Will the Philadelphia Sixers trade up into the draft? Will Andre Iguodala be shopping for a home in another city come tomorrow? Will they stand pat at 16? Will they take the much-needed big man? Feel free to discuss the action in the comments.
Another week of Flyers hockey this season is in the books.
And this mostly unsuccessful week was especially deflating because a playoff berth gets further and further away as the losses keep piling up. Time is running short to keep this season alive.
The Flyers got off to a solid start this week with a 3-2 win late night in Vancouver on Sunday. But they could not keep the momentum going at home as they were overwhelmed by the NHL-best Capitals in a 4-1 defeat on Wednesday. The Flyers played well outdoors in Pittsburgh on Saturday, but were still doubled up in a 4-2 loss.
Let’s dive deeper into the week that was for the Flyers.
• After the win in Vancouver on Sunday night, you thought maybe that would be a boost for the Flyers as they headed back home. Well, not so much. Instead, this week proved just how far away the Flyers are. They couldn’t keep up with the Caps on Wednesday, and while they played better Saturday at Heinz Field, it still wasn’t enough. As of early Sunday evening, the Flyers are six points out of the final wild-card berth in the East. Five points doesn’t seem like much, but with as poorly as the Flyers have been playing, especially offensively, and how the handful teams they’re contending with for that spot (Florida, Toronto, Boston, NY Islanders, Tampa) are playing much better these days, six points seem like a mountain. All those factors combined should tip the Flyers’ scale heavily into sell mode before Wednesday’s trade deadline. Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto and both Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth are all prime candidates to be moved. There are 21 games left heading into Tuesday’s meeting with Colorado. There’s time, but with the way this week and recent weeks went, the Flyers shouldn’t hesitate to make a move if there’s one they like, no matter what the standings look like.
• Let’s go back to the Washington game on Wednesday for a moment. The opening sequence of that game was, in a lot of ways, a microcosm of Dale Weise’s first season with the Flyers. He made a great hustle play to nullify an icing and help set up Jake Voracek’s goal. But he cancelled that out with a unnecessary push of Washington goalie Braden Holtby that took Voracek’s goal off the board and helped put the momentum right back in the laps of the Capitals. The good plays Weise has made this season have been greatly outweighed by his mistakes. Weise has two goals this season, both scored in the state of Florida on back-to-back nights in November.
• Sticking with the Capitals game on Wednesday, there was a sequence late in the second period of that game that stuck out to me when the score was 2-1 in favor of Washington. As a fruitless Flyers' power play wound down, Matt Read controlled the puck along the half-wall. Instead of trying to get the puck toward the net, he carried the puck into heavy traffic behind the Washington net. The Caps eventually won the battle along the boards and skated out of the zone with the puck. Moments later, Evgeny Kuznetsov put the puck towards the net. It hit the stick of Radko Gudas and pinballed past Michal Neuvirth to give the Caps a 3-1 lead. Proof that sending the puck toward the net is almost never a bad play.
• Love the goal Voracek scored outdoors in the second period on Saturday night. He controlled the puck behind the net, shook a Pens defenseman, cut to the front of the net and extended to slide the puck past Matt Murray and give the Flyers some life at 2-1. It was a classic power move. Voracek can be deceptively strong and quick, so he’s capable of scoring in that manner. If not for Weise’s goalie interference on Wednesday, Voracek would be on a three-game goal-scoring streak.
• Saturday night’s effort in Pittsburgh was all too similar to what we’ve become accustomed to lately. A fine performance with some encouraging aspects, but not enough to get over the hump as a mistake or two winds up costly. The Flyers outshot the Pens, 38-29, but Matt Cullen’s stuff-in that made it 3-1 really hurt. But the Flyers still had life after Shayne Gostisbehere scored to make it 3-2. But Chad Ruhwedel added the backbreaker for the Pens minutes later. Neuvirth has played well recently and earned the Stadium Series start, but Saturday was not a good showing for him. Wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Steve Mason back in net Tuesday against Colorado.
• It’s got to be nice for the Flyers to see Ghost snap his 34-game goalless drought with that power-play goal on Saturday. And it’s got to be nice for Ghost to get that monkey off his back. The Flyers desperately need his offense, and in an effort to change things up, Dave Hakstol and staff had Ghost move back and forth from the half-wall to the point on the power play. Gostisbehere has struggled to hit the net this season, but the Flyers desperately need his offensive touch, so he needs to keep shooting. It’s like they say in basketball – shooters shoot. That’s what they do.
• I get hot and cold on the concept of outdoor games. Loved it when the league first introduced them with the Winter Classic and held one a year. But I get cold on them when there are more than one or two a year. The league can oversaturate a really cool thing and take away the games' luster. That one year they had a Winter Classic and then outdoor games in New York (twice), L.A. and Chicago was just ridiculous. But Saturday night’s game in Pittsburgh looked awesome. The set-up, the rivalry, playing at night… everything about it was great. Just keep them to one or two a year and don’t ruin them.
