The700Level

Life is so much easier with three-point shooting

usa-robert-covington-channing-frye.jpg
USA Today Images

Life is so much easier with three-point shooting

Feels like a pretty long time ago that the Sixers were shooting 40 percent from three, one of the league's best marks. The team has now slumped down to 35.7 — which in past years would still at least be decent on NBA average, but in the sharpshooting days of 2017, leaves the Ballers in the league's bottom third. When things were going right beyond the arc for Philly, they had five regulars shooting over 40 percent themselves. These days, it's down to two: T.J. McConnell, who's only shot 16 triples this season, and Robert Covington.

The Sixers nearly stole their biggest upset win of the season last night in Cleveland, and Covington was one of the biggest reasons why. Aside from playing his typical lockdown D, combining with Ben Simmons to limit LeBron James to 9-23 shooting (LeBron still posted a 30-13-13 triple-double, natch) and picking up four steals in the process, he kept Philly in this one with his shooting, hitting 5 of 7 beyond the arc. But when he dove for a loose ball with the game on the line in the fourth and ended up hurting his back, he headed to the locker room and the game slipped away from Philly — 105-98 final, in favor of the Cavs. 

Philly better hope he's back soon. After a six-game slump in late November that saw him shoot just 23 percent from deep, Cov has been back on target since the calendar flipped to December, hitting 17 of 36 over the team's four games. Rock is essential to the Sixers' lineup even when he's not hitting, but when he is, he's as dangerous a weapon as anyone on the team -- and with the Sixers in the midst of a three-game slide, and a tough Western Conference mini-swing coming up on the schedule, we need all the munitions we can manage. 

RoCo seems likely out for today's game against the Pelicans, so it'll be on the Sixers' other range-lifers to help provide space Simmons (third triple-double last night against LeBron, NBD) and a returning Joel Embiid. JJ Redick had a bounce-back half in Cleveland, finishing 4 of 9 on the night from deep, but the rest of the team struggled, going just 2 of 17 from range between them. (Dario Saric, otherwise sparkling last night, went just 1-6, including a couple late clankers that could've put the game close to out of reach for the Cavs if they'd dropped.) Philly's shot just 31 percent overall from three over their last seven games, and they've lost five of those, despite Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons being mostly brilliant. This team largely goes as their shooting goes. 

So yeah, rest that back up and come back soon, Cov. We're in danger of falling back to .500 with a loss today — which still feels a funny thing to complain about for a team that hasn't even sniffed .500 this late in the season in a half-decade, but c'mon, the Sixers are good now. Let's not let our record start to reflect otherwise.

Mask-wearing pioneer Rip Hamilton has advice for Joel Embiid

Mask-wearing pioneer Rip Hamilton has advice for Joel Embiid

Detroit Pistons star Richard Hamilton wasn't the first player to wear a mask in the NBA but sometimes it feels like he was.

Newsweek caught up with Rip this week to talk about his mask-wearing days and to see if he had any words of wisdom for Joel Embiid. Hamilton first wore a mask for breaking his nose, but he continued to wear it for the remainder of his career.

Embiid made his first playoff appearance of his career last night in Miami while rocking a new mask complete with a custom visor to protect his eyes. It was clearly bothering him but he didn't let it dictate his play.

“It was difficult,” Embiid said of the mask. “But to me it wasn’t really about getting used to it because at the end of the day, no matter how much it bothers me, I’ve still got to be a basketball player."

Hamilton has famously said that he embraced the mask to the point of it becoming his "Batman cape" which allowed him to be more aggresive.

"Over a period of time I started to get used to it. As basketball players, a lot of times you go to the basket and it’s a lot of elbows being thrown, guys are getting poked in the eye," he told Newsweek this week. "You tend to clench up because you don’t want to get hit in the face. Once I started wearing that mask I wasn’t clenching up no more. I was willing to take contact more. I was able to get to the free throw line more because now I’m not scared of getting hit in the face. It kind of made me into a more aggressive and better basketball player."

Hamilton's message to Embiid prior to the series?

"Embrace it. Make it cool. Make it fun. Make it like a prop. Don’t get caught up in saying like, 'I got a piece of plastic on my face. I’m worrying about how I look, I’m worrying about my perception when I shoot.' When you’re out there in, like, shooting drills, don’t be so caught up in putting the mask on and trying to worry about how you shoot with it on. Put it on in the game and just wear it because our game is a non-thinking sport. React. You gotta read and react as quick as possible. The less thinking you do, the better you’ll be."

Rip also took notice of Embiid's frustration with the mask following the game. He encouraged Jo that it only gets easier.

I’ve thrown my mask off numerous times lil bro @joelembiid ...It will get more comfortable game by game ..Trust The Process. #MaskOnMaskOff#YouGotTheJuiceNow #Holdat #Yessir#Mask #TnT #nba #nbaplayoffs #sixers#sixersvsheat #LoveThisGame

Eagles players with the most to gain at OTAs — S Tre Sullivan

ap-tre-sullivan-eagles.jpg
AP Images

Eagles players with the most to gain at OTAs — S Tre Sullivan

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.

There isn’t an unheralded prospect in better position to climb the Eagles’ depth chart this spring than Tre Sullivan.

Never mind the fact that vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas just got done lauding Sullivan’s performance in a pre-draft interview on Thursday. The 24-year-old also happens to be one of only four safeties on the Eagles roster for the time being, creating a huge opportunity for an undrafted free agent from Shepherd College.

Competition will come soon enough, as safety is an obvious target for the Eagles in the upcoming draft. Even then, Sullivan could find himself in the mix for a big role with a good spring.

Last season, Corey Graham was the Eagles’ third safety behind Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. Graham, a free agent departure, wound up playing nearly 40 percent of the team’s snaps.

This isn’t merely a backup job. There’s serious playing time at stake – and Sullivan can get a jump on the competition.

Sullivan made a name for himself in last year’s preseason opener against the Packers with a vicious hit on wide receiver Malachi Dupre. It was a scary moment, as Dupre was knocked out by the collision, but also a clean play and an example of the defensive back’s physicality.

Sullivan forced a fumble on the hit and finished with four tackles. He would go on to acquit himself well in three other preseason games, eventually landing on the Eagles’ practice squad.

Listed at 6-foot-0, 200 pounds, Sullivan is a relatively average size for a safety, but plays downhill and hits like a truck.

The Eagles liked the instincts and aggressiveness they saw on the field. Now, Sullivan has a chance to work out and learn from coaches in an environment where there really aren’t any other young players right now and he can be the focus of a lot of attention. Phases one and two of OTAs and the two weeks before the draft in particular could be a pivotal period.

If Sullivan impresses during these early stages, it could go a long way toward solidifying his place with the team.

Even if Sullivan is bested for the third safety spot, he could still wind up on the 53-man roster. The Eagles may opt to carry five since Chris Maragos primarily plays on special teams.

Sullivan will likely enter training camp as a player who’s considered to be on the bubble, and what he does when the pads go on will be most important. However, if he showed up and really nailed these workouts, that could go a long way toward how the team views him heading into this summer.