Villanova Prevails Over Columbia in Season Opener

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Villanova 75, Columbia 60 – Box Score

Thanks to a renovation taking place on the Pavilion back on campus, the Villanova Wildcats are essentially basketball vagabonds this season. Jay Wright’s squad is making the Wells Fargo Center its de facto home court and tipped off the year there Friday night against the Columbia Lions. While it wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t the dominant performance Villanova fans have come to expect over non-power conference opponents in recent years, the result also wasn’t a surprise. For a Villanova team that hopes to play well into March, a workmanlike victory that keeps their tournament resume pristine will work just fine.

Wright was quick to credit Columbia for keeping things close, saying his “first thought when we watched film of them was this was bad scheduling.” Really though, Villanova was in complete control throughout the evening. The only reason the Wildcats never blew things open was a cold shooting night. Villanova shot just 7-32 from behind the arc, predominantly on wide open looks that they will knock down more often than not.

It’s also a bit of unusual roster construction for the Wildcats, with four freshmen playing significant minutes in the nine-man rotation. Wright pointed out that while his team might experience some growing pains early, development for those freshmen will pay dividends down the road.

“We’ve gotta get those young guys experience. It might look bad early, it might hurt us early, but there’s potential at the end to be a good team.”

The highest profile player among that freshman group is starting center Omari Spellman. Playing for the first time in two years after sitting out last season due to an academic issue, Spellman racked up a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. The freshman had a slow start, but really picked things up in the second half by dominating on the offensive glass (grabbing 6 offensive rebounds total). His coach credited Spellman for hanging in there and not forcing the action.

“He has a really good basketball IQ. Like I mentioned, in the second half, he really hadn’t had a lot of touches. When we went into him, he got into a little traffic, kicked it out opposite. That’s rare for a young kid.”

In all, four Wildcats finished in double figures, led by Eric Paschall’s 15 points and 9 rebounds. They’ll need Paschall to maintain that energy on the boards going forward with the graduation of Daniel Ochefu and Spellman’s relative inexperience. Jalen Brunson recorded 14 points and 3 assists, looking very calm and collected as the primary ballhandler with Ryan Arcidiacono collecting game checks in Chicago.

The guy getting some buzz as a potential first round pick in the NBA draft, Mikal Bridges couldn’t hit the mark from the outside Friday (0-5 from three), but still finished with 8 points and 7 rebounds while playing his usual brand of versatile defense. Unlike years past, the Wildcats ran some offense through Bridges, especially out of the post. The redshirt junior had a couple nice passes from that position, including one to a cutting Paschall on the baseline for a slam. Bridges also showed off his athleticism by posterizing a poor Lion under the basket.

Nicholls State is up next for the Wildcats Tuesday night, a foe that should provide even less resistance than Columbia. Right now, with the amount of youth on the roster, the Wildcats are far from a finished product. But like their usual home court right off Lancaster Avenue, when they’re finished, they should be quite the sight to behold.

Support the site via our Patreon page.

Kings Top Sixers in Closing Seconds

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Sacramento 109, Philadelphia 108 – Box Score

With Joel Embiid on nearly a full week’s rest and the entire team having had an off day before, the Sixers were in as good as shape as could be expected for a road game on the West Coast heading into Thursday night’s contest against Sacramento. For some reason though, Philadelphia looked sluggish all game, with young Kings like Justin Jackson and Malachi Richardson coming off the bench and looking more energized than anyone in the Stubhub-sponsored red, white, and blue.

Yet, as in the victory over Atlanta last week, it looked like talent would win out in the end. Joel Embiid, who still doesn’t have great conditioning and was repeatedly said to be having a rough night by the broadcast team, still finished with 22 points, 15 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Nights when he actually plays well are going to be a problem for the rest of the league. Ben Simmons was relatively quiet (for him) with 18 points and 6 rebounds, but was once again seemingly floating through the lane down the stretch.

After a three-point play by Embiid put the Sixers up 108-102 with a minute and a half remaining, even the most jaded Sixers fan would be forgiven for thinking they were coming away with a victory. However, the Kings ended the game on a 7-0 run, capped by a long De’Aaron Fox jumper (basically the exact shot you would hope Sacramento would take) with 14 seconds left to put Sacramento back in front.

The Sixers raced up court without calling a timeout (something Brown has consistently done this season to relative success so don’t be results-based and say he needed to call a timeout here). Sacramento cut off a Ben Simmons drive, who kicked to J.J. Redick. Redick looked to have an open three, but hesitated (perhaps thinking it wasn’t the best shot available only down 1). Redick was hounded and found an escape valve in Joel Embiid around the elbow. JoJo had to hoist a contested jumper at the buzzer, which rimmed off, sealing the Sixers defeat.

