Take 5: Yankees, Sixers seek redemption; Phillies, Rockets aim higher

Lionel+Messi+requested+to+leave+FC+Barcelona+this+past+week+after+20+years+with+the+club.

Via Real Valladolid

Lionel Messi requested to leave FC Barcelona this past week after 20 years with the club.

By The Pitt News Staff

The NBA playoffs are in full swing, and Major League Baseball’s contenders are entering the home stretch as they jockey for postseason position, meaning our staff has plenty of material for the latest edition of Take 5.

Small-ball will prevail

The star-studded — yet never adequately respected — Houston Rockets have as good a shot as any to hold up the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy in Orlando this year.

The Rockets have embraced their small-ball approach to an almost unbelievable extent, throwing 6-foot-5 power forward P.J. Tucker into the lion’s den at the center spot to fend for his life against towering bigs on the defensive end. The Rockets are not missing a big man — they simply don’t want one.

The Rockets have poured in 19.2 3-pointers per game in their five playoff games, easily exceeding their record-breaking regular season averages for the past three years. They came two down-to-the-wire finishes away, thanks to Chris Paul’s late heroics, from sweeping the Thunder without nine-time All-Star Russell Westbrook. They cruised to a 34-point victory in his game-five return, despite a horrid 3-13 shooting night by Westbrook.

The Rockets have what many NBA teams take years searching for — an identity. James Harden, in spite of his somewhat-unfair playoff reputation, remains the hardest player in the league to guard defensively. They haven’t looked anywhere near their peak form in these playoffs, yet their unusual attempt at creating an innovative masterpiece of space might be just crazy enough to work.

— Alex Lehmbeck, Sports Editor

Yankees’ struggles seem to be a trend

In a shortened MLB season, every game is almost three times as important. The New York Yankees are sitting at 19-13, second in the American League East. Coming into the season, the Yankees were the favorite to represent the AL in the 2020 World Series.

A team with elite starters, and one of the deepest benches and bullpens in baseball on paper, the Yankees were poised to make a deep playoff run. If the season ended today, the Yanks would still make the playoffs, thanks to the new 16-team playoff format for this COVID-modified season.

In game one of Friday night’s double-header, Chad Green gave up three home runs in the sixth inning, while Aroldis Chapman allowed a walk-off home run in the seventh inning of game two. Now, while one could partially attribute bullpen struggles to the loss of closer Zack Britton, the Yankees as a team have still blown six saves out of 16 opportunities.

The Yankees are top five in save opportunities, with half of their games being decided by a save or blown save. However, the bullpen has struggled to finish out ball games. There are rumors that the Yankees will look to add pitching strength at the trade deadline, and if they do, along with getting their team back healthy, they will be formidable.

— Tyler Mathes, Staff Writer

The Philadelphia 76ers are absolutely screwed

The Philadelphia 76ers were in a deadlocked series in the 2019 NBA playoffs with the eventual champion Toronto Raptors. But after ending up on the wrong side of a shot that took three bounces to find its way in, the Sixers still held optimism about their championship odds in 2020.

It was a tough pill to swallow, but the world had been put on notice — the 76ers are good, they’re young and they’re taking the league by storm.

Fast forward one year, and they’ve just been swept out of the first round by division rivals Boston Celtics. So, what happened? The Sixers have a multitude of problems with no clear solutions.

Despite averaging less than 20 points per game, Tobias Harris will make no less than $34 million for the remainder of his contract beginning next season. To put that in perspective, Los Angeles Clippers superstar Kawhi Leonard is earning $32 million this season. In the same vein, Al Horford has $97 million guaranteed in his new contract, yet he averaged a measly seven points against his former team in these playoffs.

Ben Simmons has a bad attitude, Joel Embiid — although obviously talented — can be a black hole on offense, the bench can’t score, they lost Jimmy Butler and on and on.

The Sixers’ list of problems is long, and they’re ones that take time to solve. Philadelphia’s championship window is closing rapidly, if it’s not already shut. What’s the point of going through “The Process” if you’re just going to end up right back where you started — mediocrity?

— Jack Clay, Staff Writer

Phillies bullpen struggles are a thing of the past

The Philadelphia Phillies have had a historically bad bullpen this season, looking hopeless and seemingly destined to continue blowing leads, inevitably costing the Phils a playoff run.

Recently the team has seen improvements from a few guys who were expected to carry the load in the bullpen. Hector Neris, who took on the closer role, struggled early and had blown three saves in only five opportunities.

But in his last three appearances — none of which were save opportunities — he has not allowed a run and given up only two hits. Tommy Hunter has also looked impressive as of late, giving up only one earned run and four hits while punching out seven over his last eight innings. It seems safe to say that these two can be trusted to lead the bullpen throughout the rest of the season.

The Phillies have also gone out and bolstered the bullpen through trades, picking up Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree and David Hale over the last two weeks.

What was once clearly the worst bullpen in all of baseball has improved and is now at the very least mediocre, which means manager Joe Girardi can finally rely on getting some solid pitching after he pulls the starter, and the Phillies may have a shot at making a playoff run this season.

— Dalton Miller, Staff Writer

Why America should care about Lionel Messi’s departure 

The single greatest player in the history of the world’s most beloved sport requested last week to leave his lifelong club. While soccer is not nearly as popular in the United States as it is around the rest of the globe, it’s barely even a headline for most American sports fans.

The world’s most iconic superstar is widely considered the greatest soccer player to ever live, but there is one main thing that has kept this title from complete unanimity –– Messi has only ever won championships with one club.

The Spanish “La Liga” is among the world’s premier competitions, and since the age of 13, Messi has dominated with FC Barcelona. This is extremely rare. His generational counterpart, Cristiano Ronaldo, has graced and succeeded in three major European leagues, while Messi has remained in Spain. The significance of this point is extremely subjective, but combine this with his overall lack of success in international competitions for Argentina, and critics now have fuel to diminish how impressive his career has been.

Do not get it twisted –– Messi is not leaving because he has anything to prove to anyone, he is leaving the club due to internal factors and problems with newer higher-ups in the organization. Regardless, the significance of his move is unprecedented. Paris Saint-Germain paid 222 million euros for Neymar in the largest transfer ever –– at the age of 33, the price paid for Messi will likely top that.

Even past the economic aspect, Messi leaving his club was something unimaginable until now. Now that he is departing, who knows where he will end up down the line –– after all, some European stars have recently been coming to the United States once they’ve reached a certain age. For now, the best player in the world will look to continue his dominance in a new league.

— Kyle Saxon, Staff Writer

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