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Learning to Fly: Sixers' issues apparent in preseason opener

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USA Today Images

Learning to Fly: Sixers' issues apparent in preseason opener

Hear this of our 2017-18 Philadelphia 76ers and know it to be true: Joel Embiid or it doesn't happen. 

After a competitive first half, the 76ers got pummeled last night by the Memphis Grizzlies, losing their preseason opener by a score of 110-89. Embiid was not in the lineup, nor will he be Friday against Boston; I'd wager we probably don't see him at all this preseason. (Though Embiid did practice full-court 5-on-5 at Thursday's practice.)

What we will see in his absence is a team led by our two new No. 1 overall picks — which, in theory, should be exciting at the very least. And it may still be that, at least in part, but it's also going to be very, very messy. And, as we saw Wednesday, it's going to be rather unsuccessful. 

Let's start with Ben Simmons, whose first official game action in a Sixers uni since the 2016 Summer League went about as expected. He electrified early, particularly in the open court, where he hooked up with Richaun Holmes on a half-court alley-oop, and he scored at the hoop with disarming ease. He had four assists in a blink, ending with nine in 22 minutes, to go with seven rebounds and six points. The highlights were damn impressive, and after the game, Grizzlies coach David Fizdale was raving about the 21-year-old, calling him a "super freak" and declaring "I don't wanna see that for the next 15 years." 

All fair, but ... I dunno. For all the raves about his all-around game, I mostly see a guy who's elite at passing but still has no idea how to score consistently. Simmons clearly has zero faith in his jumper, which he kept in cold storage the whole game, and that too often leads to half-court congestion that there's really nothing he can do about. He's already a master at manipulating chaos — give him a step to the basket, give him a mismatch on the floor, give him a missed assignment in transition and he'll kill you for any of it — but for now he seems unable to create the chaos himself, to force the defensive adjustment, to generate offense where there was no offense previously. Give him a competent defense and he ends up attempting a lot of layups and floaters over defenders, with a predictably low success rate. It's an untenable way to run an offense. 

Of course, expecting Simmons to have mastered offensive efficiency at the ripe old age of 21 with zero regular-season NBA games under his belt is beyond foolish. But the concerning thing to me last night — and in much of the (admittedly exceedingly limited) footage I've seen of him from last summer and earlier — is just how uneasy he seems to even try his jumper when it's given to him. Maybe it's just something he needs to build the proper confidence in off the court before he feels comfortable integrating it on the court, but doing that is easier said than done, and meanwhile, we're still not totally sure if he's even shooting the damn thing with the correct hand. It's a concern, and one that's going to lead to a whole lot of intra-Process arguments and debates before the season is over, or even starts.  

It's not the biggest concern the Sixers have at the moment, though, because something is very clearly not right with Markelle Fultz. Our top prize of the 2017 draft went 2 for 13 for four points last night, and not that there's such a thing as a pretty 2 for 13, but this was a particularly ugly 2 for 13. Fultz spent most of the game careening into traffic, drawing contact but not fouls, and either failing to finish through contact or backing off and missing contested floaters and mini-jumpers. He found his teammates occasionally — three assists, with two coming early alongside Simmons — and showed sporadic spark on defense, but proved thoroughly unsuccessful running a half-court offense. 

And he also avoided shooting from any kind of range about as much as possible. From Simmons, this is concerning but understandable. From Mr. Hesi Pull-Up Jimbo, this is downright alarming. Reports from the team's scrimmage at the Palestra over the weekend mentioned that Fultz's shooting form looked off — Brett Brown even confirmed as much after the game — but the fact that he appears to have totally lost faith in his shot effectively neuters the rest of his game without Simmons' size, athleticism or vision to fall back on. It's not totally clear to me why reconstructing his jumper over the summer was a priority for Fultz — the thing looked pretty good to me over the summer, for the most part — but he appears to have totally lost his shooting form in the interim, and his mojo along with it. And while our offense can maybe abide one non-shooting point guard, two on the court together is guaranteed poison. 

