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Sacks in 3 seasons for 2014 1st-round pick Marcus Smith, cut by Eagles on Wednesday

Eric Fisher’s weekly column on a variety of topics. This week Eric serves up opinions on honoring the Taney Dragons, the Eagles’ kicker situation and the difficult road ahead for the Union.

The Greek god of wrestling ranks his all-time favorite wrestling announcers. Achilles Heel also dissects the most recent episode of Impact Wrestling, praises CHIKARA’s promotion of King of Trios and has a suggestion to make the rest of the Phillies’ season much more interesting.

The 76ers could be even worse this season than they were last season, when they won 19 games. But are they bad enough to challenge the record for the worst season in NBA history? Eric Fisher provides a preview of their 2014-15 season.

Archive for April, 2017

NBA playoff preview: Contrasts in style

Posted by Eric Fisher On April - 30 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

The second round of the NBA playoffs features interesting matchups. The run-and-gun Rockets, with their guard-centric attack, battle the disciplined Spurs, who have a solid frontcourt but have the lowest-scoring backcourt remaining in the postseason.

The Eastern Conference features the defending-champion Cavaliers battling the Raptors in a rematch of last year’s conference finals, as well as the dangerous Wizards against the top-seeded Celtics. The Wizards might have the edge in the backcourt, but the Celtics, who recovered after losing the first two games of their first-round series with the Bulls, have the more balanced team.

The Warriors had more than a week to rest before opening the second round against the Jazz, whose break between series is just two days. The Jazz beat the Clippers in the first round in seven games. But rust, fatigue and style aren’t major factors in this series. All that matters is that the Warriors are a much better team.

Let’s examine what appear to be interesting second-round matchups.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(seeding in parentheses)

WIZARDS (4) vs. CELTICS (1)

How Wizards got here: Eliminated the Hawks in 6 games.

How Celtics got here: After losing the first two games, they roared back with four straight wins to eliminate the Bulls.

Wizards: Guards John Wall and Bradley Beal both averaged 23.1 points per game during the regular season, but they picked it up even further during the first-round series against the Hawks, with Wall averaging 29.5 points, including 42 during the series-clinching Game 6, and Beal averaging 25.8. Wall averaged 10.3 assists, just off his regular-season average of 10.7. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Wizards were heavily dependent on their backcourt. Forward Markieff Morris averaged 11.2 points and 5.5 rebounds, which is a drop from his regular-season production of 14 points, 6.5 rebounds.  Center Marcin Gortat was a solid presence in the middle of the defense, averaging 10.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots, but he only averaged 6.5 points in the first round, which is below his regular-season average (10.8 points, 10.4 rebounds). Forward Otto Porter Jr. (13.4 points, 6.4 rebounds) and guard Bojan Boganovic (13.7 points) also dropped in production during the first round, averaging 9.8 and 9.7 points, respectively. Brandon Jennings (7.1 points, 4.9 rebounds) also dropped to 5 points per game in the playoffs. Jennings provides a veteran presence, but there’s a significant dropoff from starters Wizard and Beal to Jennings and Bogdanovic.

Celtics: Guard Isaiah Thomas, who was third in the NBA in scoring (28.9 points per game), scored 23 points per game during the first-round series against the Bulls, but keep in mind that he was dealing with the death of his sister, which occurred just before the playoffs began. The guard-centered attack includes Avery Bradley, whose 16-point average is almost identical to his regular-season average (16.3 points), and Marcus Smart, who dipped from 10.6 points during the regular season to 8 against the Bulls. But the Celtics keep teams honest on defense with center Al Horford (14 points, 6.8 rebounds), who improved his numbers (15.3 points, 8.5 rebounds) during the first round, and actually led the Celtics in assists (6.5). Forwards Jae Crowder (13.9 points, 5.8 rebounds during regular season) and Gerald Green (9.0 points in first round), whose insertion into the starting lineup by head coach Brad Stevens changed the complexion of the series with the Bulls, also can score. Center/forward Kelly Olynyk chipped in with 8.8 points against the Bulls. President of basketball operations Danny Ainge has done a terrific job of assembling the pieces, and Stevens has done a wonderful job of putting the pieces together.

Analysis: The key matchup in the series might be between the Bradleys, with Avery Bradley guarding Bradley Beal. Beal should outscore Bradley, but, if it’s close, that’s an advantage for the Celtics. The Wizards need to win the backcourt battle in a decisive manner because power forward might be the only other position at which they have an advantage. The Celtics have much more depth and balance. Power forward Amir Johnson barely played in the Bulls series, yet the Celtics excelled with Green in the lineup and Crowder moving to power forward. By contrast, the Wizards’ bench was last in scoring in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards are too dependent on their starting backcourt. The Celtics, a good defensive team, will try to force the ball into the hands of players other than Wall and Beal. Celtics in 6

RAPTORS (3) vs. CAVALIERS (2)

How Raptors got here: The defeated the Bucks in six games.

