The Cardinali Corner: Euro Round of 16 Preview

Guest post from a friend of BSB, Ray Cardinali

 

Belgium v Portugal – Sunday 3 PM

We start with the number one team in the world – Belgium – facing off against (arguably) the best player in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal.  This game could easily be the championship and unfortunately someone is going home in the round of 16.  I could probably spend an hour telling you all the things that I’m excited to see in this one, but I will try to brief.  In their final group game Belgium was finally able to field their ‘A’ team.  If you’ve been paying attention at all, you’ve noticed Romelu Lukaku [3 Goals, created 2 others, built like a horse] and Kevin DeBruyne [1 goal, 2 assists in only a game and a half, best passer of the ball in the world] but they also trotted out Eden Hazard and Axel Witsel against Finland.  Both are recovering from injury and are legitimate world class talents.  That being said, Belgium’s Golden Generation has yet to actually win anything, and the window is starting to close on this team.

Portugal is led by the Ronaldo machine [5 goals, 1 assist], but unlike some of the past Portugal squads, this team is loaded with talent around Cristiano.  Diogo Jota has really developed since leaving Wolves for Liverpool last summer and poses an excellent threat opposite Cristiano.  They also have probably the best centerback over the past year – Ruben Dias of Man City – and an in form keeper in Rui Patricio.  Portugal barely escaped the group of death, but they have the talent and experience [defending Euro Champions] to beat anyone at any time.

Look for a lot of offense in this one.  While Belgium has only yielded one goal to date, they have faced nothing like the firepower Portugal will bring.  Both sides play super aggressively and are going to load up on offensive talent to try and avoid their defense becoming the focus.  One big X-factor to me is Bruno Fernandes.  The Manchester United midfielder was an absolute superstar during the past Premier League season, but his form has been so poor over the past few weeks that he found himself on the bench for Portugal’s final group game.  I thought Renato Sanches actually played excellent in his place, but not having full Bruno is definitely a hit.  I am going to lean Belgium in this one.  I look for them to be aggressive in the midfield and control possession in a fairly open game with lots of chances.

 

Italy v Austria – Saturday 3 PM

After failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Italy has been far from anyone’s idea of a powerhouse.  Oh what a difference a few years can make.  Italy became (I believe) the first team to win all of their group stage games without allowing a goal.  For their third game they essentially rested their entire team, and still won 1-0 without ever really being tested.  Led by streaky goal scorer Ciro Immobile [record holding 36 goals in Serie A two years ago] and 22 year old keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma [3 clean sheets, only 2 shots faced] Italy has won their last 11 contests by a score of 32-0.  They play an aggressive style, constantly moving the ball forwards with their various talented midfielders making deep probing runs in behind.

I have to admit I didn’t know much about Austria coming into this tournament.  They played really well in their first game against North Macedonia, struggled in a 0-2 loss to Netherlands, and then pulled out a 1-0 win over Ukraine to advance to the knockout stages. They have been led by the excellent David Alaba [Bayern] who they have deployed literally all over the field in their three matches.  More predictably, they will have Stefan Lainer deployed on the right as an aggressive winger.  Fun fact, Lainer was actually ranked #1 in the EURO player ranking [every player in the tournament is ranked upon their play to date] following Austria’s third game.  He is at 10th following the end of the group stages.

Austria is definitely game and they have enough talent to trouble Italy, particularly defensively, but it won’t be easy.  Hopefully Christoph Baumgartner [winning goal against Ukraine] can return from the head injury he suffered in the last game to give Austria a little more attacking talent.  I don’t see it being enough though.  Italy is rolling right now and I don’t see that stopping here.  Look for them to control the middle of the field and just apply too much pressure for Austria to handle.

France v Switzerland – Monday 3 PM

Oh France.  They have legitimate world class players at every position and several on the bench.  You probably know Kylian Mbappe [fastest man around], Paul Pogba [Blond streaked afro], and Antoine Griezmann [now long haired] – but they also have N’Golo Kante [recently won man of the match in both legs of the champions league semi-finals and also the finals] and the recently reinstated Karim Benzema [was exiled from the France national team for a strange sex tape blackmail scandal].  Long story short, they are loaded through and through and are the defending World Cup Champions.

