Archive | January, 2012

One Down and Six to Go For the Sixers in a Tough Set of Games Against NBA’s Elite

31 Jan

http://www.nba.com/sixers/video/2012/01/30/120130collinspostmov-1983327

Andre Iguodala led the Sixers with 14 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in their win over the Orlando Magic.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

The Philadelphia 76ers (15-6) may not be that superstar-laden team like the Miami Heat just yet, but at the rate that they’re going who needs a high-priced superstar?

On a night when their spread-the-ball around offense wasn’t clicking, the Sixers came up with a monumental effort on the defensive end against the Orlando Magic in their 74-69 victory. They held the Magic to 33 percent shooting and they forced 14 turnovers.

The final score of the game was definitely not indicative of how lopsided the game was for the Sixers. They held a 17-point lead with 2:51 left in the fourth quarter. At that point, Magic head coach Stan Van waved the white flag and took  his starters  out including Dwight Howard, who was held to 6-of-17 shooting while scoring 17 points.

Of course,  Philly fans want to know if their team is for real? Yes, they beat a team with a winning record in the Magic. Yes, they beat a team with a superstar in Howard.

But here comes your “yeah, but …”

Howard, who has expressed his desire to be traded to a number of teams with the Chicago Bulls being the flavor of this month, is not happy with the Magic (12-9). He recently called out his team telling reporters following the game last Friday that he “told [his teammates] at halftime, `If you don’t want to play, just stay in the locker room, because it don’t make sense for a team who we should beat to just demolish us.”‘

Watching Monday’s game against the Sixers, Howard has a point and the Magic are not the team that went to the 2009 NBA Finals. They’re pretty mediocre and have lost four straight. Without Howard on the floor, the Sixers might have won by 30.

The Sixers test this week will get even harder on Wednesday when they take on the Bulls with the reigning NBA MVP in point guard  Derrick Rose. The Bulls (18-5) have the best record in the Eastern Conference and probably should have won last Sunday’s game against the Heat, the team the Sixers play on Friday.

The Magic are the only “easy” team the Sixers  faced in this set of games because the answer to the question of whether the Sixers are “fo’ real” is whether they can survive the next six games against the likes of Hawks, a team they’ve already beaten at home, the L.A. Lakers, the first-place L.A. Clippers and the San Antonio Spurs.

If they finish with a less than .500 record will Sixers fans jump off the bandwagon in droves and start hanging their heads in agony? If they somehow win all of those games or go 6-1 during that stretch, will fans start reserving their tickets for the Eastern Conference Finals or dare I say the NBA Finals?

These games will also determine how loud the outcry will be for a team to trade Andre Iguodala to get a legitimate superstar who can come with a big bucket in the clutch. For the last few years, Sixers fans have been clamoring for the team to trade Iguodala to get a more versatile superstar.

Because of the Sixers outstanding record, the noise to trade Iguodala hasn’t been as strident, but it could be if he and the Sixers fail to come through in a tight game against any of those teams. If the Sixers go 2-5 or less during this stretch, Iguodala’s detractors will come out of the woodwork.

The most recent rumor has New York Knicks power forward Amare Stoudemire coming to the Sixers. Comcast Sports Net Philly recently reported that the Sixers inquired about Stoudemire. Apparently, the Knicks power forward is unhappy playing with Carmelo Anthony and is supposedly in search of more touches.

Stoudemire is averaging 17.7 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, but is shooting just 42 percent from the field. He’s 29-years-old, but has had a history of knee problems and is not, according to some league observers, that willing to play defense—something that Sixers head coach Doug Collins insists his players do a consistent basis.

And who do you trade? Iguodala (would the Knicks want him?) Thaddeus Young or Jrue Holiday? And would Stoudemire be able to fit in with a team that already has good chemistry?

If the Sixers go 4-3 or better against this murderer’s row set of games, I don’t think the adding of a superstar will even be a topic of conversation. At a time where teams have one or three superstars on their team, maybe the Sixers can be the team that bucks conventional wisdom.