I’m choosing not to read too much into the late-game failing by Philadelphia. Willie Cauley-Stein made a tremendous play blocking Embiid at the rim in the final minute and part of that 7-0 run was a fluky five-point possession for the Kings. More importantly, the Sixers have to learn to put away an inferior team much earlier so that they’re up by much more than six with the game winding down. It’s been a very short amount of time when the team hasn’t been that inferior team themselves. They’ll figure it out.

Zooming out, we are 5 days away from the first available date the team can sign Robert Covington to an extension. Bobby Buckets was outstanding last night, especially in the first half, playing his usual strong defense and knocking down 6 of 12 threes. Covington was fouled on not one, not two, but three shots from behind the arc, actually hitting two of them for four-point play opportunities. You can almost see his confidence level rise tangibly every time he takes the court. He’s been completely empowered to take any shot with even a sliver of daylight, to great success. Bryan Colangelo better have had that hand-shake agreement on a deal already, because otherwise, Covington would be earning himself more moolah with every tickling of the twine.

As much as I would like to say the Sixers will look to get this bad taste out of their mouths and bounce back quickly, up next is a road game against the Warriors Saturday night. Oh well, enjoy being over .500 for another day or so.

PFB 010 – 2017 NFL Week 10 Plays

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Embed from Getty Images

In this episode of the podcast, I:

  • Provide my thoughts on the tragic passing of former Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay.
  • Introduce our new sponsor.
  • Dive into all the Week 10 NFL action with our NFL handicapper Dan Urda, who is looking for his third straight winning week.

Dan’s season record: 17-20; Week 9 record: 4-1
Sean’s season record: 11-7; Week 9 record: 1-1

Support the site via our Patreon page.

Embiid-less Sixers Dominate Jazz

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

https://twitter.com/sixers/status/928124904079347712

Philadelphia 104, Utah 97 – Box Score

Even entering Tuesday night riding a four-game winning streak, with Joel Embiid sitting for load management reasons that may or may not have been due to the altitude of Salt Lake City, few people expected Philadelphia to come away with a victory against the Jazz. However, instead of rolling over without their star center, the Sixers went out and dominated Utah, leading nearly wire-to-wire to grab their first five-game winning streak since 2012. The times they are a-changin’.

It helps that the Sixers now have the depth to fill in for one guy who should have topped Malcolm Brogdon for Rookie of the Year with another. In Embiid’s absence, Dario Saric stepped up with his best game of the season, recording his first double-double of the year with 25 points and 10 rebounds. Saric continues to grow as a perimeter option stretching the court in the team’s jumbo starting lineup, knocking down a career-high five threes on nine attempts. After struggling to find his role early in the season, it has been great to see Dario getting comfortable the last two games, over which he’s shot 13-22 from the floor.

A number of other Sixers were also big factors in the victory. Coming off his 8-three game Friday night, J.J. Redick stayed hot with 20 points on 3-7 shooting from behind the arc. It’s crazy how little daylight he needs to get his shot off, and yet, you still feel good about each one going in. Robert Covington played tremendous defense as usual, like Dario, had his first double-double of the season with 14 points and 12 rebounds, and continued his terrific shooting by knocking down 3 of 5 triples. RoCo is now shooting 46.7% from three this season and we are about a week away from his big payday.

Yet, even with a handful of great performances up and down the roster, the Sixers wouldn’t have come away with the win without the best player on the floor, next summer’s Rookie of the Year winner Ben Simmons. In a game he didn’t even shoot particularly well (7-22 from the floor), Simmons still utterly controlled the action on both ends. He finished the night with 16 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, and 3 blocks.

One of the great things about Ben is the high standard for himself; despite leading his team to a victory with a stat line anyone in the league would kill to have, he called it the worst professional game of his career, bringing up that he had too many turnovers (he had 6). Everyone loves Joel Embiid because of how charismatic he is, but Simmons’ quiet determination toward perfection is going to keep winning over people as well.

The most impressive development from Simmons this season has been how outstanding he’s been on the defensive end. Ben had a reputation of not being too active defensively at LSU, but now that he’s a professional, the rookie is everywhere on the court. He has great anticipation to jump passing lanes. Here, he has a TJ McConnell-esque steal in the backcourt capped by a very un-TJ-like violent finish at the rim.

Simmons also uses his length to cover a lot of ground, showing off good, old-fashioned hustle to recover for this block of Raul Neto.