Is this the ruination of the Process, in one preseason game? Assuredly not: These issues are hopefully fixable and probably improvable, and there are many years still ahead of us to figure them out. But they are issues, and it would be prudent for all of us as Sixers fans to take a step back this preseason and disavow ourselves of some of our loftier notions about the team's win-loss record this season. With these two dudes in our starting lineup — and a forever-increasing likelihood that Embiid is limited or missing outright for much of the early season — there are going to be some serious struggles, and they are going to come at the expense of our much-hoped-for playoff push. Not to say it's impossible, but it's going to take a lot of work and a lot of luck, and Process Trusters should at least know not to count on the latter by now. 

It wasn't all bad last night. Robert Covington has sprouted cool new hair, and he looks (and plays) more like a defensive monster than ever. JJ Redick was basically as advertised for his debut game, scoring 11 points on 4 for 7 shooting (including a trademark four-point play!) and ending a plus-5 for the night. Skinny/Vegan Jah is more than a myth; Okafor ended with 13 points on 5 for 6 shooting and occasionally even looked engaged on the boards, though he still got beaten to some easy ones. Kris Humphries got booed every time he touched the ball toward game's end, which is probably unfair but still sorta feels right. Things will be better with Dario Saric around — he was held out tonight by Brown for rest — because things are always better when Dario's around. The team around our Big Three is largely as it should be. 

Still, with that Big Three struggling and/or hurting, it's going to be ... well, it's going to be a process. These guys have a lot to learn and a lot to prove, and without a healthy Embiid to anchor the whole operation, sloppiness is almost guaranteed to ensue. Pity poor Brett Brown — we'll get you to that season where everything is finally easy someday. Maybe. Hopefully. 

Are 2018 Eagles better or worse?

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USA Today

Are 2018 Eagles better or worse?

The Eagles won the Super Bowl last season. Does it get any better than that?

It just might.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve dissected the 2018 Eagles’ roster one position at a time. The majority of the time, we determined this year’s team was more talented than the group that won a championship. But when it comes time to put all the pieces back together again and kick off on September 6 against the Atlanta Falcons, will the Eagles truly field a superior squad compared to last season?

BETTER

Wide receivers
Pass rushers

The Eagles are demonstrably improved in two key areas. Replacing Torrey Smith with Mike Wallace was a clear upgrade in a receiving corps that should also benefit from a healthy Alshon Jeffery and Mack Hollins having a year in the NFL under his belt. And while the defensive line as a whole has some question marks, adding three-time Pro Bowler Michael Bennett at end along with the continued development of Derek Barnett could provide the Eagles a vastly scarier pass rush off the edge.

Another spot we might see a significantly elevated performance is tight end, assuming second-round draft pick and freak athlete Dallas Goedert can come in and contribute immediately. Goedert joins Wallace and Bennett as the key newcomers for ’18.

WORSE

Nickel cornerback

While there is a ton of talent at cornerback, it’s extremely unlikely anybody will be able to match the job Patrick Robinson did in the slot. Robinson was a proven option for the nickel, posting a career year with the Eagles last season. The options to replace him full-time, on the other hand -- most notably Sidney Jones, Jalen Mills, Avonte Maddox or De’Vante Bausby – have next to zero NFL experience in that role. This is essentially a starting position, so Robinson’s departure in free agency is no small matter.

Another spot to keep an eye on is the vacancy at weakside linebacker following Mychal Kendricks’ release. Kendricks enjoyed a resurgent season in ’17, and the candidates to take over – Corey Nelson, Nathan Gerry, Kamu Grugier-Hill – lack name recognition. Fortunately, this is a limited role, so Kendricks isn’t as big a loss as Robinson.

THE SAME

Offensive line
Safeties
Jim Schwartz
Doug Pederson
Howie Roseman

The great news is there’s a ton of carryover for last season’s Super Bowl champions. If you consider Jay Ajayi the lead back for that squad, which he basically was, then 19 of 22 starters are returning, along with many key backups. That is incredible continuity few NFL teams are blessed with, let alone the reigning champs.

