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Everyone is to blame for Sixers' loss in Portland

Everyone is to blame for Sixers' loss in Portland

Well, Christmas is over. The Sixers seemed to have turned a corner of some sort against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, holding on in a tight one to emerge with a road victory, but they returned to their old ways in Portland, building leads back up only to have 'em topple down the stretch. More than even the bad Sixers teams of recent years, once this team starts to let the game slip away, the points just start gushing out until the team capsizes altogether. So an 18-point lead late in the third turned into a ten-point deficit a quarter later, and an eventual four-point loss to a Blazers team missing Damian Lillard.  

We don't have enough fingers to point them at all the people responsible. I guess we can start with the refs, since they essentially built an electric fence around Blazers point guard Shabazz Napier and allowed Jusuf Nurkic free reign to manhandle Joel Embiid once Nurk picked up his fifth foul early in the fourth. Portland ending the game shooting 47 free throws (!!!) to Philly's 14, and the most pivotal two for PDX were probably on an absurd flagrant that Embiid was assessed in the fourth on a light shove of his new big-man nemesis. (Nurkic missed both, but Philly's momentum had been officially sapped.) 

And then of course, there's Brett Brown, who continues to play Embiid too many minutes while playing Richaun Holmes zero, and who seems unable to know what levers to pull when the Sixers fall into total late-game disassembly — possibly because no such levers exist. I don't think Brett's mostly to blame here, but the more games like this the Sixers lose — against a middling opponent down their best player, with a big lead late — it's gonna get harder and harder to protect him.

Then there's, you know, the players. Though the final box score line isn't nasty — 29 and 9, with a career-high six threes — this was one of Embiid's weaker games on the season, as he failed to find his groove in the post and was beaten too often by the Blazers' interior passing. I don't mind JoJo shooting threes when that's what he's given, but I don't quite understand why he was perched behind the arc for so much of his game, and it seemed to affect his rhythm late. (Though again, Nurkic's seeming diplomatic immunity in the fourth was also a factor.) 

Everyone else was a letdown late. J.J. Redick hit big shots for three quarters and dissolved in the fourth. Ben Simmons missed a bunch of looks around the rim. T.J. McConnell missed all three of his open looks from deep. Robert Covington left halfway through with a finger injury, which may have ended up a huge factor in this one as the Blazers' perimeter guys went wild in the late third and early fourth. Dario Saric was close to perfect for 47 minutes — 25 points on 10-12 shooting, making up for his Knicks brickiness in spectacular fashion — but then sealed the Sixers' fate on a thoughtless out-of-bounds violation with ten seconds to go. No one was innocent last night. 

So, back to four games under .500, with a bunch of road games still to go, most of which will be harder this one. It might still be too early to talk about any games as must-wins for these Sixers, but at the very least, we're gonna have to have some must-not-blow-in-spectacular-fashions. This one's gonna be tough to get over before 2018.

Our first glimpse of Brian Dawkins’ Hall of Fame bust

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Our first glimpse of Brian Dawkins’ Hall of Fame bust

It won’t be long until Eagles fans turn Canton, Ohio, into a sea of green this summer. 

That’s when Eagles all-time great and fan favorite Brian Dawkins will be officially enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Class of 2018 also includes Terrell Owens, Ray Lewis, Randy Moss and Brian Urlacher. 

Here’s our first look at Dawkins’ bust, which will eventually find a permanent home in Canton. 

 

The 2018 class will be enshrined on Aug. 4 in Canton at 7 p.m. Dawkins previously announced that his teammate Troy Vincent will present him for the Hall of Fame. 

While players don’t go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of a specific team, Dawkins spent the majority of his career with the Eagles and is arguably the most popular Eagle of all time after making seven of his nine Pro Bowl appearances with the Birds. He now works in the Eagles’ scouting department. 

It won’t be long before the finished bust is presented to the football world. 

Don't write off Eagles RB Donnel Pumphrey quite yet

Don't write off Eagles RB Donnel Pumphrey quite yet

The Eagles don’t hit the practice field as a team for another five weeks, yet each year coaches point to players who distinguish themselves during the months of April and May. These are the players with the most to gain in phases one and two of OTAs.

Before he ever suited up in an Eagles uniform, Donnel Pumphrey had his fair share of doubters. Measuring 5-foot-8, 176 pounds and able to perform just five reps in the bench press at last year’s scouting combine, many questioned whether a running back with such a slight build could survive in the NFL.

Preseason football certainly didn’t convince anybody otherwise. To the contrary, games raised even more concerns.

Despite becoming the all-time NCAA Division I FBS leader in rushing yards at San Diego State, Pumphrey appeared to lack any quickness or burst whatsoever. He was completely ineffective carrying the football for the Eagles, averaging 1.9 yards per attempt, and fared only marginally better as a receiver out of the backfield and return specialist.

The Eagles were undoubtedly tempted to cut their losses and release the fourth-round draft pick out of training camp. Instead, Pumphrey cracked the 53-man roster, then landed on injured reserve with a “torn hamstring” a short time later, resulting in a much-needed redshirt year.

It would be easy to write Pumphrey off after all of that, and many people have. Sure, he had an incredible college career, but the Mountain West Conference and the NFL are two different worlds.

Yet, there’s reason for the Eagles to hold out some hope for Pumphrey, whose redemption tour began Monday at OTAs.

This is the period of the offseason where Pumphrey can show coaches he’s bigger, stronger, faster than when he arrived. All the 23-year-old has been doing since September 2017, besides rehabbing from an injury, we’re told, is working out. Some improvement from a purely physical standpoint should be evident.

If Pumphrey has taken the necessary leaps, his rapid ascent up the Eagles’ depth chart is possible.

Only Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement have their roster spots set in stone, and the former is on the final year of his contract. Wendell Smallwood spent the latter half of last season on the inactive list. Darren Sproles could be re-signed, but is currently a free agent. The Eagles will likely select another running back in the draft next week, but Pumphrey can still carve out a role in 2018 or beyond.

It’s not outrageous to envision Pumphrey filling a Sproles-like role – a running back/receiver hybrid who plays situationally.

Keep in mind, Pumphrey did have a legitimate hamstring injury last summer that caused him to miss time in training camp. Not a lot of work was lost, but it’s unclear how that impacted his preseason performance. It at least might explain the seeming lack of athleticism, and was perhaps related to his IR trip.

Pumphrey’s size is another story, and may always be an issue. Then again, he wouldn't be the first person of small stature to carve out a niche in the NFL, or the last.

That isn’t going away anytime soon. However, if Pumphrey arrived at OTAs with a little more meat on his bones and a little more bounce to his step, he has the potential to turn some heads over the next few weeks.

Then, who knows. Maybe he’ll be in a position to compete for a roster spot come camp.