What they do this week will not only be a measuring stick for how good they are on the court with what they already have, but also what moves the front office might have to make now or in the future to be a legitimate contender for an NBA title.

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Young Sixers Hope to Prove Themselves to Fans against NBA Heavyweights

26 Jan

Thaddeus Young and Sixers teammates will get tested against the NBA's elite. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For The Chris Murray Report and The Sunday Sun

The Philadelphia 76ers are in first place in the NBA’s Atlantic Division and are the only team in that division with a record above .500

But for all of the newfound success that this young team has had, I get the feeling that the city isn’t completely behind them yet. Don’t get me wrong. The fans that come out to Wells Fargo Center are loud and boisterous. But they’ve only had one sellout since the home opener.

That might be because the teams they’ve beaten for the most part are also-rans. This weekend, the Sixers take on the Charlotte Bobcats and the Detroit Pistons, teams that are hardly world beaters.

But the team’s big tests come later this week in the form of the Miami Heat, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Chicago Bulls and the Orlando Magic, teams that are laden with superstars. While it’s been easy to have at least five guys routinely score in double figures, teams with actual defenses will determine whether or not this is a fluke.

Between Jan. 30 and Feb. 10 the Sixers will face the Magic, the Bulls, the Atlanta Hawks (on the road), the Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and an improved Los Angeles Clippers squad. If they can win at least half of these games, it might attract fans to the Wells Fargo Center.

But even if they don’t, this team still deserves some love from the Philly faithful.

While they may be in first place in their division, I still think the Sixers are a work in progress. As a part of that growth, they’re probably going to lose some of the games. But they’re not going to stink up the joint like they would have in years past…mostly because head coach Doug Collins won’t allow them to.

At this point, the Sixers are not expected to get to the NBA Finals or even the Eastern Conference Finals, but you have to like the unselfish way they’re playing this season. Almost every night a different player seems to lead the team in scoring or makes a big play down the stretch. One night it’s Andre Iguodala or Lou Williams.

“For one thing, we can score,” said Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday earlier this month after a win over the Indiana Pacers. “We know each other really well as a team and that’s really it. It’s our chemistry. We don’t really have a go-to guy. The way we win is by playing as a team and everybody scoring and playing defense collectively.”

With their record, the Sixers are beating up on the bad teams, something that good teams should do on a consistent basis. When they met the Miami Heat on the road last Saturday, they hung in the game until late in third quarter when the Heat went on a 23-8 scoring-spurt to put the Sixers in a deep hole.

This group of young Sixers is probably the best this city has seen in quite some time, at least to this point. That’s the fun part about this team is that they are at the beginning stages of becoming a perennial contender in the NBA.

To be sure, the Sixers are going to take their knocks against some of the league’s tougher teams, but I believe that this team will get better, whether it’s with young veteran players like Williams and Thaddeus Young, or via the trade or free agency route.

I can understand the cynics and skeptics in this city who want the Sixers to get to the point where they’re a contender for an NBA title. All I can say to them is be patient and enjoy the ride.

In a Tough Loss, Joe Flacco Comes Up Big For Baltimore in AFC Title Game

23 Jan

Ravens Joe Flacco outplayed Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

This was supposed to be a crowning moment for Joe Flacco.

With 15 seconds  left in the game, Flacco had methodically marched the Baltimore Ravens deep into New England Patriots territory in range of what is normally chip-shot field goal to send the game into overtime. Two plays earlier, he was a dropped pass by Lee Evans away  from what should have been the winning touchdown.

Instead, Flacco had to see his outstanding performance go by the wayside as Billy Cundiff’s 32-yard field goal went wide left allowing the Patriots walk away with a 23-20 victory to win the AFC Championship and a trip to Super Bowl 46 in Indianapolis.

After a week of being criticized by fans, media and his teammate Ed Reed for a lackluster performance in the Ravens divisional playoff win over the Houston Texans, Flacco not only played well enough to win the game, he outplayed Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (22-of-36, 239 yards and two interceptions). He was 22-of-36 for 306 yards, two touchdowns with one interception. He had a 95.4 passer rating.

