Sixers ready for breakout season?

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Sixers ready for breakout season?

After reaching the second round of the playoffs last season, the Philadelphia 76ers have had a very busy off-season, letting key contributors go and bringing on new players who they hope can take the 76ers farther in the post-season in 2012-13. That might bea stretch for Philadelphia because as an 8th seed last season, the Sixers beat top seed Chicago without the Bulls best best player Derrick Rose. Then, in a seven-game series, Philadelphia lost to Boston in the next round.

Without question, it was a season to build on with young players like point guard Jrue Holliday and shooting guard Evan Turner getting their first taste of playoff basketball. A lot will be expected from Philadelphias projected starting back court next season.Holliday had another solid season, averaging 13 points and 4 assists a game while Turner, the former 2 overall pick in 2010, put up 9 points and 6 boards a game in his second year as a pro. Both will have to continue to improve for the Sixers to be a threatin the eastern conference.

Andre Iguodala -- who will get key experience as part of the U.S. men's Olympic team -- returns as arguably the team's best player. Iguodala averaged 12 points and 5 rebounds last season. The freakishly athletic Igoudala is capable of being a top-tier smallforward in this league but his scoring has decreased over the last two seasons, down from an average of 17 points a game in 2009-10.

Another player the Sixers have high hopes for is Thaddeus Young. The 6'-8" power forward scored 13 points and grabbed 5 boards last season, but his production dipped drastically in the playoffs as he averaged only 7 points in two series.

Faced with his 18-million salary next season, Philadelphia amnestied forward Elton Brand. The burly forward averaged 11 points and 7 rebounds last season but the Sixers had to clear salary space to re-sign center Spencer Hawes and add shooting guard Nick Youngthrough free-agency.

The 7-footer Hawes averaged nearly 10 points and 7 rebounds in 29 starts for the Sixers last season. If he can stay healthy, Hawes has a chance to be one of the better centers in the watered down eastern conference.

Young, meanwhile, got a one-year deal with Philadelphia as the now 6th year pro still has a lot to prove. Plagued by inconsistency, Young would likely come off the bench to provide a spark offensively shooting the ball. Young averaged 14 points a game withboth Washington and the Clippers last season.

Young replaces Lou Williams who left via free-agency to Atlanta. Williams was coming off a career year, in which he averaged 14.8 points off the bench for the Sixers.

In a surprise reunion, Doug Collins gets to coach Kwame Brown again. Collins was the Wizards head man when the team took Brown with the 1 overall pick in 2001 and Brown notoriously struggled. Brown has kept his career going because he is a mobile 7-footerand can bang the boards. Brown's past season was cut short in Golden State where he averaged 6 points and 6 rebounds in only 9 games.

The Sixers selected small forward Mo Harkless in the NBA draft. The 6'-7" Harkless left St. John's after one season, having averaged 15 points and 8 rebounds with the Red Storm where he was named Big East Rookie of the Year.

Just two years ago the Sixers were a dreadful 27-55 but, in a short amount of time under Doug Collins, they have turned it around to make the playoffs the last two seasons. Realistically, they should make the post-season again in 2012-13 but it will be toughto go far in the playoffs with the incredibly stacked eastern conference.

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Why are Orioles firmly in the race? It's the pitching.

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USA TODAY Sports

Why are Orioles firmly in the race? It's the pitching.

For a supposedly one-dimensional club, which lives and dies by the home run, it’s the Orioles’ pitching that’s kept them in the postseason chase. 

Wednesday night’s win secured a winning September, and that’s Buck Showalter’s seventh straight non-losing September as Orioles manager. (The Orioles were 14-14 in Sept. 2013). 

RELATED: ORIOLES' PLAYOFF SCENARIOS

The Orioles are 14-11 this month, and even though the team is hitting .232 in September—lowest for any month this season, the pitching has prevailed.

Overall, the Orioles’ team ERA is a fine 3.09, by far the best month of the season. In June when the team slugged its way to a 19-9 record, the team ERA was 4.85, second highest of the season. The pitching excellence isn’t due just to the bullpen. Sure, their relievers are having their best month, too with a sparkling 1.46 ERA, but the starters have a 4.12 ERA, which is by far their best month of the season. 

September has brought concerns about Chris Tillman’s shoulder, Kevin Gausman’s intercostal muscle and Dylan Bundy’s innings, but it’s also brought some unexpected good performances. 

Ubaldo Jimenez recorded the Orioles’ first complete game in two years, and Wade Miley came within an out of the second, and Yovani Gallardo has pitched well recently, too. 

Gallardo will start Friday night at Yankee Stadium and Miley, who is with his newly born son and wife, is slated for Saturday. 
 

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Many changes in Redskins secondary but David Bruton healthy, ready to go

Many changes in Redskins secondary but David Bruton healthy, ready to go

 With DeAngelo Hall out for the year the Redskins secondary must adjust at one safety position, but on the other side, David Bruton feels just fine.

"I feel good," Bruton said on Wednesday. He explained that he has a few bumps and bruises, but that's normal for Week 4 in the NFL. Bruton added that after the game in New York he  iced his knee, but his hamstring felt just fine. 

The former Broncos special teams star has started three games for the Skins at safety this season. He almost grabbed two interceptions last week against the Giants, but has had other plays where he seemed out of alignment. That problem is not unique to Bruton, however, as in various spots the 'Skins defense has seem confused in different formations depending on down and distance. 

MORE REDSKINS: NEW PLANS FOR JOSH NORMAN AGAINST BROWNS 

As for the Redskins secondary expect to continue to see Bruton lined up at safety, now most often next to Will Blackmon. While Deshazor Everett and Duke Ihenacho should get more snaps than they had been, at this point, it seems unlikely Bruton's play will be reduced. Before Hall went down in New York on some third downs Blackmon replaced Bruton. Obviously, for the remainder of the season that plan won't work. 

"We have a lot of good options out there," 'Skins coach Jay Gruden said. "Not overly concerned about the defensive backfield."

Against the Giants on one near interception Bruton and rookie Su'a Cravens went for the same Eli Manning pass, and after the game in the locker room, the players joked about who was to blame for not getting the pick. On the other, it appeared Bruton pulled off a remarkable interception, stealing the ball from Giants running back Bobby Rainey in the end zone. Replay ruled the pass incomplete, prompting confusion from Gruden.

"I’ve heard that everybody says it was an interception except for the replay guy," Gruden said. "I thought his elbow was down, I thought his butt was down, I thought he had control of the ball. I thought it was a clear challengeable play, it just didn’t work out for us. I don’t know what a catch is anymore. I don’t know if anybody does."