Switzerland qualified as a 3rd place team in their group behind Wales and Italy.  They had a big 3-1 win over Turkey in their final group game that saw them through.  They have been led by midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri [Liverpool, 2 goals, 1 assist] who had an absolute worldie of a goal against Turkey.  They have a few more big names dotted around the lineup and I have personally enjoyed watching their striker Breel Embolo, a big man with lots of pace.

Switzerland is a game side and they definitely have some skilled players, but they can’t match up with France.  The French have really not been impressive so far in this tournament, but even so they went through the group of death without a loss.  When they were pushed against Hungary and had to have a goal, they got it.  When they sat back against Germany and lost out big in expected goals, they still won the game 1-0.  France may lose at some point, but it wont be to Switzerland.  Willing to say this is the biggest lock of the round.

Croatia v Spain – Monday 12 PM

Croatia was my bandwagon team for the last World Cup.  First, Dubrovnik is probably my favorite place I have traveled to, and second, Luka Modric is a legitimate stud.  He is the only man other than Cristiano or Messi to win the Balon D’or [footballer of the year] since 2007!!! They did lose Mario Mandzukic off of the team that challenged France in the last World Cup Final, but they still have Ivan Perisic marauding on the right side and in their third group game, Modric was at the peak of his powers assisting Perisic for one and scoring a sublime strike of his own.

Here is something that I found stunning about Spain after three games.  They lead the tournament in attacks with 209 [next is Germany on 177] and clear chances with 7 [next highest is 4].  It took them awhile to break out – putting up a goose egg against Sweden and 1 against Poland – before breaking out for a 5 spot against an undertalented Slovakia.  In classic Spain fashion, they have loads of talent in the midfield – Sergio Busquets returned against Slovakia after missing the first two games – and some on defense (particularly Jordi Alba) but not so much in front of goal.  Hence the chances and the relative lack of goals.  They don’t play quite the same style that helped them to titles at EURO 2008, World Cup 2010, and EURO 2012, but the biggest issue is the lack of a goalscoring assassin up top.

I’ve gone back and forth on this game a lot.  Croatia fits the crafty veteran role perfectly and I always will have a soft spot for that.  Combine that with Modric’s play in the last game and they are a more than game underdog [+400 when I checked].  In the end I am going with Spain because, although he hasn’t played much, my guy Adama Traore is an absolute freakshow and that tips the scales for me.

Sweden v Ukraine – Tuesday 3 PM

Sweden topped Group E with two wins and a draw.  They played possibly the most conservative game of anyone at the tournament in their first match against Spain, at one point in the second half Spain had possession numbers up near 90%, but managed a 0-0 draw and followed that up with 1-0 and 3-2 wins over Slovakia and Poland respectively.  Far and away Sweden’s best player has been Emil Forsberg [3 goals], a dangerous wide midfielder who has a tendency to make deep probing runs in behind the defense.  Their game has been built on a combination of defensive rigidity, and well timed offensive spurts.

Ukraine was surprisingly one of my favorite teams to watch during the group stages. They have a couple of recognizable names from the big leagues around Europe, probably most notably their manager Andriy Shevshenko former AC Milan and Chelsea star.  They have been led at this tournament by Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk.  Both have 2 Goals and an assist.  Yarmolenko in particular is trying to prove his worth after a season spent essentially on the bench for West Ham United.  That said, they advanced with only 3 points as the last team to make it, interestingly scoring all 4 of their goals over two separate 5 minute game periods.

Not going to lie I got fired up both times Ukraine pulled the Yaremchuk/Yarmalenko doubles in their first two games, but its tough to see them moving on here.  They took advantage of Netherlands essentially falling asleep for two goals in their first group game (which they still lost) and did the same against North Macedonia for their only win.  Sweden is the pick here.  If they could keep their composure over 90 minutes against a Spain side that constantly had the ball, I don’t see them letting their guard down against the Ukraine here.

