Sixers fans deserved a blowout win

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Sixers fans deserved a blowout win

Nearly halfway through the NBA season, we finally got it: the win easy enough to (almost) make up for all the hard ones. The Philadelphia 76ers got out to an early lead against the Detroit Pistons in the first quarter, which grew to a sizable lead in the second, which ballooned to blowout proportions in the third, which stayed as such during a fourth quarter in which the Sixers' stars didn't play a second.

Final score: Sixers 114, Pistons 78. How sweet it is. 

And the best part? Well, the best part of owning the Pistons by 36 is always just owning the Pistons by 36 — any more of a beating and we'd require a guest solo from Eddie Van Halen at halftime — but the second-best part was that all of the starters played well. 

J.J. Redick continued his hot streak, scoring 21 on just 11 shots, with a team-high +34 for the night. Robert Covington shook off a shaky start to hit three big second-half threes to ensure that this one would be a laugher in the fourth. Dario Saric had a casually effective 11-6-3, with another solid night from deep (2 of 4). And Joel Embiid, playing against old foe Andre Drummond, anchored an ironclad Sixers D in the first half, and put up 23 and nine in just 25 minutes — seemingly scoring at will at the end of the third, just so he could be sure to get his numbers before an inevitably inactive fourth. 

But the story from this one was, of course, Ben Simmons. The Fresh Prince was dominant early in this one, hitting his first five shots on a variety of creative and aggressive moves, not exactly hitting or even testing jumpers, but expanding his repertoire to include the little push shots, floaters and bankers that Simmons needs in his arsenal to be an effective scorer without a proper working jump shot. His offensive forcefulness also opened passing opportunities that had been largely closed to him in recent games, ending with 19 and nine on 9 of 13 shooting, with a pair of blocks and steals each. It's been a while since we'd seen Ben look as intimidating as he did in the season's first month, but with the point guard averaging a 22-6-6-3-2 on 57 percent shooting over his last three, Scary Simmons appears to have returned.

And look man, we were owed a game like this. We haven't gotten a win that could accurately be described as "comfortable" since Thanksgiving. The Sixers aren't the Warriors, but they aren't go-months-without-relaxing bad, either. Eventually the Ballers were gonna break loose for a win that was never in doubt, and finally on Friday, we got to close this one out with Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, James Michael McAdoo and Justin Anderson (welcome back!) hoisting triples. About friggin’ time. 

So the Sixers have won four in a row, battled back to .500, and are finally back in the playoff picture, sitting at eighth in the East with their 19-19 record. What do they earn for their achievement? Five days of rest and a ticket to London, where they'll play the Celtics next Thursday afternoon. 

Maybe not the best timing for the suddenly gelling Sixers to go most of a week without playing, but five days off to rest Joel's aching limbs — and give Markelle Fultz the practice reps to hopefully get him back in the fold shortly after the team's return Stateside — won't be the worst thing. The Sixers have righted the ship on their seemingly adrift season, but the waters stay rocky from here, with four straight against the cream of the East: Boston (twice), Toronto and Milwaukee. Then again, this is Sixers January — the month of utmost Process invincibility — so perhaps it's the rest of the East that should be fearful at the moment. 

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

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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.