they’re ready to be counted among the best squads this city has to offer.

At least after 40 minutes, it would appear that the boys from the north side of the city are a lot closer to turning that page toard the future. The Explorers never trailed in this contest, and led by as many as 23 points, thanks to a prolific shooting performance. As a team, La Salle shot 54.2% from the field and 13-21 (61.9%) from behind the arc. Spiker bemoaned his team’s inability to defend the Explorers on the perimeter:

“Whether it was man or zone, I didn’t think we did a great job contesting shots early. And as they found their rhythm, [like] any good basketball team, they get their rhythm and gain confidence, they’re able to execute.”

Redshirt senior Cleon Roberts led the way for La Salle with a game-high 22 points, hitting his first 6 threes of the game (finishing 6-7). The hot stretch made 10 straight successful threes for Roberts across the past two games.

When asked after the game if he remembered ever making that many in a row, Roberts laughed, “Probably in practice, or working out.” He went on to say, “It was basically my teammates, [getting me] catch and shoot threes. They found me, they got me open, and I just finished them off.”

Aside from Roberts, a deep La Salle roster had no shortage of contributors, with 5 different players finishing in double figures. Fellow redshirt senior Jordan Price recorded 20 points, going 3-4 from long range himself, while point guard Amar Stukes added 14 points and 7 assists. Head coach John Giannini remarked on how well his team was doing getting everyone involved:

“The better the ball movement, the better the shots for anybody. You could run into a danger that we are not experiencing where you are moving the ball so much that you’re not trying to score. There’s a balance there between being aggressive and also being unselfish. And today we had that right balance.”

Drexel did make one surge in the second half, going on a 12-0 run to pull within 11 at 68-57. Freshman point guard Kurk Lee was the catalyst during that stretch, scoring 8 of his team-high 21 points, to go along with 5 assists. Zach Spiker praised his young floor general after the contest, saying “he is what his numbers say he is, and I think he’s a guy that can be a big piece to our success here, this season and in the future.”

Unfortunately, Lee didn’t have a great deal of help on an afternoon the Dragons needed to keep up with the hot-shooting Explorers. Junior Sammy Mojica contributed 15 points, going 3-6 from three, but the team’s usual leading scorer Rodney Williams was mired in foul trouble all game. Entering play averaging 17.4 ppg, Williams fouled out after 19 minutes with just 7 points and 2 rebounds.

One game does not a season make, and maybe before too long, the Dragons will learn to put the D back in Drexel. For now though, all this game means is that the Explorers are a little further along in their comeback story.

Next games:

La Salle – 11/30 vs. Lehigh

Drexel – 11/30 at Lafayette

No Embiid, No Chance Against Chicago

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Chicago 105, Philadelphia 89 – Box Score

For those of you out there who wanted to get some extra Black Friday shopping in or spent some more time with friends and family over the holiday weekend, the Sixers made the decision easy on you by sitting star rookie Joel Embiid Friday night. For those fans who tuned in, the Sixers who did take the court made it a very rough viewing experience indeed.

In particular, the starters struggled mightily against the opposing Chicago first unit. Gerald Henderson and Robert Covington shot a combined 2-11 from the floor, and had no answer for the All-Star duo of Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade, who each finished with a game-high 26 points.

Jerryd Bayless moved into the starting lineup in place of Sergio Rodriguez, scoring 11 points on 4-10 shooting. But Bayless also had only 2 assists in 26 minutes, which isn’t going to get it done for a starting point guard. I think it was some combination of rust, teammates not hitting shots, and Bayless not being a true point guard. Bayless’ value will really come through when he can play off-ball more and knock down open shots with Ben Simmons handling the rock.

Jahlil Okafor may have been the only starter who could hit a shot early on, as the other four began the game 0-10 from the field. His numbers of 10 points on 5-11 shooting and 6 rebounds in 27 minutes don’t look quite so terrible, but they don’t tell the whole story of how bad he was on the night. He offered zero resistance around the basket as the Bulls attacked the rim, looked like a space cadet trying to defend the pick-and-roll, and when he did score, it was in his inefficient, ball-stopping way rather than within the flow of the offense. Set an actual pick, Jahlil! His numbers perked up in garbage time, but there was a point he was a -34 on the game in the third quarter. He was awful.

The one starter who did play fairly well was Ersan Ilyasova. The recent acquisition continued to acquit himself well with his new club, scoring 14 points on 5-8 shooting, and grabbing 7 rebounds. His offensive game has been as advertised; the spacing he provides has certainly helped Embiid when they’ve been out there together, and will be even more crucial when Simmons makes his debut. Even though he’s not a great defender and a little undersized, Ilyasova at least battles, as his couple double-doubles in recent weeks would attest.

The bench tried to make this game watchable for Sixers fans, closing the gap a couple times after the starters had dug the team a big hole. Nik Stauskas continued his brand overhaul from bust to beast, recording 13 points (2-4 3PT), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 blocks. The man is playing with so much confidence right now, getting to the rim much more and getting out in transition.

It was certainly an interesting statistical line from him:

Hollis Thompson has another nice outing as well, with 11 points on a perfect 3-3 from behind the arc. Death, taxes, and Hollis shooting around 40% from three, those are the things you can count on in this life; he’s now at 40.9% on the year.

Finally, Richaun Holmes played well as a counterpoint to Okafor about what happens when a guy actually tries on the defensive end. Holmes had 13 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 blocks, finishing the evening at +11. He also hit one of his two three-point attempts, and is 5-10 from three this season. Obviously not high volume, but it’s a nice little wrinkle he brings to the table when he’s out there. Holmes has clearly outplayed Okafor all season and it’s criminal that he doesn’t even see the floor on some of the nights when Embiid plays.

The Sixers take on the Cavaliers on Sunday. With another game Monday on the road in Toronto, the team hasn’t announced yet which contest Embiid will be playing in. After sitting Friday, one will assume he’ll take the floor against King James and company. The hometown faithful in attendance deserve to see the team put up a fight against the defending champs.

2-on-1 Fast Break Podcast: 2016 NFL Week 12

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak) & Dan Urda (@DanUrda)

It’s a holiday weekend and Dan is back on the podcast to talk turkey in more ways than one.

Week 11 Record: 2-2; Season Record: 20-33-2.

Listen to the podcast on the SoundCloud site.

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