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Eagles, Rams a mirror image in many ways

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Eagles, Rams a mirror image in many ways

Who would’ve thought the Eagles would be 10-2 and preparing to face a 9-3 Rams squad when the schedule came out in April? Yet, here were are, waiting for an unlikely Week 14 showdown between two of the top teams in the conference.

This is no fluke. The Eagles and Rams both have talented rosters from top to bottom, with ascending, young quarterbacks in the midst of breakout seasons, and outstanding coaching staffs with sharp, fresh minds and time-tested defensive coordinators.

In many ways, these teams are like a mirror image of each other when you begin to compare.

Quarterbacks
The No. 1 and 2 choices in the 2016 NFL draft, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, will be linked — and therefore compared to one another — forever. So far, you’d have to take what's behind Door No. 2. Most of their 2017 stats are comparable, but Wentz has nine more touchdown passes with the same number of interceptions and is a threat to run with the football. Wentz is further along in his development in terms of responsibilities at the line of scrimmage, too. Goff looks legit, and time will tell who is going to be better. Right now, it’s probably Wentz.

Slight advantage: Eagles

Running backs
LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement are great backs. So what does it say that you would trade all of them for Todd Gurley? With 1,502 yards from scrimmage, Gurley ranks second in the NFL behind Pittsburgh's Le’Veon Bell. That’s only 279 yards less than the entire Eagles’ backfield, including Wendell Smallwood and an injured Darren Sproles. There’s a reason Gurley is a rare viable MVP candidate at running back. Who needs three or four backs when one guy can do it all?

Advantage: Rams

Wide receivers and tight ends
The Rams’ leading receiver — Robert Woods with 703 yards — is doubtful to play Sunday with a shoulder injury. Goff still has quality weapons. Sammy Watkins leads the club with six touchdown catches while Cooper Kupp has a team-high 51 receptions playing largely in the slot. Woods has been the most consistent, though. Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor all have at least 40 receptions, 599 yards and seven touchdowns, giving the Eagles one of the most well-rounded receiving corps in the league. The Rams need Woods for there to be any comparison.

Advantage: Eagles

Offensive lines
Halapoulivaati Vaitai has started to struggle a bit at left tackle for the Eagles the past couple weeks, perhaps a sign Jason Peters' replacement is coming back down to earth. But from center Jason Kelce to tackle Lane Johnson, the Eagles still have arguably the best right side in the NFL. Similarly, from tackle Andrew Whitworth to center John Sullivan, the Rams have one of the best left sides after rebuilding in free agency. However, their weak link is right guard Jamon Brown. All things considered, both are strong units.

Even

Defensive linemen and linebackers
Aaron Donald leads all defensive tackles with 8.0 sacks this season, and that’s after missing the first game of the season over a contract dispute. He’s also tied for eighth among all players with 20 quarterback hits. Donald may very well be the most feared pass rusher in the entire NFL, but beyond him, the Rams’ front seven is a little lacking. Look no further than these run defenses. Los Angeles ranks 27th; the Eagles are atop the league. Donald is great, but there is strength in numbers — such as the collective of Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan and Nigel Bradham up the middle.

Mild advantage: Eagles

Cornerbacks and safeties
These are two of the most opportunistic secondaries in the league. The Eagles hold the slightest of edges over the Rams statistically, with 16 interceptions to 14, and a 77.0 opponents’ passer rating against a 77.3. Once again, the difference may come down to injuries, as Rams free safety Lamarcus Joyner is banged up with a shoulder injury. Even if he plays, Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod are head and shoulders above John Johnson III and Joyner, while the cornerbacks are comparable.

Slight advantage: Eagles

Special teams
The Rams are the rare opponent who can actually boast better special teams than the Eagles. Greg Zuerlein has been by far the best kicker in the NFL this year, and punter Johnny Hekker has been named to the Pro Bowl in three of the past four seasons. Pharoh Cooper has emerged as one of the league’s top return specialists as well, averaging 12.6 yars on punt returns and 28.7 on kickoff returns with a touchdown. Even their coverage units are superb, limiting opponents to 5.3 yards on punts and 20.9 on kicks.

Advantage: Rams

Coaching
Doug Pederson and Sean McVay are two of the brightest young head coaches in the NFL. It’s not difficult to envision a scenario where these two are meeting in the playoffs for years to come. With such limited résumés, it’s difficult to choose one or the other, so look at their respective staffs. As much credit as Jim Schwartz deserves for turning the Eagles defense around, Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is an all-timer. Phillips has taken a front with only one dominant player in Donald and assembled one of the most disruptive pass rushes in the NFL — almost entirely by his scheme.