That continuity extends to the bulk of the coaching staff as well. Schwartz and his entire defensive staff return. There were some changes on the offensive side with Frank Reich and John DeFilippo snagging new jobs, but the Eagles were able to promote from within. Most importantly, Pederson remains as head coach, and Roseman stays on to run the front office. The foundation of the franchise is the same.

THE UNKNOWN

Injured players: QB, LT, MLB, PR/RB, DT

Perhaps the biggest question as to whether the Eagles are better or worse lies in the recovery of the many injured star players from a year ago, almost all of whom are expected to reprise their roles.

Can Carson Wentz recapture his MVP form? We’ve seen quarterbacks struggle in their first year back from an ACL injury. Can Jason Peters still dominate at age 36 after an ACL of his own? The franchise left tackle has battled back from worse. Will Jordan Hicks be the same after a ruptured Achilles? The young man is a student of the game, but that’s a big one. Will Darren Sproles be as electric out of the backfield and in the return game at 35 and, again, with an ACL? Throw Tim Jernigan on to the list, too. The defensive tackle is sidelined indefinitely with a back injury, hurting the Eagles’ depth up front.

Then again, the Eagles already won the Super Bowl with almost all of these guys sidelined. For everybody but Hicks, there is a clear replacement waiting in the wings should they falter. Still, it’s a concern.

BETTER OR WORSE?

As is always the case, the only way to find out for sure is on the football field. And the Eagles could very well put a better squad out there, but still not repeat as champions, as luck and timing are also factors here.

That being said, some questions and concerns aside, the Eagles look like more talented team overall. Again, 19 starters are back. Two replacements, Wallace and Bennett, look like upgrades aside. Kids like Barnett, Goedert, Jones and running back Corey Clement could be on the verge of becoming stars. Best of all, the Eagles remain strong along the offensive and defensive lines, and have two quarterbacks capable of leading a team to the promised land. They may not be a better team than the group that just won it all, but the 2018 Eagles sure look like a BETTER team.

Beer delivery at Citizens Bank Park via text message now available

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Aramark

Beer delivery at Citizens Bank Park via text message now available

Now you can order a beer to be delivered to your seat and you don't even need to download another phone app to make it happen.

The Phillies and Aramark announced a new pilot program at Citizens Bank Park in which fans in certain sections of the ballpark can order select beer and water by simply using messages on an Apple iPhone.

The best part? You don't need any cash. It will charge your order right to whatever credit card you have set up in your Apple Pay.

"Initially, as part of the pilot program beginning today, July 20, fans sitting in sections 142, 143, 144 and 145 at Citizens Bank Park will be able to purchase select beverages (beer and water) from the comfort of their seats using their iPhone. The pilot program will be conducted over the course of ten games (July 20-25, August 2-5)," the release says.

They even include super simple instructions:

  1. Open the iPhone Camera app
  2. Scan the QR code on the seat back
  3. Follow the prompts on the Messages text screen to place order
  4. Complete transaction with Apple Pay
  5. Enjoy the game while order is delivered to seat location

I'm curious about tipping. Any self-respecting baseball fan knows that when you order beers from one of the vendors walking the aisles you always toss him a dollar or so at the end of the transaction. Will there be an option to tip your delivery person via text message?

The Phillies are apparently the first team to give this new tech a shot.

“We look forward to joining Aramark in testing this mobile delivery service, an innovative use of Apple Business Chat that further enhances the food and beverage experience at Citizens Bank Park,” said David Buck, Phillies Executive Vice President. “With this new pilot program, food ordering and delivery is as easy as a text message, and we are excited to be the first sports facility in the country to try out this new technology.”

So buy lots of beers this summer so the Phillies make lots of money so they can afford Manny Machado this winter. All via text messaging!

You can watch a demo of how this will all work below.

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