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Sixers fans have earned a loud cackle at the Lakers' expense

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USA Today Images

Sixers fans have earned a loud cackle at the Lakers' expense

Though the methods of their rebuild process have received far less scrutiny than those of the Sixers, it's worth remembering that the Los Angeles Lakers have been bottoming out for nearly as long. The last time the Sixers made the playoffs was 2012, the Lakers last made it in 2013, their last chances of contention having limped away weeks earlier, along with Kobe's busted Achilles. In 2014, the Lakers drafted seventh while the Sixers picked third, and the three years after that, L.A. has picked second. 

The third time, L.A. jumped all the way from No. 6 in the lottery standings -- due to an unexpected late surge of Ws at season's end, after coach Luke Walton had already sent multiple vets home for the holidays -- to No. 2. Afterwards, Walton offered, "I've always believed that things work out the way they're supposed to. and we decided to play the end of the season to try to win ball games and not go into tank mode, and the Basketball Gods shined down on us for that today." This was a half-callback to earlier in the season, when Walton previously referenced the Basketball Gods and their distaste for tanking, explaining, "Philly's been there for a while. They look like they're doing pretty well right now but they're still a long way from being a true contender. I would prefer not to be stuck in the lottery for very long."

The Sixers entered this week 19-19, in line for the eighth seed of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Lakers started it 12-27, on pace to earn a fourth consecutive No. 2 overall pick at this June's draft. 

For the second straight season, Los Angeles got off to a promising-enough start -- beginning the season 8-10 with one of the league's best defenses and one of the season's most productive rookies (though not the one they picked with this year's second pick) -- and then completely fell apart. While the Sixers were fumbling their way to a 5-10 December, the Lakers went 3-11, then proceeded to lose their first three games of the New Year. They've since amassed Ws against the lowly Hawks and Kings, but despite already picking in the top ten four straight years, it certainly doesn't look like Walton's crew has any chance of getting unstuck from the lottery this year. 

It might be a couple years for them still. The Lakers have a stock of legitimately promising young players -- rookie forward Kyle Kuzma, second-year swingman Brandon Ingram, even lightning-rod point guard Lonzo Ball -- but no prospect yet on the obviously game-changing two-way level of Joel Embiid, or even Ben Simmons. They hoped to be a landing spot for LeBron James this summer, but the Lakers' on-court ineptitude has blocked them from being a legitimate player in free agency for a half-decade now, and it's hard to see The King jumping to a team still nowhere near sniffing .500 this late in his career. Other free agents like Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins may or may not be easier sells, but even if so, they're not the sort of players that fix flailing franchises overnight. 

Not to mention the media circus the Lakers are currently engulfed in, surrounding a dude not even directly involved with the team. LaVar Ball caused a press firestorm over the weekend by opining to Jeff Goodman of ESPN that Walton had "lost the team" and that his son Lonzo needed a different coach to help him realize his potential. The rest of the NBA may not be as engaged with the story, but they're likely at least slightly annoyed by its pervasiveness, and the idea of being tethered to LaVar as a part of the Lakers' future probably lurks as a real factor at this point for anyone thinking of joining L.A. in the offseason -- especially while his son continues to put up historically lousy shooting numbers and maybe not even prove worth all the trouble. 

This is all to say: The Basketball Gods do not appear to be smiling on the Los Angeles Lakers thusfar in the 2017-'18 season. And of course, I haven't even gotten to the best part of all of it: The Lakers don't even have their pick this year. It belongs to the Sixers. 

For now, anyway. Due to the Markelle Fultz pickswap trade with Boston over the summer, we give the Celtics the Lakers pick if it falls between 2-5 this season, otherwise we give them the Kings pick we got from the original pickswap deal years ago next year (unless it falls No. 1, in which case we give them our own pick). After their win against Sacramento last night, the Lakers currently sit at No. 4 in the Tanking Rankings, tied with Sacramento -- if they ended the season at No. 4, they'd have about a 29% chance of handing over the No. 6 pick to Philly, with a 12% chance of giving us the No. 1. 

There's been some debate about what the best-case scenario is for Philly of how the Lakers should end the season -- whether we're better off with L.A. winning enough to slide to No. 6 or 7, or basically losing out. I'm with Derek Bodner of the Athletic that I'd rather just have the Lakers lose as much as possible, ending up with as much as a 25 percent of handing us the No. 1 pick (under the last year of the old lottery odds, before reform flattens the possibility a little), though no chance of getting it below five. 

I think that's fine: Getting the highest odds at the game-changing No. 1 pick and taking our chances next year with an unprotected Kings pick seems higher-upside than grabbing the No. 7 pick this year and potentially hand over a top-three choice to the Celts next year. There's basically no reason to think the Kings won't just be bad forever, so I have no problem riding with them in 2019. Meanwhile, we get to continue rooting for the Lakers to lose outright, to enjoy every slip of public dysfunction, every clanked Lonzo Ball three, every sports pundit who claimed LeBron-to-L.A. as a done deal now backpedaling on their words. 

