Keys to Victory

Let’s preview the Sixers upcoming series against the Celtics, shall we?

Regular Season Edge: 76ers
Technically. The Sixers took the season series 2-1, blowing out the Celtics in the first game and winning again convincingly in the second. Once the Celtics got their season going, however, they were able to beat the Sixers convincingly at home.  This was while the Sixers were in the middle of their nosedive, losing 10-14 games.

Defensive Edge: Celtics
Again, technically. The Bulls, Celtics, and Sixers finished 1-2-3 in the league in total team defense, all allowing under 90 points per game. The difference here is minuscule. Both teams have point guards and small forwards who are exceptional defenders for their positions. I give the edge to the Celtics who have a better interior defense with Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass. Ultimately, just know it’s going to be a tight series.

Point Guard: Celtics
I’ll take Rajon Rondo over most point guards in the NBA for the playoffs. He’s already posted 6 triple doubles in his 5 playoff seasons, good for 6th all-time. He’s got a ring. He has slowly become the best player on this aging team.

Shooting Guard: 76ers
You may think I’m crazy to pick against the NBA’s 3-point king, but I like the Sixers versatility from this position better than Allen’s now one dimensional game. Between Lou Williams and Evan Turner attacking the basket and Jodie Meeks’ ability to shoot from the outside, I think the Sixers 2-guards will have to be the difference in this series.

Small Forward: Even
Again, age is starting to creep in here.  Paul Pierce clearly has been a better player in the past than Andre Iguodala, but the gap has closed dramatically since then. Iguodala was an All-Star this year because of his all-around game and leadership abilities. The guy gets out in transition better than almost anyone in the league and has been getting to the line consistently, especially in the 4th quarter. To be fair, if there’s one player in this series that I’d give the ball to at the end of the game, it’s Pierce.

Power Forward: Celtics
Age goes both ways in this one. Do I take an aging Elton Brand or an aging Kevin Garnett? I’ll take the former MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and NBA champion. Garnett is playing the best basketball of his season in the playoffs. There’s really no one on the Sixers who matches up well against him. He can pull Spencer Hawes and Brand away from the basket and would kill Thaddeus Young on the low block. I expect Garnett to be the best Celtic in this series.

Center: 76ers
When’s the last time the Sixers have ever had a good  enough center to win the matchup against anyone? Well right now the big white guy is the Sixers’ man for the job. Spencer Hawes has developed into a quality passer from the post, can shoot the 18 footer (and occasional three-pointer) and even gets out in transition. He does a little bit of everything for this team, and they rely on him to keep their half-court offense going.

Coaching Edge: Celtics
Doc Rivers has won a championship and been to another. No reason to pick Doug Collins against him–although Collins isn’t too shabby a coach himself. He turned this young, undisciplined Sixers team into an elite defensive unit.  Really, both coaches would be a fine choice to lead your team.

Series Edge: Celtics
On paper, the Celtics are the ones who should come out victorious. The ultimate wildcard is the Sixers’ youth versus the Celtics age. If this turns into spry versus tired, edge Sixers. If this becomes undisciplined versus experience, edge Celtics.

Either way, it’s gonna be a great series.


I care about the NBA playoffs???

It’s true.

For the first time in a long time, I have a personal stake in the NBA playoffs, and it’s more than just “Oh, well I hope LeBron gets a ring so all this stupid talk about him will stop.” (Again, let’s converse about this later)

No, for the first time since 2001, The Philadelphia 76ers are in the playoffs with a chance to do some actual damage.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself that I’m just a bandwagon fan who thinks that because we beat the Chicago Bulls in the first round we can go somewhere. But let me stop you right there. Three things for you:

One. I am NOT a bandwagon fan. I have faithfully followed the Sixers every single year since Allen Iverson was drafted. Don’t believe me? Ask around. My haters will try their best, but none can refute my fandom.

