3-2!! 3-2!! Sixers Go Over .500 With Win in New Orleans

3-2!! 3-2!! Sixers Go Over .500 With Win in New Orleans

Sooo much better than last year. Five games in last season, the
Philadelphia 76ers were just picking up their first win—a home victory
against the mediocre Pacers—on their way to starting the season 3-13, a
hole it took the whole season to crawl out of. Now, five games into the
'11-'12 season, we already have our third win—all won on the road, all
coming from behind, all with our young guys showing why they just might
be capable of leading this franchise back to something vaguely
resembling prominence. It's a pretty nice thing.

Tonight was
looking dangerously like a repeat performance of the Sixers'
disappointing performance in Utah, as the Hornets jumped out to an early
double-digit lead and seemed to be keeping the Sixers at arms' length
for much of the second half, showing impressive fight despite a somewhat
talent-depleted roster. But thanks to some awesome defensive tightening
in the fourth quarter, and some absolutely huge late-game shots from
Jrue Holiday, the Sixers were finally able to grab the lead and pull
away late, holding on for the 101-93 victory.

There were a number of players who stepped up for the Sixers, led
perhaps by Evan Turner of the bench. The Extraterrestrial started out
miserably, missing open looks and turning the ball over (echoing his season-worst
performance in NO last year), but found a groove late in second quarter
that continued into the second half and breathed life back into the
lethargic Sixers. Evan ended with 21 points on 8-12 shooting, with six
boards and four dimes, easily his best game of the season and probably
his second best as a Sixer. After two back-to-back bum games, it's
exactly what he (and we) needed to reinforce that he is still ahead of
where he was last season.

And once again, Spencer F'ing Hawes. Spence saw his streak of
double-digit rebound games finally snapped, but he still grabbed seven,
scored 17 and even picked up a season-high four blocks. The Unibrow
entered this game as the league leader in FG% with his 67.6%, and though
it might drop a few tenths after going 8-12 tonight, we're certainly
not complaining. The improvement is real—Hawes has become absolutely
automatic from 18 feet, to the point that even on the one such shot he
missed (with 90 seconds to go), Andre Iguodala was able to swoop in for
an offensive rebound because nobody bothered to box out. He might come
back to earth a little in future weeks as defenses start to adjust to
his newly proven skill set, but he's proving why with certain
high-upside players, you have to hang on a little more than feels right,
just in case they suddenly start to figure it out.

Still, the game ball tonight has to go to one Jrue Holiday. Like Evan,
the Damaja started the night out slow, looking off on his jumper, but
boy did he ever end strong. Jrue hit a couple gigantic threes in the
fourth to give the Sixers the separation from the Hornets they'd been
scrapping for all game, and another with under a minute left that was
just barely ruled a two, ending with a season-high 24 points, along with
eight assists and zero turnovers. On a team that has so badly craved a
closer in recent years, Jrue is starting to present a pretty convincing
case that the guy's been there all along, and if Coach Collins continues
to put the ball in Andre Iguodala's hands in the final seconds, he's
gonna have a lot of explaining to do in his post-game press-conferences.

It wasn't all wine and roses for the Sixers—'Dre's hot shooting start
came crashing down to the mean with his 2-10 night (0-4 from deep), and
Jodie Meeks' shot continues to be totally M.I.A., as he went 1-5,
missing some open looks that really sapped the team's momentum.
Meanwhile, Hornets lead scorer Eric Gordon shredded the team's defense in the first quarter,
and finished with 22 points, though the Sixers' tight wing D in the
second half at least dictated that he needed 22 shots to do so. But the
Sixers protected the ball (just eight TOs total), were able to get stops
late, and so thoroughly outplayed the Hornets' bench (41 points to 26)
that they were able to overcome the strong performances from Gordon,
power forward Carl Landry (21 points, 8 boards) and point guard Jarret
Jack (19 points, 11 assists). As Zumoff said, it'll be a recurring theme
this season.