England v Germany – Tuesday 12 PM

Much like Belgium/Portugal, I could probably write an entire dissertation just on this game.  If you watch soccer at all, you know England’s biggest names.  Yes, Harry Kane is still on the team although you may not have noticed since he has done about as much on the field in this tournament as I have.  England did not face a particularly difficult group round, but along with Italy they were the only two teams to allow 0 goals.  The problems have come on the other end.  Raheem Sterling has emerged from the Manchester City bench to score the only two goals for England so far.  It will be interesting to see if Mason Mount can clear COVID protocols prior to the game (it should be close from what I am reading) and how that effects the XI that Gareth Southgate goes with.  Mount would seem to be a no brainer as a pseudo number 10 in the middle of the field, but the most fluid England has looked offensively was probably the first half of their third group stage – with Jack Grealish filling in for Mount.

Germany has been one hell of a roller coaster ride this tournament.  After failing to escape the group stage at the last World Cup, there was a lot of pressure on the Germans to make some noise here.  Another roster that is absolutely loaded with talent, but is really missing that in form striker up top to tally the goals.  Timo Werner has been nothing short of awful, basically since moving to Chelsea last summer.  Kai Havertz, after scoring the only goal in the champions league final, has started to get his form back and has been particularly dangerous at this tournament.  Germany played excellent against France, but could not get past the Kante wall, and still easily could have lost 0-3 [Mbappe had a goal and assist called off by VAR].  Then they came out flat against Portugal, went down 1-0 on a penalty, and seemed to be on their way out of the tournament.  Eventually a Portugal own goal tied the game right before half and seemingly changed Germany’s whole demeanor.  Over the next 25 minutes or so they scored 3 more goals (could have been 6) and essentially abused Portugal wide on both wings.  Robin Gosens [1 goal, 2 assists] and Joshua Kimmich [2 assists] have been particularly dangerous.

As I mentioned, Germany played very well against both France and Portugal despite some clear defensive issues.  Germany is playing a particularly aggressive style essentially playing with 1 defender on occasion and forcing their wing backs incredibly high up the field.  France used their supreme talent and a low block defensive gameplan to hold Germany down.  Portugal refused to adapt and got beaten out wide repeatedly (they played 3 different guys on the right to try and mark Gosens and no one could).  The reason I mention this, is that both of these teams play with a back four, the same way England has so far in the Euros.  England has the personnel to play a back 3 (one of the biggest reasons Hungary was able to slow Germany so well), but I imagine it would hard to justify moving to a more defensive formation after scoring only twice in three games.  Germany is my pick here although I wouldn’t be surprised by anything.  Germany is essentially all in on their offense and England appears to be all defense at this point so we have a bit of a strength on strength, weakness on weakness thing going on here.

Netherlands v Czech Republic – Sunday 12 PM

The Oranje! I love the Netherlands, their style is extremely pleasing to watch.  They are led by their talisman Memphis Depay [2 goals, 2 assists] and captain Georginio Wijnaldum [3 goals].  They have also gotten a huge boost from wingback Denzel Dumfries [2 goals].  Outside of a 2 goal in 5 minute lapse against Ukraine, they did not allow any goals and racked up an impressive 8.  They are talented, attack minded, and in excellent form.

The Czech Republic advanced on the strength of a 2-0 win over Scotland a 1-1 draw with Croatia.  They have a couple of very good Premier League players in wingback Vladimir Coufal and Tomas Soucek [both of West Ham].  Their main man so far in this tournament has been Patrik Schick [3 goals].  Unfortunately, those are the only 3 goals they have been able to score, most recently getting shut out by England.  They did manage to ask some questions in the second half of that game, but it was inevitably not enough to push one over the line.

The Czech Republic has been more than game so far in this tournament and I would expect nothing different here.  The only problem is, they may be running into a buzzsaw.  Netherlands is going to possess the ball, they are going to attack, and they are more than likely going to score multiple goals, all things England did not really do against the Czechs.  Netherlands is the pick here and is currently my dark horse finalist pick.  Too much offensive firepower, and too much oranje.