The Sixers have not one, but two young stars who are transformative on both ends of the court. A deep supporting cast mixing fellow youngsters and veterans is in place. Plus, Markelle Fultz is out there as a weird lottery ticket, who completely forgot how to shoot in two months with a mysterious shoulder ailment, but was the consensus number one pick this summer for a reason. What I’m saying is if you’re not incredibly excited about the Sixers right now, you need to find a new way to spend your free time; the NBA isn’t for you.

The Kings are up next Thursday night.

Support the site via our Patreon page.

Capping Corner – 2017 Week 9

By Josh Mansilla (@Manzilla36)

Embed from Getty Images

Throughout the 2017 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 each week to see how well he assists our readers.

Dallas Cowboys -2.5

I like the Cowboys at home this week to pick up the win against the Chiefs. The Dallas offense is rolling right now, having scored at least 30 points in each of their last four games. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have been struggling on the defensive side of the ball, ranking 26th in the league in defensive DVOA. With Ezekiel Elliott receiving yet another stay in his injunction, I think the Cowboys will dominate the line of scrimmage. Kansas City will definitely focus on the run, opening things up for Dak Prescott in the passing game to lead the Cowboys to the win.

Dallas needs this game as they try to keep up with the Eagles in the division. This line opened with Kansas City as the favorite, but with Elliott suiting up, the line has tipped in favor of Dallas. Play the cowboys -2.5 and let’s pick up the win.

Dallas 34, Kansas City 27

Philadelphia Eagles -7.5

Additional play on Eagles -7.5 as I’m not overthinking this play. They are continuing to prove they are the top team in the NFC and I just don’t trust Brock Osweiler starting on the road against that Philadelphia defense.

Let’s look to go 2-0 this weekend. Good luck

Week 8 record: 1-0; Season record: 4-4

Support the site via our Patreon page.

Dominant 4th quarter propels Sixers to 3rd straight win

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 119, Atlanta 109 – Box Score

For three quarters Wednesday night against Atlanta, the Sixers played down to their competition. First off, let me say how cool it is that the Sixers could play down to anybody after years of trotting out D-league-caliber lineups. Now, they’re much more talented than many of the teams they face, definitely including the rebuilding Hawks. So when they finally turned things up after entering the fourth and final period tied at 93, it sure was fun to watch.

Over 5 minutes had passed in the fourth before Atlanta scored a point, something that can happen for a team overly reliant on Dennis Schroeder for much of its offense. That lack of production simply wasn’t going to cut it with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid stepping up their games. That duo pressed the NOS button on their personal games, scoring or assisting on 24 of the team’s 26 points in the fourth quarter.

Their final lines were like something out of a Hinkie Truther fan faction. Joel Embiid recorded 21 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, and 3 blocks. With all those gaudy numbers though, the most important number was 30 minutes played. That’s right, Mr. Minutes Limit himself played 30 minutes of NBA basketball in near succession. With him out there for the majority of games now, it dramatically raises the ceiling of what this Sixers team is capable of this season.

Then, there’s Ben Simmons, who finished one assist shy of his second-career triple-double, tallying 19 points, 13 rebounds, 9 assists, and 2 steals. Oh, and he harnessed his inner chi and floated the final few feet to the basket for one of the best dunks you’ll see this season.

As well as he’s been playing, the fact that Simmons even has these untapped gears is absolutely ridiculous. He’s still just 21 years old and will only keep getting stronger and learning what he’s capable of on an NBA court. Watch out league.

As for the rest of the team, Robert Covington kept the Sixers in the game early with hot shooting; he ended the evening 6-11 from three for a team-high 22 points. He’s just a couple weeks away from his big payday via an extension. TJ McConnell continued to cement his role as a major part of the rotation with 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists in 26 minutes off the bench. He’s making speculation that there might not be a place for him with Simmons playing point guard look pretty silly.

The Sixers have won 4 of their last 5 games, with the lone defeat the buzzer-beater at the hand of the Rockets. Now, 4-4 on the season, Philadelphia is at .500 since November of 2013. Something tells me they won’t be below that mark very often going forward. Next up are the Pacers Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

 

PFB 009 – 2017 NFL Week 9 Plays

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Embed from Getty Images

In this episode of the podcast, Dan and I discuss the rare time he didn’t gamble, the end of his losing skid, and all the NFL week 9 action.

Dan’s season record: 13-19; Week 8 record: 2-1
Sean’s season record: 10-6; Week 8 record: 1-1

Support the site via our Patreon page.

