Is everything OK with Joel Embiid?

Is everything OK with Joel Embiid?

The Philadelphia 76ers' trouncing last night at the hands of the Golden State Warriors certainly wasn't all on Joel Embiid. After all, the game got out of hand with him on the bench: What was a tight 72-71 game when he sat with 7:44 to go in the third became a 94-78 Golden State runaway by the time he returned at the 2:36 mark. But JoJo failed to stem the tide, as the Warriors' lead ballooned until his early 4th-quarter exit, from which he didn't return. His final stat line was arguably his worst as a Sixer - 12 points and seven boards on 4 of 11 shooting, with seven turnovers in 25 minutes. 

Against a not particularly formidable front line -- Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee, occasionally Draymond Green -- Embiid was largely bottled up all night, unable to get to his spots in the paint or make the Warriors pay for clogging the inside with his mid-range jumper. He made some good reads on the Warriors' double teams early, but failed to impose his will on them when they left him in single coverage. More concerning, though, was his late-game defense. As things were slipping away in the third, JoJo further killed the Sixers on a couple plays by being a step late and out of position, forcing rotations that left a wide-open Warriors shooter or gave up a clean look at the basket. Green even essentially blew by Embiid for a layup at one point, which should really never happen. 

It never doesn't sound ungrateful to grouse about anything JoJo-related, since even at his worst, he's special; per-36-minute averages of 26-14-4 on nearly 50 percent shooting for a player who doesn't seem to have even gotten into his groove yet remains absolutely remarkable. Yet there's a nagging feeling with Embiid this season that he's not quite all there yet -- there's a little explosiveness, a little poetry-in-motion, a little magic missing. He's played well, at times exceptionally so, but it doesn't feel like he's dominated, as least not as us suddenly spoiled Sixers fans have come to expect from The Process. 

The lag is most noticeable on defense. He rarely goes a game without a highlight -- he had a beautiful chasedown block on Klay Thompson in the second quarter last night -- but in the half-court, he seems encumbered, still a game-changer, but not quite a force of nature. He occasionally seems beaten by ball movement, unable to get his body to respond quite quick enough to be two places at once, as he so often was last year. I think back to that preseason possession of him defending John Wall on the perimeter last season, agile and intuitive enough to stay with the lightning-quick point guard. It's a little hard to picture Year 2 Joel Embiid making a stand like that.

On offense, he also seems uncharacteristically limited. Too many of his post-ups end in either a tough running hook shot or a turnover, and the three-point shot that made him seem so fully weaponized last season has eluded him thus far in his sophomore campaign as he's just 7 for 29 in total from deep. It seems like he should be able to back down and/or power through most defenders with relative ease, but few matchups this year has he owned to a comical extent, and despite his stated plan to "live at the foul line" this year, he's actually getting there far less frequently -- 6.8 times per 36 minutes, down from 11.2 last year. 

The question, of course, is if Embiid's seemingly diminished voodoo is as a combined result of a greater workload and a missed offseason, or of just one too many knee surgeries. The argument for the former probably remains the more compelling one: JoJo has stated himself that his conditioning is not where it should be after essentially missing nine months of action. The fact that he's dressing almost every night now (10 games out of a possible 12, after only appearing in eight of the Sixers' first 12 last season) and sometimes playing increased minutes (twice over 30 minutes, after never going over 27 early in his rookie year) may represent more of an ask of Embiid than we realized at this point in his ongoing recovery. 

Still, the solution doesn't necessarily seem to be more rest. Including the Jazz game he sat, he went six days in between outings before the Sacramento game on Thursday, in which he also labored somewhat. It may be a matter of off-court fitness work, and/or playing himself into game shape, but whatever it is, you just hope you see the improvement soon. The longer Joel goes without looking like his world-swallowing best self, the harder it is not to wonder when or if that guy is coming back. 

A healthy, effective Markelle Fultz might also help. One of the reasons Embiid is posting up so much these days is because he and Ben Simmons haven't really worked out reliable pick-and-roll chemistry yet -- which will be tough for them anyway, considering that defenders know both of them want to go to the basket pretty much all the time at the moment. Fultz, assuming he starts shooting right again, would make things less predictable, and hopefully serve as a more complementary pick-and-roll partner for The Process. 

And I certainly didn't expect to be saying this at this point in the season, but I also want to see Embiid start shooting threes more often again. A slow shooting start to the season appears to have dampened his confidence from deep, leading to him looking hesitant to shoot even wide-open triples. Re-establishing his long-range shot -- and, with it, the pump-fake-and-drive that defenders have now learned not to bite on -- could also really open things up for JoJo and the rest of the team, and also get him a little bit of his swagger back. Not saying he should get a Robert Covington-like green light, but I want to see him get his comfort level behind the arc back to the point where he's stepping into triples he does take with RoCo-like confidence, at the least. 

Of course, this is all largely an overreaction to one subpar game from The Process against the best team in the league, no less. It's not like he hasn't looked brilliant at points his season -- 30 points on 15 shots against the Pistons left Detroit feeling fairly owned a couple weeks ago. It's possible he hangs 33 and 15 on the Clippers on Monday night and makes this entire discussion moot, and I certainly hope he does. As much as things have seemingly gone right for the Sixers this season -- Fultz and Okafor nonsense notwithstanding -- it's still all about Embiid, first and foremost. I'd rather have the Sixers lose the next five and have Embiid back to full fire-breathing status than have tem win the next five with Embiid looking like he hasn't completely finished buffering yet. 

