TLC helps Sixers strangle life out of Spurs

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TLC helps Sixers strangle life out of Spurs

No matter who's currently suiting up for the Spurs, it's a pretty damn rare thing to go into San Antonio and strangle the life out of them practically by the end of the first quarter. The Philadelphia 76ers set the tone last night by allowing the Spurs just 13 points through 12 minutes, building a double-digit lead that — remarkably — they never relinquished. They ended up giving up just 78 points to San Antonio on the night — tying the Pistons blowout a couple weeks ago for the lowest amount given up by a Sixers team this season and marking the third time in nine 2018 games that they held an opponent to 80 or fewer. 

Simply put, the Sixers' defense has been the best in the league recently. Their defensive rating has climbed to fourth in the league, and is second best behind only Boston for the 2018 calendar year — and in the past 10 days, it's been a league-leading 94.2. They're switching more, turning the ball over less (just nine times last night, their first time in single digits all season), and shutting off teams around the basket and at the three-point line, where opponents are shooting a paltry 30 percent against them this month. It's been a dominant defensive showing that's led to the Sixers starting January 7-2, and it's been absolutely beautiful to watch. 

Of course, you might notice a correlation between a Sixers player exiting the starting lineup and the Sixers' defense going into hyperdrive. When JJ Redick went down with a leg injury on Jan. 16, Sixers fans plotzed over the potential submarining of #SixersJanuary — understandable, given our seeming lack of depth on the wings and his being a lone exception to our team-wide inability to shoot from distance. Given how poorly the team had dealt with other injuries to starters over the course of the season, it seemed sure that the Sixers would have to struggle to end the month with their head above water.

But man, has the emergence of Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot made all the difference. In four 2018 games as a starter, Luwawu-Cabarrot is averaging 15 points on 53 percent shooting, and a stunning 57 percent from deep — having made more combined triples over the past seven days (15) than he had in the 55 before that (14). But the even bigger impact has been defensive: While Redick was an invaluable offensive cog for Brett Brown, on defense he lingered as a minor liability, lacking the foot speed and lateral quickness really needed to execute Brown's perimeter-switching D at the highest level. 

TLC has been awesome on that end so far, and while the Sixers' first five with Redick has been one of the best in the league — outscoring opponents by a net rating of +16.7 per 100 possessions — with TLC it's been even more potent, posting an unthinkable +37.4. That's on a relatively small sample size (still just ~44 minutes), and is bound to come down some — but wow, has this new lineup mitigated the loss of Redick in a way Sixers fans would've considered 100 percent implausible while Luwawu-Cabarrot was struggling to contribute much of anything to the rotation. 

Hopefully, Redick returns before TLC proves himself to be too overextended — we'll still need Redick down the stretch, and as well as the team's currently playing with Luwawu-Cabarrot at the two, it's unlikely to me that Brown would consider making it a permanent lineup change. But it's good to know the option is there for the Sixers, and potentially a solid one for the future, especially since Redick is a free agent after this season. Like Dario Saric thus far, TLC might just be one of the rotation guys who needs starters' minutes to really show what he can do. 

In the meantime, the Sixers ride into a Sunday night revenge showdown against OKC with a 24-21 record — good for sixth in the East, with the conference's third-best point differential, and just a game and a half separating them and home-court advantage in the playoffs — and all the momentum you could possibly want from #SixersJanuary. Who knows what February holds for this team, but right now, they're playing like the big boys of the East and there isn't all that much that seems out of the question for them in 2018.

The Process is ready for primetime

The Process is ready for primetime

Basically, you saw everything you'd want to see from Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and Joel Embiid during the Rising Stars Challenge on All-Star Friday night, as they kept doing what they've basically done all February: winning. 

Ben Simmons was electric all over the court, ending with 11 points (5-5 FG, mostly dunks), six boards, a game-high 13 assists and a team-high four steals. A still-locked-in Dario Saric was the beneficiary of a handful of those dimes, ending with 18 points (7-11 FG, 4-7 3PT), three boards and five assists. 

Joel Embiid had an underwhelming stat line in his thankfully clipped playing time (just eight minutes after sitting out Wednesday's game — we'll see him more on Sunday), ending with just five points and two boards, and not exactly displaying the defensive dominance we're accustomed to from our big man. But the five points came on back-to-back possessions in the third, where JoJo nailed a top-of-the-break three and then scored on a dunk following a Fultzian spin move to the basket, showing the range of his skills in an appropriately breathtaking (and Internet-slaying) manner. 

And of course, the Sixers — I mean, Team World — won handily, outscoring Team USA in every quarter and ultimately triumphing 155-124. Even though Sacramento's Bogdan Bogdanovic took home MVP honors on the night for his white-hot shooting night (26 points on 9-16 FG, including a handful of Steph Curry-esque extended pull-up triples), I thought Simmons was the best all-around player on the floor, another thumb in the eye of the All-Star committee that snubbed him (four times!) for the proper game on Sunday night. 

Perhaps more importantly, the Sixers' presence just dominated the game altogether. Hell, they made up 3/5 of Team World's starting lineup — no other team had more than two representatives, across both squads, though the Lakers would have were Lonzo Ball available — and in the broadcast booth, the TNT guys couldn't stop talking about Embiid all night, comparing him to Hakeem and debating whether they'd ever seen a big man of his versatility before. 

And to think, this year they'll actually be represented on Saturday and Sunday, too. Hopefully Ben and Dario get a nice, relaxing All-Star break from here — they've certainly earned it — and now, it's Embiid's spotlight. The Process is ready for primetime, baby, and longtime Trusters should make sure to enjoy this moment as much as JoJo himself undoubtedly will. 

Chris Long defends LeBron James after attack from Fox News host

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Chris Long defends LeBron James after attack from Fox News host

Chris Long is beloved by Philadelphians for much more than rocking a full-lenghth faux fur during the Eagles' Super Bowl championship parade. Most in Philly respect Long because he is one to speak his mind on whatever topic he sees fit. He's also a man of action, not just talk.

So when Fox News host Laura Ingraham attacked LeBron James and Kevin Durant for expressing their views on Donald Trump, Long stood up for his fellow athletes.

"Keep the political commentary to yourself, or as someone once said, 'shut up and dribble,'" Ingraham said.

As someone who hears "stick to sports" on a regular basis, this commentary hit close to home for the Eagles defensive end.

Long took exception and wanted to point out some of the people Ingraham's own network has on for their own political commentary. He launched into a Twitter thread pointing out some of the political experts.