Flacco, even with Patriots defensive lineman Vince Woolfork in his face throughout the game, was a decisive, efficient quarterback against the Patriots. He used his feet to maneuver his way out of the rush and found open receivers. If it wasn’t there, he ran it or threw it away. Flacco didn’t hold the ball too long to allow the pass rush to sack him. More importantly, he helped the Ravens to keep chains moving. Baltimore was 9-of-17 on third down conversions.

Joe Flacco congratulates Tom Brady after AFC title game

“I thought Joe played a great game, obviously he played well enough to win this game,” said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. “I’ve said it all along to run down the qualities that make Joe Flacco a great player, great quarterback, a great person, I’ve said it many times his best football is in front of him. He only gets better, he’s our kind of guy. He’s a tough guy, he’s a competitive guy and he’s a leader. I can’t wait to see where this thing goes with him and we’re proud to have him as our quarterback.”
If someone were to say to you hat the Ravens were going to out-gain the Patriots potent offense in total yardage and that Flacco was going to have a better passing rating than Brady, who threw two interceptions with no touchdown passes, you would probably say it was the recipe for victory for the Ravens.

It should have been.

On both sides of the football, the Ravens played the Patriots tough and didn’t allow them to just push them around the field. When the Patriots offense scored, the Ravens offense, thanks to Flacco, kept up with the Pats.

On defense, the Ravens had their moments when they allowed the Patriots, especially in the running game, to move the ball up the field, but when they got into the redzone, they more often than naught held the Patriots to field goals.

After Flacco threw his first interception of the game, the defense got the ball right back when Brady tried to go deep down the middle to Matthew Slater, but the ball was tipped by safety Bernard Pollard into the hands of cornerback Jimmy Smith for the interception.

The Ravens defense got the ball back for the offense late in the game with 1:44 left thanks to Ed Reed batting away a Brady pass intended for tight end Aaron Hernandez on third down and four.

Flacco drove the Ravens from their own 21 down to the Patriots 14 and put the Ravens into the position to win the game, but the dropped pass by Evans and the field goal miss by Cundiff was the final dagger in the heart of the Ravens.

If the Ravens win this game, all the sports media types would be celebrating Flacco as a clutch quarterback who came through in a big game.

But in a painful loss, Flacco displayed his “clutch gene” an emphatic way in the AFC Championship and proved to his critics that he has the ability to lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl.

 

 

 

 

Ravens and Giants Prove that Defense Still Matters in the NFL Playoffs

16 Jan

By Chris Murray

Giants Defensive End Osi Umenyiora Strips Aaron Rogers, causing one of four Packers turnovers in Sunday's NFC Divisional Playoffs.

For the Chris Murray Report

The Sunday games of this weekend’s NFL playoffs was a reminder that no matter how explosive your offense is during the regular season, the strength of your defense will ultimately determine how far you advance in the postseason.

Yes it’s that old cliché about defense winning championships, but in today’s games it was the defense that helped both the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Giants to clinch spots in next week’s conference championship games.

In Green Bay, the Packers (15-2) came into their NFC Divisional Playoff game with New York Giants (11-7) with the league’s highest scoring offense at 35 points per game. With quarterback Aaron Rogers, the league’s highest rated passer, under center this game was supposedly a mere formality on the road to defending their Super Bowl title.

But the Packers also have the league’s worst defense and Giants quarterback Eli Manning exploited it to the tune of 330 yards and three touchdowns on 21-of-33 passing. Perhaps the big back breaker came seconds before halftime when Manning hit Hakeem Nicks on a 37-yard touchdown pass to give the Giants a 20-10. Green Bay would come no closer than 10 points for the rest of the game. Nicks ran roughshod through the Packers secondary catching seven passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns.