Slight advantage: Rams

Overall
One could argue the Eagles might be the better product altogether. Of course, that’s at least partly a result of injuries. The Rams likely won’t have their complete receiving corps or secondary intact Sunday. Otherwise, things might look a little different. Even with the perceived advantages in the Eagles’ favor, the Rams can make up the difference with stellar special teams play and coaching. In other words, the comparison between these two opponents is very, very close, injuries or not. Assuming they can keep their respective teams together, it should make for a fun rivalry for years to come.

Even

More Richaun Holmes, please

More Richaun Holmes, please

Every time Sixers power forward Richaun Holmes enters a game, it seems like he makes something happen. So why does he average only 13.1 minutes?

And why is it there are many nights when Holmes never enters the game at all?

Holmes finished with a season-high 13 points and 22 minutes to go with six rebounds and two steals in a 107-104 loss to the Lakers on Thursday. And while the night ultimately ended in defeat, at one point in the fourth quarter, it looked as though the 24-year-old was going to will the Sixers to victory almost by himself.

Eleven of Holmes’ points and three of his rebounds were in the final period alone. Most of all, he gave the Sixers something they had been sorely lacking for much of the contest.

“He just gave us energy,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown postgame. “He scored, but I think the way that he scored was physical. It was emotional.”

Holmes gave the Sixers a spark that few of their players off the bench — and maybe even one or two guys in the starting lineup — can.

At 6-10/235, Holmes can rock the rim and bring the entire arena to its feet just as well as Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons. Holmes can rip down a tough rebound and create his own offense, even when defenders are hanging all over him. And he and the listed 7-foot, 250-pound Embiid demonstrated a rapport that looks like it would be almost impossible for most NBA teams to defend.

And the way the Sixers have been shooting the ball of late — not particularly well — establishing more offense from their bigs down low doesn’t seem like a bad idea.

“He and Jo were able to play well with each other,” Brown said of Holmes. “It helped with the way (the Lakers) were playing offense. We felt comfortable that there was a (defensive matchup) for him, but his bounce and his spirit really helped us.”

His bounce and his spirit, but also his ability.

Holmes is currently ceding minutes to Amir Johnson, in large part presumably because of Johnson's play on the defensive end. Nobody is saying the veteran Johnson, who has played well in spurts, shouldn’t be part of the rotation.

But the third-year player has outplayed Johnson on the offensive end. Holmes’ field-goal percentage is seven points better, his free-throw percentage is almost 30 points better — plus he’s getting to the line more — and he’s averaging 1.4 points more and 0.6 fewer turnovers in two fewer minutes per game.

Even assuming Johnson’s defensive prowess is more valuable, which is by no means a given, Holmes is going entire games without seeing the floor. Since missing the Sixers’ first eight games with an injury, Holmes has not made it off the bench six times. In fact, he’s failed to make an appearance in five of the last nine.

It’s curious because when Holmes has had an opportunity to play and gets extended minutes, good things seem to happen.

Holmes averaged 9.8 points and 5.5 rebounds in 20.9 minutes per game in 2016-17. He’s down to 5.5 and 3.8 in 13.1 this season, though that’s expected to some extent. He was coming off an injury, and there is more competition for playing time with Johnson in the fold.

The hope is over time — which is to say sooner rather than later — Brown will trust Holmes in more situations, and he starts to see more of Johnson’s minutes. The Sixers could use the energy Holmes brings, and when three-point shots aren’t falling, they could use the additional offense in the paint as well.

Holmes’ performance against the Lakers should serve as a wake-up call. He doesn’t necessarily need to be playing 20 minutes every night right now, but at the very least, Holmes should be playing every night.

LaVar Ball was pretty darn fun in Philadelphia

LaVar Ball was pretty darn fun in Philadelphia

LaVar Ball was in Philadelphia on Thursday night.

Yep, you guessed it — pure entertainment.

Ball visited the Wells Fargo Center to take in the Sixers-Lakers game. His son, Lonzo, delivered the game-winning assist in the final seconds of the Lakers' 107-104 decision over the Sixers.

Postgame was fun, to say the least, and the theatrics all started before the final buzzer actually sounded. The show commenced when Ball was spotted in his suite waving his arms and riling up fans.

Then he was found afterward in the bowels of the arena.

That was when everything happened. From talking about his feud with President Trump, to meeting Joel Embiid, to discussing cheesesteaks, to calling himself a genius, and to actually complimenting Philadelphia, Ball was his typical boisterous and jubilant self.

"People expect me to be in Philly talking about, 'I don't like Philly, I told you we were gonna beat them,'" Ball said to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Casey Feeney. "I don't got to say all that, they all good people.

"So far, Philly has got the best hospitality we've been around, but we've been to Phoenix, too, they were good."

To recap Ball's night, watch the video above and take everything in below.

Enjoy …