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Someone finally missed that shot vs. the Sixers

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USA Today Images

Someone finally missed that shot vs. the Sixers

Eric Gordon. Brandon Ingram. De'Aaron Fox. 

The Sixers have a nearly unparalleled knock for getting killed by big shots in the final minute, one they haven't shown much flair for reciprocating since T.J. vs. the Knicks. Seems like every time the ball finds its way to an opposing shooter beyond the arc with that guy's team down two and a Sixers defender lunging in his direction, the ball inevitably goes down, usually taking Philly's hope along with it. 

Not last night. The scene was certainly set in Denver: Sixers get out to a decent-sized late lead, get impossibly tight down the stretch, give up silly turnovers and allow the other team to slowly (or quickly) creep its way back in the game. And so an 11-point margin had shrunk to three in the final minute, with the Nuggets skipping the ball around the perimeter until it ended up in the hands of Will Barton, free for a look as Jerryd Bayless scrambled to throw a hand in his face. To say that Sixers fans had seen this movie more times than all 23 Rocky movies combined would still be an understatement. 

But somehow, the shot was long, and clanked off the back rim. Dario Saric (sort of) secured the rebound, and the Sixers held on for the 107-102 victory. Yes, Virginia: Somebody finally missed that goddamn shot against the Philadelphia 76ers. 

Good thing, too, because the Sixers needed that win, for a number of reasons. Most crucially, taking down the Nuggets without Joel Embiid basically squares the Sixers for their embarrassing road loss in Portland minus the Blazers' best player, and prevents them from slipping to five games under .500, a detour from the playoff hunt that would've been pretty tough for the Ballers to navigate their way back from. With a win tonight in Phoenix, the Sixers could even potentially end this five-game road stint with a winning record -- no small thing, especially considering when we get back to the WFC, they're slated for four toughies against the Spurs, Pistons, Celtics and Raptors.

And getting the win without Embiid -- their first such W in their last seven tries -- was undoubtedly huge for the team's (and Brett Brown's) confidence and sanity, considering how despairing they've looked without JoJo of late. The Sixers' calendar-ending back-to-back set is at least the last such two-fer the team will have until late January, so they should have JoJo available most nights, but you never know with the star center, and if the Sixers want any chance of making the postseason, they can't afford to just write off every game where he's not playing. 

As big as it is to get the W, though, it wouldn't be terribly realistic to look at this as a feel-good win. The Sixers did blow the game -- going up 103-97 with four minutes to go, and then not scoring again until Denver was forced to foul in final half-minute -- but the Nuggets just didn't capitalize on their late-game ineptitude well enough to steal back the victory. Ben Simmons played splendidly as usual on defense but was largely terrible on offense, ending with just six and six with five turnovers, his most ineffective game in the midst of what surely marks the roughest stretch of his rookie season. 

In truth, the Sixers were bailed out of this one by their backup backcourt, McConnell and Bayless. We're used to T.J. playing savior by now -- 10 points and eight assists in 25 minutes, including a gorgeous floor-length laser of a dime to Robert Covington that's certainly one for the end-of-year sizzle reel -- but Bayless' clutch play in the early fourth was an extremely pleasant surprise, as he scored a quick seven to start the quarter and get the Sixers the separation they needed to hang on when he and the rest of the team ran out of miracles later in the quarter. 

Final game of 2017 tonight in Phoenix, presumably with Joel this time. If you told us at the beginning of the season the Sixers would be entering 2018 at 17-19... it wouldn't exactly feel like a triumph, but it'd least be "OK, fair enough." Seems to me that "OK, fair enough" is reasonable thing to shoot for at year's end, no? 

Have mercy on us, Devin Booker. 

Super Bowl champs showed up to ESPYS in style, including a 'Philly Special' homage

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AP Images

Super Bowl champs showed up to ESPYS in style, including a 'Philly Special' homage

The Super Bowl champs showed up to the ESPYS in style on Wednesday night out in Los Angeles.