How Cavaliers got here: They swept the Pacers.

Raptors: The Raptors, as always, are somewhat of an enigma. They got blown out by the Bucks during a first-round game and blew out the Bucks in other games. The mercurial backcourt of DeMar DeRozan (27.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists during the regular season) and Kyle Lowry (22.7 points, 7 assists, 4.8 rebounds during the regular season) is a big reason for that inconsistency. DeRozan was held to single digits by the Bucks in one game, yet scored enough to average 23.5 points. Lowry, who returned from a wrist injury just before the playoffs, averaged 14.3 points and 5.2 assists in the first round. The frontcourt scoring of center Jonas Valanciunas (12 points, 9.5 rebounds) and Serge Ibaka (14.8 points, 6.8 rebounds) dipped to 9.3 and 12.8 points, respectively, against the Bucks. But the Raptors received a boost from swingman Norman Powell, who averaged 12.4 points – shooting 90.4 percent from 3-point range – and moved into the starting lineup in place of Valanciunas. DeMarre Carroll’ against LeBron James will be crucial during this series. One problem for the Raptors is they don’t receive much of a spark from their bench.

Cavaliers-LeBronpumpedCavaliers: The defending champions are a bit of a mystery. They seem to have been sleepwalking through parts of the season, including the final 10 games, when they went 4-6 and were overtaken for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference by the Celtics. Even during their first-round sweep of the Pacers, the Cavaliers seemed to coast through games, falling behind by 25 points before rallying in one of their victories. LeBron James (26.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 8.7 assists during the regular season). left, increased his output during the first round to 32.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 9.0 assists and an NBA-leading 3.0 streals. Point guard Kyrie Irving averaged 25.3 points during the first round, which was almost right on his regular-season average. (25.2 points, 5.8 assists). Kevin Love finished the regular season averaging 19 points and 11.1 rebounds, but the question about whether he can be the same player he was before his mid-February arthroscopic knee surgery weren’t answered by his averaged (15.5, 9.3) during the first round. Former Sixer Kyle Korver (10.1 points) saw his scoring average cut nearly in half (5.3) against the Pacers. Center Tristan Thompson (8.1 points, 9.2 rebounds), forward Channing Frye (9.1 points, 4.9 rebounds) and guard Deron Williams (11 points) all saw their scoring averages dip against the Pacers, although Williams made 77.8 percent of his 3-point attempts.

Analysis: This is a rematch from last year’s Eastern Conference finals, which the Cavaliers won in six games. The Cavaliers still look vulnerable, but the Raptors might not be the team to take advantage of that opportunity. The Raptors may steal a game or two, but, unless LeBron James suffers an injury, the Cavaliers should return to the Eastern Conference finals. Cavaliers in 5

WESTERN CONFERENCE

ROCKETS (3) vs. SPURS (2)

How Rockets got here: They eliminated the Thunder in five games.

How Spurs got here: They fought off the Grizzlies in six games.

Rockets-Harden2 Rockets: James Harden (left) was second to Russell Westbrook in scoring  during the regular season, and he was second again during the first-round series with the Thunder, averaging 33.2 points to Westbrook’s 37.4, but the Rockets won the series in five games. Harden received a lot of help from former Sixers Lou Williams (17.5 points during the regular season), who contributed 18.8 points per game. Guard Eric Gordon (16.2 points during the regular season) and Nene both averaged 13.6 points against the Thunder, and guard Patrick Beverley averaged 11.6. Forwards Ryan Anderson (13.6 points) and Trevor Ariza (11.7 points) and center Clint Capela (12.6 points, 8.1 rebounds) all dropped into single digits during the first round in the Rockets’ guard-centric offense.