Wales v Denmark – Saturday 12 PM

To me, Wales’ story starts and ends with Gareth Bale [2 assists].  After being loaned to Tottenham mid-season, Gareth settled down towards the end of the season and really started to find his form again.  He doesn’t quite have the pace to run past defenders as he used to, but there is still wonder in those boots and he has evolved his game accordingly.  He routinely drops deeper into midfield to link up play and has been creating absolutely wonderful opportunities for his teammates all over the field in this tournament.  Supported by the pace of Daniel James [Manchester United] and Aaron Ramsey [Juventus], Wales has a couple of weapons that they will lean on heavily.

As I am sure everyone knows, Denmark’s story starts and ends with Christian Eriksen.  His on field collapse and subsequent cardiac episode have been well covered and I will not try and find the words to reiterate how difficult that must have been for everyone involved.  Luckily Christian appears to have recovered to some degree, is out of the hospital, and hopefully is on the path to someday getting back on the pitch.  Make no mistake, before this tournament started Denmark was among the leading underdog picks, largely based on the absurd talents of Eriksen.  Not to disparage the rest of the roster as they have talent at all four levels – attack [Yussuf Poulsen, 2 goals], midfield [Pierre-Emil Hojberg, 3 assists], defense [Andreas Christensen, 1 goal] and in goal [Kasper Schmeichel of Leicester City].  They clearly were emotional in losing following Eriksen’s game one collapse, but they bounced back to dominate the first half against Belgium [only falling off after Kevin DeBruyne entered at half] and crush Russia 4-1 in a had to have it game.  They appear to be starting to get back in rhythm at the right time.

I could honestly see this game going either way.  Bale is playing world class right now and he has the kind of ability that can win a game on its own.  Also remember that in the last iteration of this tournament, Wales made an epic underdog run to the semifinals.  That said, I have to go with Denmark here.  Their play is trending in the right direction, they have more across the board talent than Wales, and if anyone ever deserves anything in this game, it is the players that had to watch one of their teammates flatline on the field before being resuscitated.

 

Picks

Belgium

Italy

France

Spain

Sweden

Germany

Netherlands

Denmark

DISCLAIMER – I literally started watching soccer 18 months ago.  I have watched probably 90% of Premier League games in that time, a smattering of Bundesliga games, and as many Champions and Europa League games as I could.  I have tried to read and absorb as much information as I can in that time period, but I often don’t really understand the gameplans and tactics.  Long way of saying, I may have more information than you, but I am far from an expert.  Don’t blame me if all my picks are wrong!

Hawks Game 4 reactions: All takes welcomed

In between the lines

What a difference a half of basketball can make. The Sixers seemed to be cruising along on their way to a 3-1 series lead, ready to validate that game one was a fluke. At that point, they had outright won or split 11 of the 14 quarters in the series. Then they let a desperate Hawks team tie up the series.

Mr Pessimistic (aka every Philadelphia dad) will tell you that this proves they need a more traditional closer and more players with an overall ability to create their own shot. They will also say that clearly Embiid is too injured to carry this team through playoffs and that Doc is no better than BB. The Ben haters will be out in full force, the Dwight bashers will tell you he cost us critical points and the George Hill search party should be kicking off. They let an Atlanta team shoot horrible from the field and still win. Yet another year of not reaching the ECF is ahead…

But then there’s glass half full guy, they are more rare, but do indeed exist. These Hawks are very strong at home and needed a historically bad half from Jo to eek out a must-win game. Tobi still played very strong (so strong that it would have made too much sense to let the ball find him down one with 15 seconds to go). Jo was clearly bad and something was not right, but he still fought his way to 20 boards and a helluva effort. Three games left and two are in Philly so we got this…

Where’s the truth? Sports imitating life here- it’s somewhere in the middle. It still seems more likely than not that the Sixers win this series, and their reward will be either a hobbled Nets team or a perplexing Bucks team.

 

The best from online

Dave Chappelle always makes me feel better. And so does the Vinsider.

https://twitter.com/vinfosh/status/1404636233771499523?s=21

 

The bottom line

Turning to Master Yoda here- “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

There’s fear alright- Jo appeared to have no legs and championship aspirations and that’s a really scary thought. It’s then easy to be furious that he is putting his best year together so this happens while the Nets are wounded. Why wouldn’t you hate this whiny Hawks team and hate that garbage injuries always seem to happen to us? Let’s not even talk about suffering.