Ultimately, the Sixers were the better team in four of their five road
games, and won three of them—pretty acceptable, all told. While 3-2
isn't exactly winning a championship, it's still a very good start for
the Liberty Ballers, who now get to play their first game in Philly this
year (against the Pistons on Friday, the latest first home game of any
team) as a winning ballclub. A small victory, and one we hope to add to
as the season progresses, and Holiday, Turner, Hawes and the rest of the
guys try to prove that they're capable of growing into a legit Eastern
Conference power. We can't wait to root 'em on at the WFC this Friday.
Marreese Who?

Eagles-Vikings Week 7: What they're saying

Eagles-Vikings Week 7: What they're saying

Riding a two-game losing streak, the Eagles (3-2) return home Sunday for the first time in nearly a month and welcome a familiar face to the confines of Lincoln Financial Field. 

Sam Bradford and the Vikings (5-0) will come to Philadelphia fresh off a Week 6 bye and, most notably, as the league's lone unbeaten team. Minnesota boasts one of the league's top defenses, ranking first in points allowed (12.6 per game) and second in yards allowed (287.6 per game), and is looking to improve to 6-0 for the first time since 2009.

The last time these two franchises met was back in December 2013, when Matt Cassell and the Vikings put up 48 points in a win over Chip Kelly's Eagles.

To get a better handle on this year's Vikings, here's what they're saying about the Eagles' Week 7 opponent.

Brian Robison poses yet another challenge for Big V
Making his NFL debut in a start against the Redskins last week, Halapoulivaati Vaitai struggled mightily. Ryan Kerrigan beat Vaitai and got to Carson Wentz for 2½ sacks, all of which came in the first half.

It won't get any easier for the rookie right tackle this week either, as he'll likely be lined up against Brian Robison for most of the afternoon. Robison has four sacks and two forced fumbles on the season and, according to Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune, the versatile 10-year defensive end could be difference maker on the defensive side of the ball Sunday.

"Whether his hand is in the turf at left end or he’s standing over a guard or center as the defensive tackle, Robison could be dropping back to cover a tight end or running back," Krammer wrote. "At the line, he’s given responsibilities to call stunts or twists depending on their own play call. Sometimes he’s setting the pick to free another teammate. ... And on Sunday against the Eagles and their rookie right tackle, keep an eye on Robison when he lines up at his traditional spot of left end. All four of his sacks this season, including two strip-sacks, have come from there."

Makeshift offensive line remains a question mark
The Vikings may be undefeated, but by no means are they made up of perfect parts. As the midway point of the NFL season approaches, Minnesota's injury-battered offensive line is still a work in progress. 

Starting tackles Matt Kalil and Andre Smith are both sidelined with season-ending injuries. Starting guard Brandon Fusco suffered a concussion Week 5 against the Texans, but is expected to return against the Eagles. Center is the only position on the line the Vikings haven't had to replace because of an injury at some point this season.

But despite the constant changes up front, Minnesota has been stout overall in protecting the quarterback, allowing eight sacks and 27 quarterback hits across five games. According to Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press, the performance of that makeshift offensive line is going to be key in the Vikings' potential success down the road. 

"What’s best for Bradford and the Vikings’ standing as the NFC’s top dog is better pass protection," Murphy wrote. "He was sacked twice when Houston defenders turnstiled Clemmings and hit hard in the pocket other times. ... Offensive line intrigue never is a sexy storyline, but how well the Vikings manage the unit week to week figures to be an underlying factor to their continued success."

Strong away from home
The Vikings are a just a few years removed from going winless on the road, finishing 0-7-1 away from home in the 2013 season. Minnesota secured wins in only two of its first 10 away games under the tutelage of Mike Zimmer, but have since gone on a tear.

Minnesota has won seven of its last eight road games dating back to last season and, in their most recent game away from U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings took down the Panthers, 22-10, in Week 3. A testament of a true contender is having the ability to win consistently on the road, which holds true with the Vikings.

According to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press, the Vikings' vast improvement over the past two-plus seasons has contributed to them becoming a stronger team away from home.