Spurs: The Spurs are transitioning away from their awesome trio. Tim Duncan retired after last season, and guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are playing reduced roles, although Parker erupted for 27 points in the series-clinching Game 6 against the Grizzlies. The featured player for the Spurs is forward Kawhi Leonard (25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds during the regular season) , who rose to the occasion in the first round with 31.2 points per game. Forward LaMarcus Aldridge (17.3 points, 7.3 rebounds) saw his scoring drop to 14.8 points while battling with the Grizzlies’ inside tandem of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol during the first round. Center Pau Gasol, whose production (12.4 points, 7.8 rebounds) dropped to 6.5 points against the Grizzlies, hopes to find more opportunity to score against the Rockets. The same goes for forward/center David Lee (7.3 points, 5.6 rebounds regular season, who provides help off the bench. Guard Patty Mills (9.5 points regular season, 10.2 in playoffs) provided important points against the Grizzlies, and Parker increased his scoring average from 10.1 during the regular season to 16.3 against the Grizzlies. Ginobili (7.5 points during the regular season, 2.3 in the first round) was a non-factor against the Grizzlies. Swingman Danny Green (7.3 regular seson) contributes to the Spurs’ modest scoring.

Analysis: This series might be a culture shock for both teams. After a run-and-gun series with the Thunder, the Rockets will face the disciplined Spurs. After a physical series with the inside power of the Grizzlies, the Spurs must contend with the Rockets’ guard-dominated attack. If the Spurs can slow the pace and keep this series a halfcourt game, Aldridge and Gasol should contribute more than they did against the Grizzlies. Leonard’s scoring might be hurt if he has to guard Harden, so finding production from other sources will be essential in order for the Spurs to advance. The Rockets should have no problem finding sources for points. Their challenge is to push the pace and to find a way to counter the inside strength of the Spurs’ frontcourt.  Spurs in 6

JAZZ (5) vs. WARRIORS (1)

How the Jazz got here: They eliminated the Clippers in seven games.

How the Warriors got here: They swept the Trail Blazers.

Jazz: Gordon Hayward averaged 23.7 points, above his season average (21.9) despite missing part of one game due to food poisoning. Hayward couldn’t avoid food poisoning, but he made a successful return from a quadriceps injury. Not everyone was so fortunate. The injury-plagued Jazz must have felt cursed when center Rudy Gobert, the one constant in their lineup, injured his knee on Utah’s first possession of the series. But they overcame the injury, even with Gobert (8.4 points, 7.4 rebounds), down from his regular-season averages (14 points, 12.8 rebounds and NBA-leading 2.6 blocked shots) and playing in just five of the seven games. Forward Derrick Favors (10 points, 6.4 rebounds) was a little bit above his regular-season average.  Veteran guard George Hill (16.9 points) matched his regular-season average exactly, but it was veteran swingman Joe Johnson (15.7 points) who dramatically improved his production, moving up from 9.2 points per game. The experienced Hill and Johnson made a big difference for the Jazz in tight playoff games.  Rodney Hood (10.4 points) is below his regular-season average (12.7 points), but he, too has been hampered by injuries. Forward Joe Ingles (7.1 points regular season, 6.6 in first round) has been a consistent contributor.

Warriors: The Warriors are led by the trio of Stephen Curry (25.3 points, 6.6 assists, 4.5 rebounds), Kevin Durant (25.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists) and Klay Thompson (22.3 points). As the Trail Blazers found out, that’s a scary group to face in a playoff series. Actually, they were scary without Durant for half of their first-round series due to a calf injury. Forward Matt Barnes (7.1 points) didn’t play at all, and guard Shaun Livingston (5.1 points) only played one game due to injury. All three may return in time to face the Jazz. With several players missing, Curry increased his scoring (29.8). Forward/center Draymond Green (10.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 7 assists) increased his scoring (13.8), rebounding (9.5) and assists (7.5). Former Sixer Andre Iguodala (7.6 points) embraces his defensive role. The Warriors also made up for the absences with their depth. Guard Ian Clark (8.5 points in playoffs, ), forward David West (.5 points) and centers JaVale McGee (9.8 points) and Zaza Pachulia (6.3 points) filled in gaps during the first round, just as they have all season.

Analysis: The well-rested Warriors (67-15) have won 19 of their past 20 games. The Jazz lost three times as many games during the first round. The Warriors could be a little rusty after eight days off between series, but that shouldn’t be a large enough factor to make this series close. It’s difficult to imagine veterans George Hill and swingman Joe Johnson handling Steph enCurry and Klay Thompson. Warriors in 5

Phillies Notebook: Difficult challenge ahead

Posted by Eric Fisher On April - 29 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

The Phillies turned around a poor start with a six-game winning streak, pushing them above .500 and lifting them to second place in the National League East.

Now comes the hard part.

We’ll know a lot more about the Phillies after the next two weeks. This is a difficult stretch of games that includes three games against the Dodgers, four against the Cubs and six against the Nationals.