Forgetting Master Yoda, have no fear about this Game 4 loss as we will bounce back thanks to our own Thy-master, Jo and Ben- officially named today three of the top defenders in the Association. And if there truly is a problem with Jo’s health moving forward, well at least we know how to do suffering the right way in Philly.

Hawks Game 3 reactions: Jo and Ben versus (all of) Atlanta

In between the lines

There was a LOT to feel good about with this game. And that’s accounting for the angst and nerves related to injury scares with Danny (calf, end result of boot), Tobi (dumb cameraman) and Jo (any time he makes a slight grimace). The defense was absolutely stifling in a few stretches, a very encouraging scene with a likely battle looming with Brooklyn. Tisse should be commended tonight, you will gladly have him use all six of his fouls against Trae, especially if he is able to hit a three and throw down a few dunks along the way.

Trae was essentially a non-factor. This was one of the quietest 28-point efforts I have ever seen. In fact, he was the game’s high scorer, but he also had 10 of his points in the last 7 minutes after the game was decided. Instead, the best offense of the night goes to the dynamic duo of Jo and Ben. Coming out of halftime, they tortured the young Hawks D and it seems that they could have legitimately had their way against them 2v5.

I was prematurely frustrated when Jo came back in around the seven minute mark up by 20. Doc proved right there as the Hawks still had some fight. However, there is no excuse for him to be on the court with less than one minute in what was a 16-point win. While Doc may have been sending a message that he does not plan to take this Atlanta squad lightly, he definitely shouldn’t be taking any extra wear and tear on a torn meniscus lightly either.

 

The best worst from online

http://www.espn.com/video/clip/_/id/31610890

Another day, another swing and miss by Stephen A. “[Atlanta], the future you have been waiting for, has finally arrived.” If Game 3 is any indication of the future for this Hawks franchise, I guess that sometimes it is better to live in the past. The poor Hawks fans had a tough night as the biggest thing they had to cheer about was when Embiid came up gimpy- stay classy Atlanta.

 

The bottom line

The Sixers are clearly the better team and appear fully motivated to prove this to everyone the rest of the series. Tell your mom, your neighbor, that Celtics fan at your gym, and definitely tell Stephen A. Let’s also check-in with the wins remaining to a Championship tracker. 10 (as of tonight), then 9-8 to eliminate the Hawks, Seventy-Sixers.

Hawks Game 1 reactions: Yup, it’s now Glenn Rivers

In between the lines

What a bizarre game. The Hawks could have and probably should have won this game going away by 25+ points. Instead, it’s completely fair to say that the Sixers lost to the clock as a 50-minute game would have likely meant victory for the home team.

For a majority of the afternoon, Atlanta could absolutely not miss and Trae tormented a completely incapable Danny Green (more on that in a minute). But Embiid did Embiid things which included dropping 39 points in his return from what remains a very concerning injury. Seth and Tobi both went for 20 points again. Also, it’s never a lost game when Tisse hits two 3s and looks very confident in firing away from deep four times in total.

The biggest X-factor today never stepped onto the court. Doc lost this game, in more ways than one. His rotations continue to mystify (if you are going to have Ben and Dwight share the floor together, you better have three ready, willing and able shooters on the floor alongside them). On a related note, he is still running a 10 man rotation (and that is discounting a very LONG minute from Shook Milton- thanks Dave!). But the big issue was the Danny Green on Trae situation. No words or sarcasm will do this justice. I will instead note that the irony is not lost on me that Doc refused to make the necessary adjustments on the day his old time the Clippers played a great Game 7 to advance to the second round.

 

The best from online

Here’s a pick-me-up after the Game 1 loss

https://twitter.com/dan_olinger/status/1401370736695164928?s=21

 

The bottom line

The Sixers nearly overtook a shell-shocked Hawks team down the stretch, in which they would have overcome red-hot shooting from the other team, inept coaching from their team, 74 points dropped on them in the first half and 19 turnovers. Add that all up, and it tells me that the Sixers will win this series. It will go six or seven, but when the chips are down, I think the Sixers recent playoff experience will be the different maker. Just keep Danny Green as far away as possible from Trae.