Sixers decline club option for Jahlil Okafor

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Embed from Getty Images

Yesterday was the deadline for NBA teams to pick up club options on the contracts of former first-round picks for the 2018-19 season. In no-brainer moves, the Sixers picked up the third-year options on Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. Simmons and Saric are core pieces of the franchise and TLC has shown plenty of flashes of becoming a 3-and-D rotation player.

In a move I’m sure the team at least mulled over for a minute, Philadelphia also picked up the fourth-year option for Justin Anderson. The jury is still out on whether Anderson can be a rotation player, but to his credit, his jump shot has improved slightly since last year. The Sixers understandably want to give him another year to see him continue to develop and the $2.5M he’s now guaranteed for next season is a reasonable price to pay. I would imagine the hope that they can point to him as some sort of return in the Nerlens Noel trade also played into the optics of the situation.

Finally, in the most-anticipated move of the option deadline, Philadelphia declined the fourth-year option for former third-overall pick Jahlil Okafor. A divisive figure in the City of Brotherly Love almost since the day he was drafted, this move means Okafor will become an unrestricted free agent after this season. The Sixers can still trade him as an expiring contract, but even in the likely event they can’t find a suitor, Jahlil won’t be in Philadelphia beyond next spring. The $6.5M he would have been owed in 2018-19 will now be freed up to try and attract a max-level player in next summer’s free agency.

The idea has also been floated that the Sixers could buyout Okafor for the rest of the season. Both sides would seemingly have interest in such an arrangement. Jahlil could go somewhere and actually play basketball rather than collect splinters for the rest of the season on the bench. Meanwhile, the Sixers would be able to put any cap savings from the buyout toward further frontloading an extension for Robert Covington. As Michael Scott would say, it would be win-win-win, because fans would also win by not having to keep discussing Okafor as a lame-duck former lottery pick on the end of the bench.

The Process was all about maximizing the number of opportunities to get a crack at drafting a franchise-changing superstar. Okafor was the biggest swing and miss during the Hinkie era. Passing on Kristaps Portzingis, who went one pick after, looks like pure player evaluation malpractice. At least now, we can all move on with our lives.

Sixers avenge last week’s loss to the Rockets

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 115, Houston 107 – Box Score

Just 5 nights earlier, the Sixers had let a late-game lead to the Rockets slip away, culminating in a heartbreaking, game-winning Eric Gordon three at the buzzer. Monday night in Houston, Philadelphia’s two budding superstars made sure history didn’t repeat itself.

After the Sixers had led the entire game, with just inside of three minutes remaining in the game, a Clint Capela lay-up attempt that would have given Houston a one-point lead somehow rimmed off. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons took care of the rest. After Embiid converted a short hook shot to extend the lead to 3, the big man swatted away a James Harden drive, got the ball to Ben Simmons, and the rookie did the rest.

PJ Tucker is listed at 245 pounds, but a running joke in NBA circles is that he put on 10-15 pounds in the offseason alone (and not in the typical ‘best shape of my life’ way). After the way Ben Simmons bodied him up there, Tucker might want to hit up even more barbecue joints down in Houston.

All night, Simmons and Embiid were the driving forces behind the Sixers’ victory. Simmons finished with 24 points on 10-15 shooting, 7 rebounds, and 9 assists. Most importantly, he hit three elbow jumpers, confidently stepping into them even with a hand in his face on one occasion. If he can hit those shots, I don’t know what defenders are going to do to prevent him from scoring in the pick-and-roll aside from throwing a double-team at him. If you had to nitpick about Simmons’ game, he did go 4-9 on free throw attempts, including making just 1 of 4 in the final minute. Sixers fans will gladly accept that small flaw for now.

Meanwhile, Joel Embiid was limited to 25 minutes by foul trouble, but still put up 22 points on 9-12 shooting, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and one block. In the 21 minutes he and Simmons were on the floor together, the Sixers had a net rating of 23.7. Brett Brown had the pair working together on offense quite a bit, to great success. Here, both defenders stick with Embiid on the pick-and-roll, ceding a wide-open jumper for Simmons.

Later, Simmons would cut to the rim off a feed from Embiid at the top of the key, part of a back-to-back sequence where Embiid assisted Simmons in high-low action.

Having two highly-skilled passers standing 6’10” or taller (three if you count Dario) has been amazing to watch this season. There’s really nothing opposing can do when Simmons and Embiid are tall enough to survey the entire floor at all times and have the ability to fling the ball wherever they want.