The Dodgers, who won the opening game of the series with the Phillies on Friday night, actually have a worse record (12-12) than the Phillies (11-10). The Cubs (12-10) are just a half-game better than the Phillies, but they are the defending World Series champions. The Nationals  (16-7) have the best record in Major League Baseball.

We should learn a lot about the Phillies by how they perform against that level of competition. Among the most important areas to watch is whether the Phillies can hit good pitching. Some of their better hitters seem to feast on mediocre pitching, yet struggle mightily against good pitching. The Dodgers, Cubs and Nationals all have good rotations, although the Phillies will miss Clayton Kershaw during the Dodgers series.

Nobody is expecting the Phillies to make a playoff run this year. But it’s still a good test to see how the Phillies stack up against three likely playoff teams.

*****

VELASQUEZ ENDS DROUGHT: Vince Velasquez earned his first victory since last July on Wednesday when the Phillies beat the visiting Marlins, 7-4. Velasquez allowed three runs in 6 1/3 innings. What was most impressive ws the number of pitches Velasquez threw.

Throwing 97 pitches in 6 1/3 innings isn’t great, but it’s an improvement over his usual pattern. The improvement began in his previous outing, when he threw 84 pitches in six innings while taking a no-decision against the Mets. In his first two starts of the season, Velsquezthrew 94 pitches in four innings and 100 pitches in five innings.

Velasquez struck out 17 batters in nine innings during his first two starts and just five in 12 1/3 innings during his two most recent starts. That might be an indication that Velasquez is learning that his primary goal as a pitcher is to get outs, not necessarily strikeouts. If we continue to see Velasquez’s strikeout totals go down and his innings to up, it will be a sign that Velasquez is making the transition from a thrower to a pitcher.

*****

HELLICKSON EXCELLENT: Jeremy Hellickson ends April with a 4-0 record and 1.80 ERA. He has only walked three batters in 30 innings. You can’t ask for much more than that.

During Thursday’s 3-2 victory over the Marlins, Hellickson actually got into trouble a few times, but was able to work his way out of the jams. Working on a one-year contract for $17.2 million, Hellickson may find himself with a long-term deal in that range – or a little more – if he continues to perform near this level. The question is whether that contract will come from the Phillies or another team.

*****

EICKHOFF WINLESS: With Vince Velasquez earning his first win, the only winless starting pitcher who was in the rotation for the entire month of April is Jerad Eickhoff. To be fair, Eickhoff has been the victim of a lack of support, as was the case last year. Eickhoff is 0-2 with a 3.56 ERA. His ERA went up by a full run Friday during a 5-3 loss to the Dodgers, which was his first bad outing of the season.

*****

NOLA GOES ON DL: Aaron Nola, who had two wins in his first three starts, was placed on the disabled list due to a back strain. Nola is only expected to miss one or two starts, according to Phillies general manager Matt Klentak. Nick Pivetta called up to take Nola’s place in rotation, although is first start delayed a few days by Tuesday’s rainout against the Marlins, which pushed Vince Velasquez’s start back one day.

*****

GALVIS STREAKING: Freddy Galvis’ 2-run double during Friday’s 5-3 loss to the Dodgers extended his hitting streak to 10 games. Galvis has increased his average to .269, but he has only walked once in 78 at-bats, which is why his on-base percentage is a paltry .284.

*****

ALTHERR ON TEAR: Aaron Altherr is certainly taking advantage of the opportunity created by outfielder Howie Kendrick’s trip to the disabled list due to a strained oblique muscle. Altherr is batting .317 with two home runs and is playing terrific defense. Altherr may make it difficult for manager Pete Mackanin to take him out of the lineup when everyone is healthy.

*****

HIT AND MISS: Maikel Franco’s grand slam earlier this week was his second during April. He is among the RBI leaders with 21. Yet he is batting just .213. The season is only one month old, but Franco seems to be continuing his pattern of hot streaks and cold streaks rather than being a consistent hitter.

*****

MEDOZA WATCH: Starters Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp remain below the Mendoza line, with Joseph batting .190 and Rupp batting .180.

*****

LEITER DEBUT: Mark Leiter Jr. hurled a scoreless inning in relief Friday against the Dodgers in his Major League debut. His debut made Leiter and his father, Mark Leiter, the second father-and-son combination to play for the Phillies, joining Ruben Amaro and Ruben Amaro Jr.

*****

TOUGH ROAD: After this weekend’s series with the Dodgers, the Phillies will continue their road trip with four games at Wrigley Field from Monday through Thursday. Once the Phillies finish with the world-champion Cubs, they will return to Citizens Bank Park – without a day off – for three games against the Nationals.

Pirates' Jose Osuna throws out 3 Phillies