Rooting for Laundry: The Best Sixers Jerseys

To spare everyone the fanfare, here are the best basketball jerseys from the best sports town.

No. 5 – 1976 Black Sixers

Full disclosure, until I was putting this together, I don’t know that I had ever seen this jersey. This jersey is awesome and I think it only works on a black base. Some of the die-hards won’t even talk about our jerseys if they are not a red, white or blue base. This is wrong and these individuals will be proven wrong again as this list progresses.

SIXERS is displayed loudly and the numbers are oversized as well. The blue text with red trim is to be expected here, but where is the white? Keep looking and you still won’t find it. Even the stars in the side paneling are red. High risk, high reward. I would love to see this in rotation at some point. Since it’s not at this time, that’s the primary reason it rings in at only #5

 

No. 4 – 1996 Red Sixers

On the whole, their red jerseys have never landed with me, but this one glides in for a safe landing. SIXERS is written in just enough of a weird font and the numbers have a little funk to them as well. This font package walks right up to the edge of the cliff in Comic Sans land, but it calmly holds its ground.

While there is a lot of red to soak in, white is used splendidly throughout the design. This includes generous width and scope to the trim and the size of SIXERS holds its own against the size of the numbers on the front. Blue brings it home, with the body of the numbers and a dash on the side. A bit on the nose with the red, white and blue.

 

No. 3 – Black Iverson-led days

This is probably “the” preferred jersey for fans aged 25-40. It immediately makes you recall the Iverson glory days and is objectively one of the best league-wide jerseys from circa 2000. The logo is great of course and it’s one of the rare Sixers jerseys to feature the logo prominently.

The font of the number is memorable and particularly looks good as a ‘3’ – or maybe it’s just that all things Iverson are unapologetically awesome. The placement of the number down the right works well, in motion with the ball flowing across the front. The star on the column makes for a nice touch. Blue does not make much of an appearance, but it’s not needed as the red is a perfect pairing to the black.

 

No. 2 – 1976 Blue Sixers

There has to be at least one blue jersey in the list and this is the one. No doubt about it. This is essentially what they are going for in the current-day blue primary jersey, but SIXERS does the job much better than Phila is able to do. This print just screams ‘Cradle of Liberty.’

The text in the front is compact and it works, partly because the numbering font runs in a bit of contrast to the ho-hum wording font. Two things that this jersey does better than the current-day version: 1) the neck trim is a simple white/red, as opposed to the white/red/white now. Secondly, the side paneling has a more natural angling and blends in better to the arm trim.

 

No. 1 – 2021 Black Boathouse Row

I can guarantee you that I am an upstanding citizen and not a prisoner of the moment. I loved this jersey the second that I saw it. While we are suffering from fatigue with what seems like a never-ending barrage of new jerseys (we’ll save that for another day), this one was rightfully added to the collection. I am somewhat shocked that they have been rolling with this one to start the playoffs, but when life hands you lemons, take a big ol’ bite.

Where to start? Boathouse Row could have come off cliché here, especially since it’s shown several times on EVERY national broadcast. But it doesn’t come off as pandering, if for no other reason than the hidden TTP. The reflection is phenomenal, including how it runs a little below the text line of PHILADELPHIA. Speaking of civic pride, the subtle Philadelphia, USA at the bottom is a nice touch. I really like the number at the top on both sides, with the blue shadowing casually breaking up what is otherwise a black and white print. The final touches of blue and red trim (sandwiched around a thin black line) rounds out the color package. As the jersey collection has been oversaturated in recent years, it’s inevitable that one of them would hit the mark. And like a Simmons 3, enjoy this one because you may never see it again.

A full day of cruising WebEmbiid

In between the lines

A few stats- Tobi is averaging 25 points in the playoffs, up more than five from the regular season. He’s also pulling in 10 boards per game. Ben recorded a triple double and hit (quadruple checks notes) over 50% of his free throws. Seth dropped 30 (with only three 3’s) and Maxey continues to prepare himself for the role of the difference maker in an upcoming playoff game. Also, it’s always nice to have single-digit turnovers after the BB era.

Another bit of good news- 12 wins to go is less than 13 wins.

