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Trust the result: Sixers win (I think?) in Dallas

Trust the result: Sixers win (I think?) in Dallas

If you're still waiting for them to blow another whistle to put the Dallas Mavericks back on the free-throw line — with another chance to tie the Sixers last night, send the game into overtime and ultimately steal the win — I certainly don't blame you. It had all the makings of another calamitous Sixers loss on Saturday, as they led by five in the final minute, but Mavericks guard Yogi Ferrell still went to the line with Dallas down two and 0.2 seconds to go. In a rare super-break for Philly, however, Ferrell bricked the first FT, and then his intentional miss of the second was batted harmlessly away as time expired. Final score, deep breath: Sixers 112, Mavs 110. 

Hard to know how to feel about this one. On the one hand, we got the 'W', with our two best players excelling. Ben Simmons was again brilliant in the casual manner of a 10-year vet. It didn't even seem like he was playing that well, yet he still ended with a 23-7-8 night on 10-15 shooting with three steals and just a single turnover. Joel Embiid was much less efficient and much more difficult to watch at times, and despite some hilarious early abuse of former teammate Nerlens Noel, there were stretches where he just couldn't seem to get anything going against an undersized Mavs frontcourt. But he still ended with a 23-9-4, and the biggest bucket of the game down the stretch. And now we've got multiple wins, both on the road, before even getting to November — how many years would we have absolutely killed to go 2-4 in our first six? 

But, hard not to ask: How many times are we gonna have to go through this late-game absurdity, really? This moral loss wasn't quite as much on the Sixers as the actual-loss against the Rockets on Wednesday, with Harrison Barnes nailing a pair of preoposterous threes late for the Mavs that made the final minute much more interesting than it should have been. Still, we left the door open. T.J. McConnell, again an inspiration for most of this one (15 points and eight assists!), missed an open three with 82 seconds left, and then bungled the ensuing possession by passing up another open three and coughing the ball up. More irritatingly, Jerryd Bayless went to the line with six seconds to go and the chance to at least make it a three-point lead, and missed one of two, almost begging the Mavs to make this a Halloween-style haunting for Philly. It's getting old. 

BTW, quick word on Bayless: Gives me no joy to say this, but I think he's officially my least favorite Sixer of the post-Process era. Basketball-Reference claims he's shooting 47 percent from three for us this season — with multiple made threes in each of the six games thus far — so I suppose he's technically doing his job. But he's definitely a Hollis Thompson-type shooter, where it feels like he always makes early but misses late, and he consistently gets the easiest looks on the team, but you never think it's going down when it leaves his hands. That's probably unfair to Jerryd, but it doesn't help that he's a zero on D, and also always seems to make one absolutely boneheaded and/or game-killing play per fourth quarter. I could not have been less confident when he went to the line with six seconds left last night. 

But while we're speaking of late-game Sixers catastrophes, have to at least mention the one thing that did go right: Embiid's bucket with 15 seconds left to put the 76ers up four and (seemingly) ice the game for Philly was a really big moment for him. JoJo has been a majorly unreliable late-game option for Philly for most of his brief NBA career thus far, with a tendency to get stuck in traffic and either strangle the possession or turn the ball over. But for this set he was calm, decisive and efficient, dribbling his man down in the paint, protecting the ball, and spinning towards the basket for an easy layup before help could even properly arrive. Very encouraging, and something you hope we'll see a lot more of from The Process in the weeks and months to come. 

Anyway, if all losses end up looking the same in the standings for the Sixers, I guess all wins have to as well. Reliably winning the games they should, against subpar teams like the Mavs — even on the road, with JJ Redick out with back tightness — is a major step for Philly, and they're 2-for-2 so far. Frustrating that they're not at least 3-3 overall, and with another game against the Rockets coming before we leave Texas, it may be a little while before we climb to .500 still. But as long as the team stays mostly healthy and consistently escapes with more points than the other team when they outplay a lesser team, we should have the opportunity to get our head above water before long.

Did the Sixers Really Win That Game II: The Portis vs. The Process

Did the Sixers Really Win That Game II: The Portis vs. The Process

Geez, if you only watched the ends of the last two Philadelphia 76ers games, you'd think they were owed years' worth of good karma from getting perpetually screwed in the fourth quarter or something. That's right, the basketball gods may have finally approved the Sixers' line of credit: One game (and eight days) after Brett Brown's squad came back from 20-plus down to squeak one past the Miami Heat, the team again pulled out a miracle last night in Chicago, coming from five down in the final minute against the Bulls to win 116-115. 