Of course, you don’t defeat a talented Houston team on a two-man effort alone; the Sixers had plenty of help from the supporting cast Monday night. Dario Saric, making his second straight start in place of J.J. Redick (back tightness), had his best game of the season with 14 points and 6 rebounds. Starting 4 players 6’9″ or taller certainly helped the Sixers outrebound the Rockets by a 48-35 margin.

Amir Johnson recorded his first double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds. He had absolutely no lift in those veteran legs when Simmons tried to throw him a lob pass, but Johnson had the old man hook shot game working, and fought hard on the glass (3 offensive boards).

T.J. McConnell was a perfect 3-3 from behind the arc and is now shooting 55.6% from downtown on the season (small sample size caveats apply). McConnell scored 11 points, to go along with 5 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks. There was a lot of worry about whether TJ could space the floor well enough alongside Simmons, but although it still takes him awhile to load up his shot, McConnell has worked hard to become an accurate shooter. Thanks to the gravity of both Simmons and Embiid, TJ has plenty of time to get those open shots off.

Finally, I love having Redick on the team, but without him, it would have been interesting to see what an expanded role might have looked like this season for Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. TLC dropped 17 points in 17 minutes against the Rockets, including an 11-point outburst in the first quarter. Luwawu-Cabarrot showed off his full offensive arsenal, running the floor for a bucket in transition, knocking down a pair of open threes, and cutting to the basket for an and-one lay-in. TLC should never be DNP’d again; Jerryd Bayless doesn’t need to be playing 35-40 minutes per night.

The Sixers are now 3-4 and will look to grab their first home win of the season Wednesday night against the Hawks.

Sixers survive for second win of the season

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 112, Dallas 110 – Box Score

Coming off a buzzer-beater defeat Wednesday night, the least Sixers fans could have hoped for was that the team took a lesson away from it. Saturday night, with the game on the line against the Mavericks, it looked like the Sixers may have learned something, but they still needed a bit of luck to grab their second win of the season.

With 37 seconds left in the game, Harrison Barnes knocked down a three to cut the Sixers lead to two. Unlike the Rockets game where Joel Embiid did not receive a touch in the final five offensive possessions, this time around Philadelphia got the ball to the big man a couple feet outside the low block. Embiid backed down Barnes and easily laid it in, with a groundbound Dirk Nowitzki offering no resistance as weak side help.

Still, the Sixers couldn’t entirely shake their late-game woes. Barnes hit yet another three (7-12 on the night for a game-high 25 points) and Jerryd Bayless only sank one of two free throws to extend Philadelphia’s lead to two. As Yogi Ferrell quickly raced the ball up court and attacked the basket, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot fouled him with 0.2 seconds remaining. Finally though, something broke the Sixers’ way, with Ferrell (an 86% career free throw shooter) missing the first shot, sealing the victory for Philadelphia.

That final Embiid bucket was the cap on another strong performance, as the center shot 3-7 from three for 23 points, to go with 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and (regrettably) 7 turnovers. Embiid still tends to get himself in trouble whenver he tries to take someone one-on-one off-the-dribble. He either needs to stop up or make one quick move out of the post; in those situations, he’s borderline unstoppable. Ask good friend Nerlens Noel, who received the start for Dallas to try and deal with the Process; Noel had just 4 points and 4 rebounds with no steals or blocks in 20 minutes. Embiid even escaped uninjured; he recieved x-rays on his hand after the game, presumably due to a head-first slide he took into a cameraman, but fortunately, the results were negative.

Death, taxes, and Ben Simmons tallying at least 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. The rookie has yet to miss those marks, going off for a career-high 23 points on 10-15 shooting, 7 rebounds, 8 assists, and 3 steals. Impressively, Simmons continues to be the catalyst for the Sixers offense while taking good care of the basketball (only 1 turnover Saturday). It may have been due to Dallas often not having a rim blocker in the game, but Simmons showed off much more power around the basket, rather than shying away from contact. On numerous occasions, the Aussie bullied his way to the basket and finished with authority, including this gorgeous, coast-to-coast finish.

With J.J. Redick sidelined with back tightness, T.J. McConnell played a season-high 31 minutes and backed up Brett Brown’s confidence in him. McConnell scored a season-high 15 points on 7-10 shooting, dishing 8 assists and grabbing yet another patented backcourt steal.

The Sixers big three: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and T.J. McConnell. Just as everyone predicted.

This season have stuck to a trend for the Sixers. Aside from the loss to Toronto (a second game of a back-to-back), Philadelphia has taken care of business against the less-talented teams they’ve faced and lost close, competitive games to upper-echelon opponents. If that holds true (with maybe a few of those games pulled out against those better teams along the way), this season can be judged a success.