Two. I called us beating the Bulls. Again, ask around. I have several Bulls fans for friends at school. They all laughed at me when I said I was glad we had the eights seed and got to play them first. Everyone forgets that at the beginning of the year–the only time both of these squads had a full roster–the Sixers embarrassed Derrick Rose the Bulls. Now did I expect to embarrass them again? Certainly not. But winning the series in 7 games was certainly a possibility in my mind. So don’t even say that the only reason we had a chance to beat the Bulls is because they lost Derrick Rose. We could’ve done it either way.

Three. Not only did we beat the Chicago Bulls, we took out the number one team in the NBA who has the only defense in the league that can rival our own. I know what I said about regular season basketball, but in the playoffs, defense counts for a lot more.

It’s because of fact number three that I have faith in this Sixers offense. Sure, we only averaged about 85 points per game in the opening series, but that was against an incredible defensive team that matches up against our offense very well.

By overcoming adversity, the Sixers were able to win in front of a sellout home crowd. It was certainly a treat for the fans.

Andre Iguodala led the charge, as he should. I think he has finally embraced his leadership role on the team. It might not manifest itself in the score column every night, but that’s what he is called to do. Let others take the charge when they need to. Lead by defensive example. Rebound. Pass the ball. Get to the foul line. These are all things that he did very well in this series, but especially game 6.

It was also exciting to see some of the young guys finally get to shake off that playoff monkey. Jrue Holiday certainly struggled at times, but hit some clutch threes in the series and defending the Bulls guards very well. Evan Turner got to experience a playoff win and didn’t have the burden of guarding LeBron James. Spencer Hawes returned to the lineup and showed just how important he is to this team offensively and defensively.

I really only have one response to all of this…

…Beat the Celtics.

I hate this post

The fact that I even have to type these words makes me sick.

The Flyers lost to the Devils in the second round of the playoffs.

I’ve recently finished explaining how much I hate the Devils. This loss makes it worse, but not as much as I would’ve expected. This is mainly because the Flyers didn’t lose because of anything the Devils did, it was all on their own shoulders. They simply didn’t perform.

The Flyers in fact had no “jam” going into this series. Perhaps in the first game that’s excusable after having a few days of rest more than the Devils. But eventually you just have to find what it takes to get yourself going. I think Danny Briere is the only Flyers player who wakes up every morning with an insatiable desire to win.

Game 1 was an apparent fluke. The Flyers started the game off in a hole once again and battled back to win in overtime, much like they did against the Penguins. The difference in this series is that the Flyers didn’t respond in any way to their slow start.

But the Devils did.

New Jersey outworked the Flyers in every aspect of the game. They scored junk goals. They score breakaway goals. They scored powerplay goals. They dominated our powerplay unit. They even neutralized Claude Giroux.

Oh Giroux…I don’t even know what to say. After scoring 14 points in the first round series against the Penguins, Giroux mustered just 3 points in his 4 games. That’s right, 4 games.

Yes the Flyers lost the series in 5 games, but the NHL decided to suspend the Flyers’ acting captain after a “high hit” to Darius Zubrus in game 4. This suspension was handed out after numerous players got off scott free in the first round of the playoffs for much dirtier players. Shea Weber comes to mind. But more on this later.

It was crushing to watching my Flyers, my Broad Street Bullies, get out hustled, outworked, and even outskilled by a prissy one-line team. But it happened, and today I’m forced to eat my words. I all but guaranteed the Flyers would be moving on the the Eastern Conference Finals, confirming my preseason prediction. Especially after they survived what seemed to be the best the Devils could throw at them in game one.

Now I’m forced to watch at least one of my hated divisional rivals continue on for a chance to win the Stanley Cup–a trophy that I’ve never had the privilege of watching my team hoist. It’s the championship that I crave more than any other.

And I now have to wait one more year…

Sweet Victory

My favorite episode of Spongebob Squarepants is the one where Squidward gets all of the residents of Bikini Bottom to participate in an orchestra performance with him as the director. Turns out, they’re performing at the Super Bowl.