And boy, did this one feel like a loss, too. After surging out to a 25-7 lead in the first, the Sixers quickly relinquished the majority of their lead to the Bulls, who pulled even in the third and kept the Sixers from ever running away with it. They hit an absurd 18 threes, tying a season high, and two role players posted career highs: starting wing David Nwaba (21 points on 9-14 shooting) and bench forward Bobby Portis (38 points on 15-26 shooting, including a stupefying 6-9 from three). 

Meanwhile, the Sixers went cold down the stretch; Robert Covington missed a clean look at a three, Ben Simmons missed two of two from the line, Joel Embiid dribbled the ball off his foot. When Zach LaVine hit a tough pull-up three to put Chicago up five with a minute to go, and then Cov missed an open baseline two, it almost felt a merciful end to our suffering. 

But somehow, that wasn't it. Portis shot a long two a little too quickly at the other end and missed, and Simmons put back his own miss at the other end for a quick two to cut it to three. LaVine bricked a tough jumper with 17 to go, and J.J. got fouled at the other end to prevent a possible tying three. He made both, and then good ball denial on the ensuing Chicago inbounds led to an Embiid steal and pass to Simmons, who got fouled. 

After going just 4-9 from the line to that point, Simmons calmly nailed both his free throws to put Philly up one. Embiid stonewalled a Portis attempt near the basket at the other end with seconds to go, Denzel Valentine's putback attempt missed, and the game was over, with the Philly outscoring Chicago 6-0 in the final minute to seal the W. 

It was beautiful, man. There aren't going to be many games in this life where you give up 18 threes, allow two opposing players to go for career highs, miss 14 free throws and go down five with 60 seconds to go and still somehow manage to win the damn thing. 

But there also aren't gonna be many teams in this life with a one-two punch as potent as Simmons and Embiid. The latter picked up where he left off at the All-Star Game, scoring 30 (on 11-17 shooting, including 3-3 from deep) with 13 boards, five assists, three steals and two blocks -- just a few box score tallies away from his first 5x5 game. And the former picked up where he left off before the All-Star Game, scoring a career-high 32 (13-18 shooting) to go with seven boards, 11 assists a steal and a block. And maybe most impressive of all? The two had just three turnovers between them in 69 combined minutes. 

Ben and Jo were nothing less than dominant on offense all night. They couldn't turn the faucet off on the Bulls defensively for most of the game -- though aside from a couple slow-ish rotations in the first half, I'm not even sure they played all that badly, rather just paying the three-point defense regression to the mean that Liberty Ballers writer Sean O'Connor had long been warning fans about

But in any event, Embiid finally got the best of Portis in the final minutes, shutting him down on a couple crucial possessions (including the final one), and he made the play of the night on that inbounds steal. When you have two transcendent talents -- as Embiid and Simmons undoubtedly have proven they are, even this early in their careers -- you win a lot of games you probably shouldn't, and gravity was finally on the Sixers' side tonight. 

Of course, the Sixers might not've needed such combined brilliance from their two best players if their supporting cast was able to pick up the slack a little. But no one else was really cooking for Philly last night, and as is becoming a distressingly frequent occurrence this season, Covington hit a couple shots early and then went flat for the rest of the game. Even on the Bulls broadcast, they were talking about how Cov was gonna have to hit shots in the playoffs for the Sixers to have a chance, and they're probably right: We need Rock's defense and smarts out there, but if he's gonna routinely brick open looks in big moments, he's gonna be a liability -- and he's now 6 of his last 29 from deep. 

But that's a concern for another day -- one that seems more and more likely to actually be upcoming at this point. In the meantime, Philly is 31-25, having won six in a row, and with a creampuff game coming up next at home against Orlando, before a three-game roadie against East playoff teams (Washington, Miami and Cleveland) that represents the only really tough swing remaining on the Sixers' schedule. The playoffs seem increasingly probable, and with Simmons and Embiid playing at this level, just about anything seems possible if we get there. Pity the foolish rival execs who still don't trust the process at this point. 

Eagles, Vinny Curry better off going separate ways

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USA Today Images

Eagles, Vinny Curry better off going separate ways

There are multiple scenarios that end in Vinny Curry’s departure from the Eagles in 2018, but likely just one where he is retained. The veteran defensive end will need to agree to a pay cut to return, assuming a contract restructuring is offered by the club.