On the defensive end, the Giants roughed up the Packers explosive offense by sacking Rogers four times and forcing four turnovers. It didn’t help that Green Bay receivers dropped numerous and if the Giants defense didn’t make the sack they forced Rogers to overthrow and under-throw his receivers.

“We just boosted it up a notch. We just came out here and played even harder and we just rose to another level,” said defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. “Our cornerbacks and safeties did well and our defensive line did a great job. That’s all that really counts. Everybody played as one.”

Throughout the 2011 season, the Packers simply outscored their opponents while ranking at the bottom of the league statistics in total defense and passing defense. The saving grace for the defense was that it had the best league’s best takeaway/giveaway percentage.

However, it was the Giants defense that came up big against the Packers high-powered offense. They held Rogers to under 50 percent passing. They were the ones forcing the turnovers and they slowed down the Packers offense.

If there was an MVP in this game, it was the physical Giants defense that dictated the outcome as well as the Packers 32nd ranked defense’s inability to stop Manning and the New York offense.

(from left to right) cornerback Jimmy Smith, safety Ed Reed and middle linebacker Ray Lewis celebrate stopping the Houston Texas offense late in the game.

Meanwhile in Baltimore, the defense coming up big is a familiar story.

The Ravens jumped out to a 17-3 thanks to a pair of turnovers that gave the offense a short field to score touchdowns in the first quarter.

After the first quarter, the Ravens offense scored just three points for the rest of the game and managed just 227 yards of total offense. The Texans offense, thanks to the running of Arian Foster who gained 95 of his 132 yards in the first half, cut the Ravens lead to 17-13 and seemed to be on the verge of taking control of the game.

But in the second half, the Ravens held the Texans scoreless, forced two turnovers including a drive-killing interception by Ed Reed. Foster was held to just 37 yards on the ground in the second half.

“Defensively for us to come out and pretty much pitch a shutout that’s our standard of football,” Lewis said after the game. “You really have to take your hat off to our team.”

For all the talk of high-powered offenses like the Saints and the Packers dominating the 2011 season, you still need a solid defense to ultimately win a Super Bowl. For all the points and yardage those two teams racked up during the regular season, they are out of the playoffs because their defense failed to stop the other team’s offense.

Baltimore proved today that even when your offense is in a deep freeze, a good defense will not only keep in the game, it can also help you win it.

Coming off the Bench: Sixers Thaddeus Young Takes an Alternative Route to Stardom

11 Jan

Thaddeus Young is a huge contributor off the Sixer Bench. Photo by Webster Riddick

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun and Chris Murray Report

Like just about every player that comes into the NBA, Sixers forward Thaddeus Young’s goal was to come into the league be a big-time superstar scorer like Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, or Dwyane Wade.

But in his fifth year out of Georgia Tech, the 23-year-old Young’s path to superstardom is taking a different route. For the last three seasons, he has become one of the best sixth men in the league. Last season, he finished the third in the balloting for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year.

“Early in my career I said that I wanted to be the man,” Young said. “But when you get a great coaching staff, you get a great organization behind you and great teammates, you want to make sacrifices for the team. The overall goal is to come out and win championships and get as far as you can each and every year. That’s my overall goal.”

Young has become such a valuable commodity for the Sixers that the team made re-signing him one of its priorities coming into the season. Last month, the team signed the 6’8’ Young to a five-year, $43 million contract.

So far this season, Young is averaging 12.5 points per game and is pulling down five rebounds per game. Sixers head coach Doug Collins said Young is one of the league’s best defenders.

“People are going to have to start talking about him for the All Defensive Team,” Collins said. “He blows up every screen and roll. He absolutely gets out there, hedges, gets back. His speed and quickness is just amazing.”

In Monday’s win over the Indiana Pacers, Young scored 12 points and pulled down eight rebounds. He also took some charges, had two steals and deflected some passes that led to turnovers.