"Facing a tough opposing crowd once was a tall order for the Vikings, but it’s much less of one now. After being one of the worse road teams in the NFL earlier this decade, they’re now one of the best," Tomasson wrote. "Overall, the Vikings have improved, having gone from 7-9 in 2014 to 11-5 last season to 5-0 this year. That’s the main reason the road record has gotten so much better. Still, players say the continuity the team has had has especially helped when entering rugged road environments."

While Vegas has the Vikings as light favorites on the road, national experts have them heavily favored straight up to hand the Eagles their third straight loss.

ESPN: All nine experts picked the Vikings

CBS Sports: Seven of eight experts picked the Vikings

FOX Sports: Three of five experts picked the Vikings 

Flyers Skate Update: Ivan Provorov has a new partner

Flyers Skate Update: Ivan Provorov has a new partner

Ivan Provorov has a new partner.

Provorov will be paired with Brandon Manning on Saturday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, a changeup from the first four games of the season. Mark Streit drops to the third pair with Nick Schultz, a tandem that worked together most of last season.

"We're going to change them up," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said after the team's morning skate. "We're going to look at a couple of different things. Some of the combinations are some familiar ones, such as Streiter-Schultz. They played a lot of minutes together last year. It's a move that we want to take a look at."

The Provorov-Manning pair is an interesting one. It should allow the 19-year-old to activate more in the offensive zone with Manning playing positionally sound. Manning has played with an extra edge thus far, showcasing a far more aggressive brand of hockey than he's shown previously with the orange and black.

With Streit, an offensive-minded blueliner, Provorov had to cover for his partner. Provorov also ran into some tough luck situations, too. Now with Manning, Provorov has the handcuffs off a little bit. Manning plays well positionally and while he has been more aggressive, he knows when to stay back, which will help Provorov.

It's another adjustment for the rookie. Through four games, he said, there haven't been any surprises in terms of his expectations for how the NHL game plays.

"I think what I expected is what I got," Provorov said. "It's the best league in the world, you expect all four lines to be great, you expect fast pace, physical game and that's what I got. I'm still learning, but I'm trying to do better as the games go on."

Provorov has one assist this season and enters Saturday as a minus-5, largely because of the Chicago game Tuesday. Hakstol praised Provorov's maturity level and ability to self-evaluate. What he hasn't done with Provorov is talk about numbers.

"There are some meaning in stats and we take the meaningful areas and apply those," Hakstol said. "But I haven't talked to any of the young guys about their statistics. We're four games in. I don't make too much of statistics right now. We're evaluating day-to-day play and looking at areas that we can use as strengths and areas individually we can improve."

Starting slow
If there has been one common theme through the first four games, it's the Flyers' poor starts. In first periods this season, they've been outscored, 6-1 (see game notes).

On Thursday night, the Flyers again came out of the gates slow. It was their first game back after a season-opening road trip out West, which Jakub Voracek said was a factor.

Voracek, who has four assists, said the burden falls on the individual player to focus on the small details and avoid committing mistakes.

"As a player, if you don't have that extra step, you just have to keep it simple," he said. "It's going to come around. The first 10 minutes, you have to make sure you don't make mistakes and I think that we were trying to do too much if we weren't feeling right. It showed last game against Anaheim. We were a half-a-step slower."

Four games isn't a large enough sample size for Hakstol to make a definite statement on the Flyers' first-period woes. The second-year coach said he'll have a better understanding where his team is at after the Carolina game.

"I think we'll answer that question after the start tonight," Hakstol said. "I think we'll get a fair evaluation of our starts after our start tonight, and if we have a problem, we'll know it after tonight. If we don't, we'll know that as well.

"Pretty clear, crystal clear, black and white in my mind. Tonight should tell else what type of team we are at the start of the hockey game."

Projected Flyers Lineup
F: Brayden Schenn-Claude Giroux-Wayne Simmonds

Travis Konecny-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek

Nick Cousins-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Matt Read

Chris VandeVelde-Boyd Gordon-Roman Lyubimov

D: Andrew MacDonald-Shayne Gostisbehere

Ivan Provorov-Brandon Manning

Nick Schultz-Mark Streit

G: Steve Mason