The feeling that Squidward gets when rubbing his success into the face of his arch-nemesis Squilliam is unlike any other.

Recently, I felt it.

I apologize in advance to all of my friends who are Pittsburgh Penguins fans, but MY WORD did the Flyers’ victory over the Penguins in game 6 of the first round of the NHL playoffs feel good. For that matter, each one of their four wins felt good.

Coming back from a three goal deficit to win game 1 in overtime was enough. That in and of itself put me on top of the world out here in western Pennsylvania. Then we won game 2 in a similar comeback fashion. Claude Giroux announced his playoff presence to the world with a 6 point performance and Sean Coutourier added a hat trick while shutting down the regular season MVP Evgeni Malkin.

Game 3 was perhaps the most satisfying way I’ve ever seen the Flyers win. It was an oldschool bloodbath.  One in which the Penguins came out looking like the bad guys. I’d have it no other way. It was so satisfying in fact, that I don’t even care that the Penguins won the next 2 games to force the series to a 6th game. We won the series in front of our home crowd in another absolutely dominating performance. Ilya Bryzgalov finally performed up to expectations and our team had some serious “jam” (as my dad would say) going into the next round.

Not enough can be said of the performance the Claude Giroux put on during the series with the Penguins. He completely outplayed Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. After one playoff series as the face of the team, many writers were questioning if we were beginning to see the emergence of the new face of the NHL. As much as I love Giroux and wouldn’t want to stifle his support, it just didn’t seem normal to hear commentators from across the country giving that much respect to a Flyers player, especially when (to quote my dear friend Alex DiFazio) he just made the league’s poster boy look like a toddler.

No matter. The right team moved on.

This playoff series victory was one of the sweetest I’ve ever tasted, espcially in recent memory.

Wildcats looking a little too “East High”

Yes. I made a High School Musical reference. Don’t leave! It’s applicable. I promise.

College Basketball is usually something I really enjoy. It’s fun to watch guys my age and younger do things on the court that I could never dream of being able to do. Those freshmen from Kentucky are unbelievable. At 18 and 19 years old, they are flying around at dangerous speeds and lumbering around at dangerous heights.

I like watching guys from all across the country. I really do.

But mostly I like the Villanova Wildcats.

I’ve loved them since high school when I got to visit their practice with my own basketball team. From that point forward, we modeled each one of our practices after the way that coach Jay Wright runs the Villanova practices. I wish I could say it paid off, but unfortunately our school wasn’t filled with quite as much talent as a place like Villanova.

I’ve loved being able to follow a team who has players that are committed to staying with a program. I watched Dante Cunningham team up with Scottie Reynolds for all four years of his eligibility–granted I was glad to see Reynolds go by the end. I watched Cory Fisher and Cory Stokes fill the hoop from the perimeter.

Recently, I’ve been able to watch Maalik Wayns run his fast little behind all over the court and do what he does best–score the ball.

I was so excited for him to get his chance to run the show this year–to really be “the guy”. And he was. At times, Wayns was magnificent. He scored at least 20 points in 10 different games this year, hitting his season high in a loss against Cincinnati while scoring 39 points.

The problem was, Wayns didn’t have a lot of help. Big man Mouphtaou Yarou was never able to establish the dominance that was expected of him. Although it was his best statistical season offensively, that still isn’t saying much–he averaged just over 11 points per game.

Ultimately, Villanova finished the season at 13-19, good for 14th out of the 16 Big East teams. This was Jay Wright’s worst season as head coach. Hopefully this will never be repeated.

With Wayns and Dominic Cheek both leaving for the NBA, it’s hard to imagine this team actually improving next year. Perhaps Yarou will find that next gear that has evaded him thus far in his career. Perhaps they will find that a new young player steps in to fill the void.

One thing’s pretty sure, it probably won’t be Troy Bolton.

Passionate. Intense. Proud.

Before this past NBA season, all the talk was about the impending lockout. And rightly so. Due to the inability of the NBA Players Association to cooperate with the owners, 16 games were lost in this year’s regular season.