“Thaddeus Young is one of our best players and for him to do what he does every night,” Collins said. “He’s one of the most special young men I’ve ever been around. To me the epitome of a guy is a great husband, a great father and a great teammate and that’s what Thad Young is. That’s why he gives us a chance to win every night and that’s why I was hoping and praying somebody wasn’t going to throw some extravagant offer sheet at him. He is critical to our success.”

Young said he has embraced with his role on the team and does not mind coming off the bench and giving the Sixers some intensity on the defensive end of the court.

“My role is not to go out there to be the main scorer or the main player,” Young said. “My role is to go out there and impact the game and be a game-changer. That’s what I want to for the rest of my years is to be a game-changer.”

For Young that could mean pulling down a key rebound, playing defense or hit that critical bucket down the stretch of a game. Sixers guard Lou Williams said a lot of what Young does is not always measured in raw numbers.

“It goes without saying taking four charges (against Indiana) and five deflections, those are things that aren’t going to go in the box score,” Williams said. “He’s had some big ones for us down the stretch and he’s been doing that his entire career for us. Even before that I’ve always known Thaddeus to be a energy guy that gives you something on the defensive end.”

Young believes that he can elevate his role to superstar status in the way that Hall-of-Famer Dennis Rodman did during the course of his spectacular, but controversial career– sans all the tattoos and body piercings.

“Dennis Rodman was definitely a great player as far as rebounding, blocking shots and defending guys. I definitely can see that,” said Young, who doesn’t have a tattoo or body rings. “I’m a guy that’s going out there and do whatever it takes. That’s what he did.”

Young Sixers Learning How to Put Teams Away

10 Jan

By Chris Murray

For the CM Report

Sixers guard Lou Williams is among the major weapons in an offense without a main go-to guy

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doug Collins has not so fond memories about his young team losing leads in the fourth quarter when teams made their run at the them.

For right now, at least, those bad recollections for Collins are becoming distant in a 2012 season in which the Sixers have won six of their first eight games. Once this year’s Sixers squad gets a lead they have the ability to put the game away.

A good case in point was the Sixers 96-86 win over the Indiana Pacers Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers not only won the game, but managed to maintain their composure when the Pacers made their run to get back into the game in the fourth quarter.

With two minutes left in the game, the Pacers pulled to within six points of the Sixers on a hook shot from Pacers center Roy Hibbert. But the Sixers didn’t panic and kept their cool on both ends of the floor. On their next possession, a short jumper by center Spencer Hawes sparked 8-4 scoring spurt that enabled the Sixers to put the game away for good.

“I don’t think we make those plays last year, I don’t think we do,” Collins said. “That’s what you have to do. You have to grow up in this league and learn how to make those plays. They came down and scored two or three times in a row and we didn’t get tight. We came down and we trumped them. We scored as well and that’s what you have to do late in games. You’ve got to be able to get those scores.”

Last year’s late season run to the postseason and being in the spotlight of taking on LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs has definitely made an impression on this team and made them mentally tougher this year.

“The team has really matured, grown up and we feel confident,” said Sixers power forward Elton Brand. “I don’t know if it was the playoff run or just winning more games late in the season, but he have a feel about ourselves that we can win the game late in the game.”

At the end of last season, there was a lot of speculation last season that the Sixers would make a trade for that one go-to guy that would come through for them with the big basket late in the game.

Maybe the Sixers will make that move at some point, but so far this season they’ve had a habit of having at least five or six players in double figures. The 76ers have had six guys score in double figures three times in the eight games they’ve played so far this year.

“For one thing, we can score,” said Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday. “We know each other really well as a team and that’s really it. It’s our chemistry, we don’t really have a go-to guy. The way we win is buy playing as a team and everybody scoring and playing defense collectively.”

Holiday said the team’s new found ability to put teams away starts with the defense. Against the Pacers, the Sixers held them to 36 percent shooting for the game. Three of the Sixers wins this season have been by more than 20 points.

“This time last season there were a lot of games that were close that we dropped and that’s been a learning process for us,” said Sixers guard Louis Williams. “In order for us to be successful, once we have guys down, we have to keep them down and start developing that killer instinct.”