Processing Sixers' tasty new concession food … the meat pie

Christina Betz | NBC Sports Philadelphia

Processing Sixers' tasty new concession food … the meat pie

The Sixers on Wednesday sent over a box of Four’N Twenty Australian beef pies to promote The Center's newest concession food. The meat pies are in homage to future Hall of Famer, Ben Simmons, who hails from the Land Down Under and was the driving force for helping the team sign its first international sponsor.

These magnificent meat pies will be available at home games beginning Wednesday. 

Naturally, I was intrigued to try the foreign (and free) food. A little research on the brand gave me the advice to "tuck in to a classic," which I gladly agreed to.

The packaging recommended an oven, but without access to one at work, and hunger too great to wait for the toaster oven, I went straight for the four and a half minutes in the microwave.

Three and half minutes later (our microwave is one of the industrial super-strong ones), I had this waiting for me:

Armed with just a plastic fork and knife, I decided to dive in and give "THE GREAT AUSTRALIAN TASTE" a try.

First impression?

The pastry was way crispier than I thought was achievable from a microwave. Like this was some "bake in the oven at 350 for 10 minutes" crispiness. I was having some serious issues cutting through with my plastic knife.

Once I managed to split it open, I was rewarded with a steaming pastry filled with a dark brown meat stuffing.

After that initial cut, things took a little turn for the worse.

I was forced to use my hands to break and eat the rest of it following several unsuccessful attempts to cut bite-sized pieces with the tools I had.

The pie was … really tasty. The meat filling was just a delicious ground beef mixture, with no weird spices or flavors, and the pastry was perfectly flaky and crispy. I could definitely see myself wanting this again when I’m craving a comfort food or want to eat a classier hamburger.

My main issue with the meat pie lies within the actual feasibility of eating it during a game. I had some serious struggles while I was sitting at a desk, with a plate and at least semi-useful utensils. I can’t really imagine eating a pie in a stadium seat between two rabid Processors.

My top-5 Australian exports
1. Ben Simmons
2. Hugh Jackman
3. Nicole Kidman
4. Walkabouts
5. Boxed Wine
10. Brett Brown's accent
11. Meat pies

Final thought: This meat pie is a really solid, albeit, strange new food for a sporting event. I can only really see its success playing out in two ways: A lot of greasy, meaty high fives or a messier version of the Flyers' bracelet debacle if the Sixers drop another game in which they led by 24 points.

Eagles can put up points in scary-quick fashion

Eagles can put up points in scary-quick fashion

When the Eagles went into the locker room Sunday night for halftime at AT&T Stadium, they were trailing the Cowboys, 9-7. After Nigel Bradham returned a fumble for a touchdown with 10:43 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Eagles led 37-9.

An eight-play, 75-yard drive ending with a Corey Clement touchdown run and a two-point conversion took 4:04 off the clock. A five-play, 90-yard series capped by a Torrey Smith touchdown grab and two to Alshon Jeffery took 2:28. An 11-play, 85-yard march finished with six to Jeffery in 5:48. Obviously, Bradham’s score lasted only seconds.

In a matter of 20 minutes, the Eagles had scored 30 points. And it wasn’t the first time this team has put points on the board in bunches.

Against the Broncos two weeks ago, the Eagles racked up 31 points in the span of about 24 minutes in the first half. The previous game, they posted 17 over a period of fewer than 12 minutes in the second and third quarters to pull away from the 49ers. And one week earlier, the Eagles went from down 10-3 to up 24-10 on the Redskins with three touchdown drives in 13 minutes during quarters two and three.

That’s just the last four games. The Eagles have shown the ability to light up the scoreboard quickly just about every week this season.

Thirteen points in under 15 minutes against the Panthers. Twenty-one points in the first quarter alone on the Cardinals. Thirteen points in the final seven minutes to come from behind and beat the Giants.

The Eagles don’t just score a lot. They do score a lot, of course — their 320 points leads the NFL.

The Eagles score a lot, and they often pour it on when they do, in a manner that demoralizes opponents. Once that wound is picked open, it can take a whole quarter to stop the bleeding. Lately, it’s been the better part of a half of football.

It’s not as if teams are responding, matching scoring drives or going point for point with the Eagles, either. Once the floodgates open, opponents are often facing an insurmountable deficit after the devastation.

The offense is moving the ball, but the defense is creating turnovers and getting off the field, too, occasionally even finding the end zone themselves. The Eagles have three defensive touchdowns on the season, and their 20 takeaways are good for third in the NFL.

What does it all mean? The Eagles are 9-1, best record in the league, and quarterback Carson Wentz is the frontrunner to win the Most Valuable Player award. They have the No. 1 run defense in the league, rank first in point differential and second in turnover differential. At this point, it’s no secret this is one of the best teams in the game.

But should the Eagles ever find themselves in a position where they’re behind late — something that hasn’t happened in going on months – you know they’re not out of it. Even if they’re trailing by three possessions in the fourth quarter, the defense can get some holds, and Wentz can get 21 points in a hurry. He’s done it before.

And if the Eagles aren’t trailing, and they go on a huge run, you know the tides have likely changed for good.

Recently, it hasn’t been a question of “if” at all, but “when” the Eagles start scoring in bunches. The Eagles are averaging just short of 34 points during their eight-game winning streak, and have finished with no fewer than 26 during that stretch.

It doesn’t always happen right out of the gate, but the Eagles keep on scoring in droves.