Which isn't to say the Sixers have been drama- or embarrassment-free in the '17-'18 season by any means themselves -- there are certainly a handful of teams who would be at least slightly within their rights to be cackling at us right now. But hey, we're .500, we've got a reasonable chance of postseason ball, we've got at least two of the best young players in the league, and we've got every reason to be optimistic about the immediate and near-future -- none of which the Lakers could confidently say about themselves. 

So yeah -- while the Sixers wrap up their five-day layover in between games and continents, make sure to take a second to let loose a resounding, throaty, ha-HAH! at Luke Walton and the Lakers' expense. It's what the basketball gods would want. 

Bud Light made a special "Dilly, Dilly!" commercial for Philly

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Bud Light made a special "Dilly, Dilly!" commercial for Philly

Oh, you thought we here in Philadelphia were special? You thought Bud Light liked Eagles fans more than they liked Vikings fans?

Wrong.

Bud Light likes fans who purchase their beer.

But yes, Bud Light did make a special little promo for Eagles fans playing off their "Dilly, Dilly!" campaign that for some strange reason many people seem to like. And get this, it uses "Philly, Philly!"

Because it rhymes.

You can watch that right here and the three other spots they made for the Viking, Patriots, and Jaguars below. The Patriots' one is probably the best.

Eagles:

Vikings:

Patriots:

Jaguars:

 

Loose Nick Foles is the best Nick Foles

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USA Today Images

Loose Nick Foles is the best Nick Foles

Take a look at that smile. That might’ve been the first smile Nick Foles cracked on a football field since the Eagles offense was moving up and down the field on the Giants in mid-December.

That smile may have been the turning point for the Eagles’ season – right after Foles threw what should have been a backbreaking interception, one that would’ve been the beginning of the end.

Foles’ struggles heading into the playoffs were well documented. Obsessed over, in fact. And the backup quarterback was off to another mediocre start in the Eagles’ divisional round game against the Falcons. After completing 46.9 percent of his passes for 4.1 yards per attempt with one touchdowns and two interceptions in the final two regular season games, Foles started 9 of 12 for a meager 66 yards.

The numbers didn’t quite capture how ineffective he looked. Two-thirds of the offensive production to that point had come from running backs or running the football. Worst of all, his team was losing.

Then, in the second quarter, another Foles pass sailed over the head of its intended target, as was becoming the norm, this time into the waiting arms of Falcons safety Keanu Neal. A pick likely would’ve put Atlanta in scoring range, possibly been returned for a touchdown. Either result would’ve been devastating.

Neal didn’t come down with the errant throw. The ball bounced off the defender’s knee, deflected back toward the line of scrimmage, some 10 yards through the air, into the hands of an alert Torrey Smith. The Eagles wideout turned a botched turnover into a 20-yard gain, which helped set up a field goal two plays later to cut the Falcons’ lead to one.

The points seemed big at the time. Vastly more important was the impact the play seemingly had on Foles.

For weeks, Foles was held under the microscope. First, his overall competency was the issue, which wasn’t unusual of a journeyman replacing an MVP-caliber signal caller on a team with Super Bowl aspirations. As Foles struggled, his confidence was questioned, and the concern became whether the pressure of the situation getting to him was a larger problem than his ability.

How much validity there was to the latter idea, we’ll never know. There were plenty of built-in excuses for Foles’ earlier performances. He didn’t have much work with the first-team offense. Game plans and practices were dialed back the final two weeks of the regular season. The elements – particularly strong winds – had been a factor for all quarterbacks at Lincoln Financial Field.

All we can say for certain, anecdotally, is Foles looked like a different player after Smith came up with that haphazard pass. The sixth-year veteran was 10 for 13 for 86 yards, including the near-interception, and led one scoring drive on his first four possessions. The rest of the game, he was 13 of 17 for 160 yards, with three scoring drives out of four possessions.

As disastrous as that play could’ve been, maybe it loosened Foles up. I mean, it was legitimately funny, as long as you weren’t so angry by the way things were transpiring for the Eagles, you could allow yourself to have a sense of humor about it. Maybe when the weight of the world felt like it was on his shoulders, he needed a good laugh.

A turnover there would've been hard to come back from, both in terms of Foles' mindset and on the scoreboard. Instead, the Immaculate Reception-like play had a reverse effect.

Foles finally loosened up, and loose Nick Foles is the best kind of Nick Foles. Look no further than 2013, the infamous 27-2 season that occurred when nobody expected him to be the Eagles’ starter, let alone decent. Compare that to 2014 and ’15, when the teams he was a part of were bad, but the expectations were rising with his profile.

By the end of his second career playoff game, he looked like he was having fun and ready to let the ball fly. That’s exactly the version of Foles the Eagles are going to need in the NFC Championship against the Vikings on Sunday.

Fans can only hope that version of Foles is here to stay, at least for one more week.