Sixers ready for breakout season?


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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Barry Trotz on the Capitals' struggles: 'We just need more push'

Barry Trotz on the Capitals' struggles: 'We just need more push'

The overarching theme in the Capitals' dressing room following Wednesday’s humbling 4-1 loss to the upstart Oilers was this: right now they simply aren’t doing enough to make their own breaks.

“We just need a little more push from the whole group,” Barry Trotz told reporters at Rogers Place. “We’re going to have to get a little more greasy. Get some of those greasy goals. …I thought today we were just playing. We have another level in our game.”

One doesn’t need to look very hard to find the deficiencies in the Capitals’ game. It’s a lack of scoring, at even strength and on the power play, and a penalty kill that suddenly looks a bit pedestrian.

Washington’s high-octane offense has produced a meager 14 goals (27th) six games into the new season. The power play has contributed just a pair of tallies and, at 10.5-percent, sits third from the bottom. As for the vaunted penalty kill? It’s allowed a goal in five of the six contests, including another one in Edmonton.    

“We’re going to have to get both our special teams going,” Trotz said. “Those key moments when we’re still in the game, we have to recognize those moments. We’re not recognizing those moments right now.”


Asked specifically about the penalty kill, Trotz said: “We got to get some of those blocks. We got to be in the lanes a little bit better. And we have to get the timely save, too. All that is not really there right now.”

When it comes to scoring more goals, Trotz doesn’t want to hear about dominating zone time or having a ton of quality opportunities. He’s a bottom line kind of guy and only cares about one number.

“Those chances don’t count,” he said. “They really don’t count. That’s why the scoreboard is just for goals. We got a chance to stick the puck in the net, let’s stick the puck in the net.”

A few veteran leaders echoed Trotz’s sentiments. The team has got skill to spare, they agreed. But now it’s time to mix in a little more will power and, specifically, hunger and determination around the opposing net.

“[We] have skill guys up front, but we didn’t use our strength in front of their net,” said Ovechkin, who netted the Capitals’ only goal, his fourth, early in the third period. “We have the skill. We knew exactly what we had to do [on the power play]. But at the same time we didn’t do it. Everybody understands in this room that we have to play better. It starts with me and all the leaders, obviously.”  

Defenseman Matt Niskanen said players need to dig deep and give that extra effort, particularly in puck battles.  

“We got to perform better,” Niskanen said. “Guys need to do their jobs. It was a little uncomfortable in here today after the game. …We’re just kinda average in a lot of areas right now, five-on-five and special teams. We’re in the right position a lot of times, but we need that little bit more second, third effort to win a puck. Or a second, third effort to score a goal or block a shot, whatever it is. You have to find ways to make those plays and win those battle to have success.”

With the Capitals’ next game on Saturday night in Vancouver, the players will have ample time to regroup and reflect on what’s gone wrong the past two games.

“Over the next couple of days, it’s a little bit of looking in the mirror,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “Each guy, probably, and see what we can bring to the table. We’re not bringing enough to the table right now individually. I think two losses in a row is enough for this group to figure that out. We’ll do that, we talked about that after the game. It’s just a bit of a reality check for us right now. I know it’s early in the season but we’re used to winning more games.”


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Ravens' Lardarius Webb: 'Winning football' comes down to little things

Ravens' Lardarius Webb: 'Winning football' comes down to little things

Safety Lardarius Webb sat at his locker at MetLife Stadium on Sunday digesting the Ravens fourth straight loss and lamenting all the things the Ravens are not doing in order to, in the words of coach John Harbaugh, play "winning football."

"It's making the tackle," Webb said, "getting off the field on third down when you're supposed to. When you make a turnover, not turning it back over."

"It's a lot of little things. We can't do those things to give them the edge."

Webb is the fifth-longest tenured Raven and one of the veteran leaders of this team. And with hints of gray in his sideburns and his beard, and with a gimpy hamstring that knocked him out of the Jets game, Webb, 31, has shown his age at times this year.

In each of the last two losses, a speedy receiver turned a short catch into a long touchdown, with the receiver each time blowing by Webb -- the last line of defense at free safety -- and outrunning him to the end zone.

First it was Odell Beckham going 66 yards with the game-winning score for the Giants in the final two minutes. Then this past week, Quincy Enunwa turned a seemingly harmelss 10-yard pass into a 69-yard touchdown.

"We can't give them big plays," Webb said. "Can't miss tackles."

Through seven games, Webb has 19 tackles and one pass breakup.

Webb's transition from cornerback to safety was one of the major defensive storylines coming into the season,  and secondary coach Leslie Frazier acknowledged that it has been an uneven season for the veteran.

"He has had some good moments, and there are some moments where I’m sure he would be the first to tell you he would like to have another chance at," Frazier said after Tuesday's bye week practice. "But he has done a lot of good things. I think it was a good move for him.

"He has a lot of range and a lot of athletic ability as well. He is still learning as he is going through the process. ... I think overall, he has done a good job at the position. I think he will get better as the season goes on."

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