Nick Foles may have taken home the hardware for best performance in a championship — with a heck of a speech to boot — but it was the Eagles' secondary who won best dressed.

Or maybe just most outrageously baller. Tough to tell these days.

I mean, just look at what Rodney McLeod wore. Purple. No shirt.

The Green Goblin wasn't far behind. Personally, I liked Jalen Mills going with a vest that still showed off his tat.

And then there was Malcolm Jenkins adding a bit of class to the group.

But the sartorial flair that won the evening may have to go to former Eagle and current member of the Chicago Bears Trey Burton, who kept the "Philly Special" close to his heart.

And shouts to Jake Elliott and his hat just because.

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Are 2018 Eagles better or worse at quarterback?

Are 2018 Eagles better or worse at quarterback?

The one area the Eagles made no major changes from last season is at quarterback. Carson Wentz returns from injury. Somewhat surprisingly, Nick Foles was retained and even signed a contract extension. Nate Sudfeld remains in the fold as well.

The cast may be the same, but with Foles returning to the bench as a Super Bowl MVP, will the Eagles be better or worse off in 2018?

Better

Depth

When Foles took the reins last December, he had barely played or practiced since 2015, his hellish season with the Rams – and, initially, it showed. But after what the 29-year-old signal caller accomplished in the playoffs, does anybody believe Foles is lacking for confidence now? Anybody still wonder whether he’s comfortable running the Eagles’ offense?

Foles is better prepared to take over for Wentz or start Week 1 than he was this time a year ago. So, too, is Sudfeld, who will benefit from his first camp with the team after signing last September, as well as his first NFL game experience in Week 17 against the Cowboys. QB2 and QB3 are both in a better place now, which is remarkable, but true.

Worse

Greater sense of uncertainty

Until the trade deadline comes and goes in October, there’s always the possibility Foles is traded this year. Obviously, there would be some drop-off between the Super Bowl MVP and Sudfeld, a third-year player who’s thrown 23 career passes, should that come to pass.

For now, that’s not the case, but is something to keep an eye for awhile yet.

The same

Nick Foles

Despite everything that’s happened – the winning, the newfound notoriety, going back to the bench, a so-called quarterback controversy, trade murmurs – the one thing you can count on is Foles’ demeanor. He may have questioned himself on the football field at one point in his career, but he’s in a place now where he knows what he’s capable of and his value to the Eagles.

Foles also hasn’t changed much as a player since his historic, breakout campaign in 2013. As long as the offensive line can keep him upright, and he has talented weapons to distribute the ball to, this is somebody that can win you a lot of games in the NFL. There’s no longer any disputing that.

The unknown

Carson Wentz’s knee

Wentz has looked so darn impressive in videos and on the practice field, it’s easy to fall into the trap that his surgically repaired knee is fine, everything is fine. Despite raising the question here, he’s probably better prepared to overcome a torn ACL than some past Eagles quarterbacks who struggled with the recovery in the past – namely Sam Bradford and Donovan McNabb.

Still, more passers than not have come back and looked less than 100 percent in their first season removed from the injury. And many of them had more time to recover than Wentz, who only went down in November.

We don’t even know for sure if Wentz will be cleared to play Week 1. It seems likely he will be, but it’s far from definite. Until he’s playing in actual NFL games, and back to looking like the 2017, MVP-caliber version of himself, all of these concerns give folks some pause before assuming the Eagles would immediately be better off with Wentz under center.

Better or worse?

Fortunately, the determination doesn’t rest solely on Wentz here. A comfortable and confident Foles and the developing Sudfeld should give the Eagles a marginal lift at quarterback. And even after sharing a pile of concerns about Wentz, eventually, possibly sometime in 2018, he will be fine, making Wentz-like escapes and ice-in-his-veins third-down conversions. In fact, if Wentz Is miraculously fine for Week 1, he should still be improving heading into his third season.

Now that’s something BETTER to look forward to.

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