Curry is scheduled to cost the Eagles $11 million under the salary cap next season, a figure most everybody can agree is much too high. Where the two sides go from there is the tricky part.

The Eagles may approach Curry about a pay cut. Then again, they may opt to trade or — more likely — release him outright instead. Even if the Eagles are willing to renegotiate Curry’s contract, he may decline the club’s offer, again prompting a trade or his release.

Any way you slice it, there are a lot more roads leading out of Philadelphia than back in.

Though he hasn’t quite lived up to the $47.5 million contract extension signed in 2016, Curry is coming off of a quality season. His 18 quarterback hits tied for first among Eagles defensive linemen, while his 42 tackles and 10 tackles for loss were second to Brandon Graham. Three sacks is a low number for a 16-game starter, but Curry made a greater impact than that tally suggests.

Now comes the hard part. Will the obviously talented Curry and the cap-strapped Eagles be able to agree on his value? And does such a deal behoove either side?

The Eagles could very well arrive at the difficult decision to move on. The club is over the projected cap for 2018 in the first place, with Graham, Chris Long and Derek Barnett all under contract.

While Curry’s release creates $6 million in dead money against the cap, designating the transaction as a post-June 1 cut splits that cost over the next two seasons. It’s not an attractive option but allows the Eagles to save as much as $8 million in 2018, quite a bit of space.

A trade is less likely, simply because not many teams would be willing to inherit Curry’s remaining contract — more than $28 million over the next three years. That being said, the Eagles are among the most creative front offices in the NFL, so if they’re able to package Curry in any way for draft picks, don’t rule that out.

This is business for the Eagles. Of course, it’s business to Curry as well, and as much as he might want to stay, there are other teams that would jump at the opportunity to pay for his services.

Let’s say the Eagles do request Curry takes a pay cut. Will that amount be more or less than what he might command as a free agent? Put another way, if Curry were a free agent this offseason, would he land a deal for significantly less than the $28 million he’s already owed, or his $9 million in base salary for '18? Probably not.

As simple as it is to say the Eagles can try to restructure Curry’s contract, in this case, that might not be in the player’s best interest. Doesn’t mean he’ll say no, but it’s certainly not something the Eagles should count on.

It’s difficult to envision this situation working out for everybody, given how badly the Eagles need the money and how much Curry stands to gain on the open market.

DEFENSIVE ENDS BREAKDOWN
*Ages as of Sept. 6, 2018

Vinny Curry
Age: 30
2018 cap hit: $11M

To put Curry’s cap number in perspective, he’s currently the 15th-highest paid edge defender in the NFL under contract in '18. Statistics don’t do his performance justice, but that’s undeniably a level his play on the field hasn’t matched. A large portion of Curry's base salary becomes guaranteed in March, so expect a decision soon. The Eagles need not wait to reap the benefits of the so-called June 1 designation.

Brandon Graham
Age: 30
2018 cap hit: $8M

Meanwhile, Graham is in the final year of his contract, and clamoring for a new deal he definitely earned. The magic number for the top defensive ends in the league right now is around $17 million per year, so this could get complicated. Ultimately, the Eagles would be wise pay an All-Pro talent, locker room leader and Super Bowl hero — probably something slightly less than that amount — but negotiations probably drag into the summer. Freeing up some of Curry’s money would help.

Derek Barnett
Age: 22
2018 cap hit: $2.92M

The 14th overall pick a year ago, Barnett is poised for a bigger role in 2018. Finished with 6.0 sacks as a rookie, including playoffs, and could push double digits next season with more playing time.

Chris Long
Age: 33
2018 cap hit: $2.35M

Long seems to have landed in the perfect scheme to extend his career, though it will be difficult to match last season’s production. At this price, the Eagles have nothing to lose.

Steven Means
Age: 27
2018 cap hit: $905,000

If the Eagles get desperate for coin, Means’ salary isn’t guaranteed, and he’s rarely active on game day. Then again, the team really likes the intensity he brings to practice. Given the chance, maybe Means could be effective on Sundays, too.

Bryan Braman
Age: 31
Free agent

Brought back strictly to reprise his role as a specialist, Braman’s job is likely done now that the Eagles have won the Super Bowl. Regardless, he’s not in the mix at defensive end.