One storyline that seemed to have slipped through the woodwork was the Philadelphia 76ers changing owners. Ed Snyder and the Comcast Spectacor sold the Sixers to an ownership group led by billionaire Josh Harris, and featuring Philly’s own Will Smith. The team went through an instant re-branding process. Their new motto?

Passionate. Intense. Proud.

Sounds a little corny, doesn’t it? Well they can be as corny as they want because this describes the way the Sixers opened up the season. For the first few weeks, they were far and away the best team in the league. Their average margin of victory was almost 20 points per game. The defense was smothering and scoring came from everyone. It was obvious that head coach Doug Collins had succeeded in getting his team to buy into his coaching philosophy.

Remember him? Loved him.

Although they were unable to keep up the blistering pace to which they started the year, they first half of the season was a successful one. They entered the All-Star break leading the Atlantic division, and sent Andre Iguodala as the first All-Star for the Sixers since Allen Iverson.The second half of this year was definitely less than ideal. Although the Sixers made the playoffs, they dropped from the three seed all the way to the 8th seed. Personally, I attribute much of this faltering to the injuries surrounding starting center Spencer Hawes. He had been playing at the best level in his career until he got hurt, and was truly the centerpiece to the Sixers offense. When he went down, the Sixers struggled to move the ball as well as they had at the start of the season, and they lacked a true offensive post presence outside of the aging Elton Brand.

Nonetheless, their defense held strong. The Sixers ended the season as the number one ranked defense in the league.

problem is, it seems that in the regular season, defense only goes so far in the NBA any more. An offensive game is necessary to compliment a team’s defense. Without a legitimate star scorer, it doesn’t seem that the Sixers’ offense can reach the level it needs to.

I have a lot of faith in Doug Collins as a coach, and I believe the Sixers have a good set of young personnel in place. Some changes just have to be made this offseason if the Sixers hope to take their success to the next level. With Josh Harris in place as the young, ambitious owner, I have confidence that these changes can and will be made.

It’s nice to be excited about Sixers basketball again.

Let’s not forget

For each of the past 5 seasons, the Phillies have added to the previous year’s win total. Each year, the team featured a core that contained Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard as three of its top four hitters. In 2008, that team won a World Series–its first since 1980.

Many fans have complained that each year since Ryan Howard was named NL MVP, his totals in home runs and RBI’s have decreased. For the past few seasons, Utley, Howard, and Rollins have all battled various injuries. Our lineup has gone through numerous changes. They’ve been unable to find success in the postseason, even with the best pitching staff in baseball.

Folks, it’s time to stop complaining about the past. This year, the Phillies have played 33 games and sit in last place in the division at 15-18. They currently rank just 18th in the league runs scored.  They’ve managed to accomplish all of this while still fielding the same core players they have for the past 6 seasons.

Wait a minute… that’s not true is it?

Ryan Howard and Chase Utley have yet to see one inning of game action this year thanks to injury. Think it’s a coincidence that this team has been near the bottom of the league in offensive production so far? I don’t.

Fans have been complaining about Ryan Howard’s strikeout numbers for a while now. Questions as to whether or not we’d be better off without him in the lineup have surfaced on numerous occasions. Well, now we’re seeing the answer to these questions.

We wouldn’t be. It’s not that hard to tell.

Any time you remove a guy from your lineup who is consistently near the top of the league in home runs and RBIs, you’re just not going to be the same team. It effects everyone around him too. Now Hunter Pence has to bat in the 4th slot. With Howard in the lineup, he would be batting 5th, offering protection for Howard. Taking him out of the lineup essentially bumps every position player up one slot. It’s a tough thing to recover from.

I have a lot of hope that Utley and Howard can return this year and help the Phillies make a late push for the playoffs. This is largely due to the fact that no one team seems like it is going to be able to run away with the division this year.

But if they cannot, fans will finally have to admit just how big of an impact the oft-maligned Howard and Utley have on this lineup, just by being present on the field.