Coming up this week: Tuesday vs. Colorado (7 p.m./CSN), Thursday vs. Florida (7 p.m./CSN), Saturday at Washington (7:30 p.m./CSN)
By the time reporters were admitted to the Sixers’ locker room some 75 minutes before Friday’s home game against Washington, the nameplates above the cubicles previously occupied by Nerlens Noel and Ersan Ilyasova had long ago been changed.
Where Noel once sat, in the corner nearest the shower room, there was now a “47 Splitter” nameplate for veteran center Tiago Splitter, who came over from Atlanta in the deal that sent Ilyasova to the Hawks two days earlier.
Where Ilyasova once sat, between Robert Covington and Dario Saric, there was now a “23 Anderson” nameplate for second-year forward Justin Anderson, acquired from Dallas (with Andrew Bogut, who is expected to head to Cleveland once his contract is bought out) in the trade that sent Noel there.
Across the locker room, there was no nameplate at all above the space once filled by rookie guard Chasson Randle. He had been cut when the two trades went down, collateral damage in this latest upheaval, this latest change to an ever-changing landscape.
Out in the hallway a few minutes earlier, coach Brett Brown had reinforced the message general manager Bryan Colangelo delivered to reporters during a news conference earlier in the day – that all this had been necessary. Noel and Ilyasova are destined for free agency this summer (Noel will be restricted, Ilyasova unrestricted). The Sixers were unlikely to match any outside offer Noel is sure to attract, and just as unlikely to give Ilyasova the long-term deal he craves.
Brown has grown used to all the tired and huddled masses shuffling through town.
“Historically, we all know how we treat people that walk through a door,” he said. “We shake their hand and we say, ‘Guard somebody.’”
He settled on the word “appropriate” to describe all the roster turnover.
“There needs to be a frugal and, at times, ruthless approach,” he said, “that you genuinely believe that (a certain player is) a keeper, that ultimately can play in the playoffs and ultimately play deep in the playoffs.”
That rationale has not exactly set well with the masses. Not when the haul for two rotational players amounted to two injured 32-year-old centers – Bogut is always hurt, and Splitter had hip surgery last February – not to mention a guy who was unable to see regular action for a sub-.500 Dallas club and draft picks of dubious worth.
But if the front office has not inspired confidence, some solace can be taken from what we now see on the court. There are keepers on the roster beyond Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. There are guys the Sixers can hang their hats on. The first two post-deadline games – Friday’s 120-112 victory over the Wizards and Saturday’s 110-109 loss to the Knicks -- have proven as much.
Consider Covington. Once a mere spot-up shooter, he can now do a little something off the dribble. And he guards, Carmelo Anthony’s last-second dagger on Saturday notwithstanding.
Covington had 20 points and 10 rebounds in that game, 25 and 11 against Washington.
Then there’s Saric, who makes up for whatever he might lack in athleticism with savvy belying his 22 years. The rookie forward stretched his own double-double streak to four by generating 19 points and a career-high 15 rebounds against the Knicks.
He also has the endorsement of Colangelo, who during Friday’s presser was asked about the view that the Sixers were returning to their tanking ways this season.
"I think I say Dario Saric, he’s the answer (to that question) for us,” he told reporters.
Hey, no pressure, kid.
“Maybe some kind of pressure,” Saric said before Friday’s game. “For sure it’s pressure, but I think I can say it’s more attention on me. … But I will try to put everything on the side. I will try to not think so much about what he said. Of course it’s a positive thing, but I will not try to press myself.”
He and Ilyasova were close. They shared a position, power forward, and while Ilyasova is from Turkey and Saric from Croatia, they very much spoke the same language.
“He was like some kind of mentor to me,” Saric said. “He helped me a lot.”
Especially on those occasions when the younger man got down on himself, as he did at times during the first few months of the season.
“He’d say, ‘It’s one game. We have another game in 24 hours. You need to change your mindset and be ready for the next game,’” Saric said of Ilyasova.
Without his safety net, and with the expectations of the franchise now resting on his shoulders to some extent, Saric put up 20 points and 11 boards while making his 12th career start Friday night, and his first since Feb. 2.
In one glittering second-quarter stretch, he hit a step-back jumper from the mid-post when he found himself in a mismatch against one Washington guard, John Wall, then backed down the other guard, Bradley Beal, and scored with the left hand. There was also an elbow jumper, not to mention a lefty post move over Otto Porter.
“The first 10 minutes, I tried to find myself,” Saric said. “OK, I got a couple good assists, a couple good rebounds, but still I tried to find myself. It’s a new role. I tried to play, tried to run, tried to find the rhythm of the game, which is most important thing in basketball. I got (into) the game after seven, eight minutes, maybe 10 minutes, and I’m happy. I had a good game, you know?”
Anderson didn’t play, but saw nearly four minutes of daylight against the Knicks, missing his only shot. Splitter, recovering from his hip surgery (as well as resultant calf issues), has not dressed for either game.
“Tiago right now is unhealthy,” Brown said Friday.
Which is news to Splitter. Asked when he might be available, he said, “I hope soon. I was in full practice with the Hawks. … I saw the trainer (Kevin Johnson) today. They were happy with what they saw, and see.”
Sixers fans, meanwhile, have mostly been seeing red of late. But if they look closely enough, they can see some reason for hope, too.