The best from online

https://twitter.com/russelbealbrook/status/1400266484312596484?s=21

The bottom line

Today, I received medical advice via video from a doctor- the esteemed Dr Bartolozzi, to be specific. Normal for these COVID times, right? It was about a slight meniscus tear, a relatively normal injury. However the diagnosis was not for myself, nor for anyone in my immediate family. It was for a person that I have never met (but admittedly care about very deeply). Prior to watching the video, I flip-flopped between ‘I have to watch this ASAP’ and pushing it off for fear of the unknown.

This is still normal, right? Probably not. But nothing is normal about being a sports fan, particularly one from Philadelphia. There’s no chill, joy is fleeting and there is an ever-expanding sense of doom. However, the good doctor seemed to be hinting at good news.

Here’s the bottom line- and what I will be repeating to myself (even if this is one of those night I’m wavering): Trust the Process, and that Jo just needs 2+ weeks of rehab. Let’s worry about it then. If we cannot beat the Hawks without Embiid, we aren’t beating the Nets with a completely healthy Jo.

But the bottom, bottom line- If Jo is not okay come the ECF, I’m coming for your medical license Dr Bartolozzi.

Game 4 Reactions- Sixers x Wiz

In between the lines

Tyrese Maxey can play ball. And to think, it was seriously discussed that we trade him (along with probably Danny “all I do is win” Green) for Kyle Lowry. He belongs in the Association and he might just play some very meaningful minutes in some very meaningful games in a few weeks. His shot keeps looking better, he has become a threat on the defensive end and he is absolutely fearless in attacking the rim.

As the voice of our Sixers might say, Tyrese Maxey turned an otherwise garbage night into gold.

The best from online

https://twitter.com/jlacy14_/status/1399545658332401667?s=21

The bottom line

The Sixers are just fine (if Embiid is fine). The Washington Izards was barely able to earn their first W, and the chances of them getting their second W seem small (if Embiid plays next game). Nearly everything broke their way, including dominating the paint (because Embiid’s back… Knee… Eyebrow… lie to me all you want if this was just for precautions). The bottom line- if Embiid is healthy so are our title chances. So basically, everything we knew already.

Only in Philadelphia?

Let’s get this out of the way- there is no excuse for the Westbrook popcorn incident (please know he is an evergreen member of my ‘very strongly dislike’ players list). He had a right to be furious. Low class move, it’s something none of us would want to happen to us while on a conference call. Ban this person. Now let’s move on.

Everything in life could benefit from some additional context. Have there been any other recent awful fan interactions, perhaps even that same night? Why yes there was, some Knicks fan SPIT on Trae Young. I would rather have popcorn dumped on me than be spat upon 101 times out of 100.

I’d be willing to bet a few mortgage payments that when we flash forward a few years, the incident from this night that remains in our collective memory is Popcorn Russ. Maybe there is a reason for this though? Russ is a bigger star, at least for now- but I think a few people have heard of this Trae Young guy. So nothing here. Was only one of these games on national TV? Nope, wrong again. Maybe the spitting incident happened in a small market? Nevermind, it was in New York and the other was in Philly… wait a second, the 215 was involved. Bingo!

The bottom line? When it comes to Philly, the national sports media is lazy and awful. How do I know that they are lazy? That’s because it’s made up of people and people are lazy, clueless followers whenever they can be. They have been relying upon and building the same case against Philly since a few throwballs were tossed at a cheap version of the man in Red (back when the world was still in black and white). Yes, there are terrible Philly sports fans, but it’s the same with EVERY fan base. The proof is a very simple equation- there are morons everywhere and sports events allow alcohol.

So, the other bottom line: To all of the Phanatical phans at Philadelphia sports events- please stop doing dumb things. Don’t give the internet and the talking heads the opportunity to degrade the best city (in sports).

Not My Phanatic?

With Opening Day right around the corner, there will be plenty of roster-related and wins projections articles to digest. However, something different is on my mind at the moment.

The world changed in early 2020. We were so naïve. It couldn’t happen in our backyard. We’re talking about the best of the best; too big to fail. What could possibly force us to make sweeping changes to the red, white and blue… and green mascot. I mean, we’re talking about the best mascot in sports- the Phillie Phanatic.