 

Four Games That Kept the Eagles Out of The Playoffs

5 Jan

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun

In every season, there’s always that one or two games that separates your favorite team from the playoffs.

In the bizarre case of your Philadelphia Eagles, there were four games cost them a trip to the postseason. Had the Birds won even one of them, they would be practicing for Wild Card weekend. What makes matters worse is that in three of these games, the Eagles had a lead going into the fourth quarter.

Niners running back Frank Gore scores the winning touchdown as the 49ers rallied from a 20-point deficit to beat the Eagles.

 

Oct. 2, 2011- San Francisco 49ers 24, Eagles 23. Out of all the games the Philadelphia Eagles lost this season, this game probably epitomized the frustration fans felt with the Eagles defense under defensive coordinator Juan Castillo.

The Eagles had a 23-3 lead in the third quarter and most of us in the pressbox that day thought it was over and in the win column for the Eagles at that point. But then the Niners stormed back on drives of 80, 77 and 77 yards to take a one-point lead. Along the way, kicker Alex Henery missed a pair of field goals that could have put the game away for the Birds.

But the defense wasn’t the only one to blame for this game. After the 49ers had taken the lead, the Eagles drove the ball to the San Francisco 35, but wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who appeared to be headed for a big gain, fumbled the ball to end the game.

It was a game that elevated Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers to their outstanding season and another loss in the Eagles spiral downward.

 

Michael Vick's hurt ribs affected his performance in loss to the Cardinals.

Nov. 13, 2011-Arizona Cardinals 17, Eagles 14. Really?! The Cardinals?! If you can’t beat a team that was playing its backup quarterback, you don’t deserve to be in the playoffs. It was also the game in which the Eagles suspended DeSean Jackson for missing a special teams meeting, something that didn’t sit too well with Birds fans.

But this was a winnable game even without Jackson. On the Cardinals game-tying drive, the Eagles defense had a chance to get off the field and force a punt, but cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was called for an offside penalty and prolonged the Arizona drive.

The Eagles took a 17-14 lead with over five minutes to go, but backup quarterback John Skelton led the Cards on an 11-play, 87-yard drive, thanks to a 37-yard pass to Larry Fitzgerald to the Birds one. Three plays later, Skelton hit Early Doucet tor what turned out to be the winning score.

Meanwhile, Michael Vick, who had suffered a rib injury, had an off day, throwing a pair of interceptions including one on the final drive. The big question in this game was that LeSean McCoy ran the ball just 14 times and gained 81 yards. You wonder if the ball could have been in his hands a bit more.

Eagles Running Back LeSean "Shady" McCoy scored two touchdowns in loss to Atlanta. Photo by Jake McDonald.

Sept. 18, 2011-Atlanta Falcons 35, Eagles 31. In a game filled with ups and downs, the Falcons scored the game’s final 14 points after the Eagles had taken a 31-21 into the fourth quarter. Vick was out of the game by the fourth quarter with a concussion. Still, the Eagles had a shot to win the game and moved deep into Falcons territory at the 22. But on fourth down and four, backup Mike Kafa’s pass to Jeremy Maclin was dropped.

 

 

Oct. 9, 2011.-Buffalo Bills 31, Eagles 24. The Eagles gave this game away on both sides of the football. Vick had a career-high four interceptions including a 31-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Nick Barnett. With the Eagles mounting a furious rally, the game turned on a pair of plays late. A Vick pass to Jason Avant in Bills territory was ripped away by Barnett for a fumble recovery. The Birds had another chance to get the ball back late in the game. On their last possession of

Juqua Parker Jumps offsides sealed the Eagles defeat to Buffalo. The Eagles offense committed five turnovers.

the game, the Bills had a fourth and one. Everybody who knows anything about football knew the Bills were not going to snap the football. Everyone except for Eagles defensive end Juqua Parker, who was flagged for encroachment.

 

Buffalo runs out the clock, game over. The Birds shoot themselves in the foot again and that was the story of their 2011 season.