First of all, let’s get this out of the way- the Phanatic is the best mascot. Not just in the MLB, not just in North American sports, but in the history of professional activities. Do I have an above-average knowledge of the pantheon of professional mascots? Nope, but it doesn’t matter.

If you try to award any other mascot with the crown- you’re not just wrong, you’re stupid. Who else could it possibly be?

The San Diego Chicken? We are talking about a chicken, next…

The Canadiens’ Youppi!? The exclamation point is part of his official name. Uh yeah, I don’t want grammar anywhere near my sports.

Wally the Green Monster wouldn’t even make it as a Sesame Street cast member.

Mr Met? Stop, you’re embarrassing yourself.

Et tu, Brute? It’s absolutely not Brutus of Ohio State.

How about the Phoenix Suns Gorilla? Sorry, but if you are a mascot in a city where sports is about the 100th priority, you are eliminated.

Feel free to keep trying, but you’re wasting your time.

Back to it, we are only about one year removed – from what has admittedly felt like thirty years in reality – from hearing that the Phanatic was no longer going to be the Phanatic. In a move to get ahead of a legal battle over the Phanatic’s ownership rights, the Phillies played Darwin and forced overnight evolution.

As a quick side note- this story got buried as we battled the early stages of a pandemic. Which was a huge PR break for the Phils, since our city’s natives are not the most forgiving bunch. Potential fan backlash could have factored into the upcoming legal proceedings. While it’s not clear how the reactions would have went, the window for visceral reactions is gone and it’s now largely an afterthought within our collective ADHD attention span.

I’m not concerned about the legal battle here (visit the Google for more). What I really want to talk about is how they changed the lovable goofball that we all grew up watching. This version has a star-struck look in his eyes, has bleached its fur, sports new kicks, has these odd scales and is displaying an interest in being slightly more healthy. You might not notice it much when you see him, but looking at a before and after side-by-side might be enough to make your inner child cry. At minimum, it just feels… wrong.

Your brain can’t place it, but it’s there. Something is not quite right. Like Uncanny Valley in aesthetics, Philadelphians and New Yorkers getting along, preferring cats to dogs, that hazy feeling after too long of a midday nap or why you are so deeply compelled to dispel any Wawa slander.

Perhaps it’s not that important in the long run, but it sort of is. The Phanatic has been part of the fabric of Philly since the late 70s and is well-known outside of sports. There was something wholesome about the creature, co-existing alongside the rest of the creatures in the stands. In other words, the legitimate ‘fanatics’ belittled by national pundits that are too lazy to form a self-realized narrative.

He was always there through the bad times, which are plentiful in Philly sports fandom. We projected our optimism onto him and he gladly embraced it. The Phanatic brings equal joy to a nine month old and a ninety year old. In a world that keeps changing and where new is sold as better, this green furball provided consistency.

Now because of a dispute over money, we were handed a modified Phanatic. It would be easy to say this is not my Phanatic.

But here’s the thing, he’s not my Phanatic, and he’s not yours either. Creators Bonnie Erickson and Wayde Harrison don’t own this creature. Nor do the Phillies. I also don’t think that David Raymond or “best phriend” of the Phanatic Tom Burgoyne would claim ownership rights.

The Phanatic is all of ours. Neither his appearance nor arguments over his copyright change what he means to the City. He’s a treasure and, despite Nicholas Cage’s best efforts, Philadelphia always protects its treasures.

He’s the manifestation of a city that is overly passionate, not often enough victorious and always misunderstood. He is the most likeable thing from a city that is anything but likeable, but I think we would rather have it that way. Sure no one like us, but we don’t care.

So as we get ready to ‘play ball’ once again, remember who has been around longer than anyone on the field or in the front office- our dear Phanatic. As Jerry Seinfeld once said, “we’re rooting for the clothes,” and he’s been wearing the jersey longer than anyone.

Hold up, Jerry is one of the biggest Mets fans out there, so maybe we can co-exist with Mets fans? Well, probably not, but with the weather warming up and a return to the diamond, anything is possible.

Go Phils!