Are we tanking yet? Sixers start key stretch of season against league's creamy middle

Are we tanking yet? Sixers start key stretch of season against league's creamy middle

As we speak, the Philadelphia 76ers sit at 6-9, with a nice long four-day break after their Saturday loss to the Indiana Pacers. The record isn't very good in an objective sense, but it's light years ahead of where most Sixers fans expected the team to be at this point in the year, and it's good enough in the entirely underwhelming Eastern Conference that up until the Washington Wizards beat the Los Angeles Lakers last night to move to 6-8 on the season, they were still somehow in the playoff picture.

Needless to say, the middle is not where this team wants to be--the entire point of this season was supposed to be avoiding the middle. If Hinkie and company believed this team legitimately good enough to go for the top, perhaps we would, but far more hospitable to this team would be the very bottom, where of course we would be in prime position to jump-start the team's rebuilding process by adding one of the many increasingly tantalizing-looking top prospects likely to be ripe for the plucking in next year's draft. It's something everyone who roots for this team made peace with well before the season started, and something that's made the team's overachieving start somewhat controversial among its more ardent fans.

Still, a lot of this isn't the Sixers' fault--it's not just that the Sixers haven't been bad enough, it's that the rest of the East has been terrrrrrible. Of the 15 teams that make up the Eastern Conference, only the Heat and Pacers are unambigiously good--everyone else is some shade of mediocre or terrible, including such much-hyped teams as the Bulls, Knicks and Nets, who through a combination of injuries and underperformance have gotten off to absolutely disastrous starts to the season. A stunning 12 Eastern teams have losing records, and six of those are worse than that of the Sixers.

But starting tonight, the Sixers can help themselves achieve a little clarity. Over the next 11 days, the team will play six games against teams whose records are all within a game or two of their own--the Magic (twice), Hornets, Pistons, Bobcats and Nuggets. These are, except for maybe the Bobcats and mayyyybe the Magic, all teams we expected would be better than the Sixers this year, and ones we really don't want to have to worry about taking up our elbow room on the journey to the lottery in May. The Sixers could make things a lot easier on themselves in both directions by piling up the L's over this stretch.

Conversely, though, if the Sixers actually are good-ish--if this hasn't all been a fluke, but rather the handiwork of brilliant coaching, a strong team culture and some undervalued player personnel--then now would be the time for them to prove it. None of these teams are considerably better than the Sixers, but none are considerably worse, either. If they take care of business against this middling bunch--going 4-2 or better--we might have to finally admit that the Sixers are actually pretty OK, and not likely to tumble into the East cellar without jettisoning some of their better players first.

Either way, we should have a less murky picture of the Sixers and the NBA at large after this stretch, and considering how confusing this first month of the season has been, we could really use a little fog-clearing. It's hard to know which direction to root for--obviously the idea of adding a Wiggins, Parkle or Randle (or Exum or Gordon or Smart) next summer remains enticing enough that it's hard to give up on the original tanking plan, but it has been unspeakably entertaining watching this team play the type of ball they have been for the season's first four weeks--the good games, anyway. It'd be sad to say goodbye to that.

7:00 against the Magic from Amway Center. The Magic are just a half-game in back of the Sixers, meaning that losing to them tonight would drop Philly one rung further in the standings. Is Philly ready to start sliding? Are we ready for them to do so? Let's get some answers tonight.

NFL Notes: LeSean McCoy doubtful for Bills; Matt Jones out for 'Skins

NFL Notes: LeSean McCoy doubtful for Bills; Matt Jones out for 'Skins

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Buffalo Bills look to be short-handed on offense in a pivotal divisional matchup against the New England Patriots.

Bills running back LeSean McCoy (hamstring) is doubtful and not expected to play. Wide receiver Robert Woods (foot) is questionable, and receiver Marquise Goodwin (concussion) is out.

Buffalo (4-3) is home against New England (6-1) at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

McCoy has not practiced all week due to a hamstring injury. He originally injured the hamstring on Oct. 19, leading up to Buffalo's Week 6 game against Miami before suffering a setback against the Dolphins.

"Obviously, he never practiced so you can guys can figure that out," Bills coach Rex Ryan said.

McCoy has been the driving force on offense for the Bills this season. He is fourth in the league in rushing with 598 yards and six touchdowns.

Backup Mike Gillislee is expected to start in place of McCoy. Gillislee is questionable with a foot injury but expected to play. He's performed well with limited reps and had a 44-yard touchdown against San Francisco in Week 6.

Redskins: RB Matt Jones out
LONDON — Redskins running back Matt Jones says he will not play in Washington's game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Wembley Stadium on Sunday because of a knee injury.

Jones, who has 99 carries for 460 yards and three touchdowns this season, says he has "a bruise and some cartilage damage" after getting hurt in the second quarter of the Redskins' 20-17 road loss to the Detroit Lions last Sunday.

He has not practiced at any point this week and was the only Redskins player who did not participate Friday at Twyford Ground in Acton.

With Jones out, the Redskins will turn to Chris Thompson, who ran for a career-high 73 yards against the Lions, and rookie Robert Kelly. They also signed Mack Brown off their practice squad, cutting safety Josh Evans.

Browns: Josh McCown to start vs. Jets
BEREA, Ohio — Josh McCown will start at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns against the New York Jets on Sunday.

The 14th-year pro has been sidelined since Sept. 18, when he broke his left collarbone in a home game against Baltimore. McCown began the season as the backup to Robert Griffin III before both injured their non-throwing shoulders.

McCown was medically cleared to play earlier in the week, and coach Hue Jackson formally chose him as the Sunday starter following the team's morning walkthrough.

The winless Browns have used six quarterbacks in their first seven games, including starters Griffin, McCown and rookie Cody Kessler.

Third-round pick Kessler suffered a concussion last week at Tennessee and remains in the NFL's head trauma protocol. He had been Cleveland's starter since Week 3.

Broncos: No timetable for Anderson's return
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — C.J. Anderson tweeted early Friday that his knee surgery was a "super success" and he was in "great spirits" but he added there was still no timetable for his possible return to the Broncos lineup.

Anderson had surgery in California on Thursday to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.

He got hurt Monday night on his second carry against Houston but returned to the game and ran 14 more times for 84 yards and a touchdown, finishing with 107 yards in his best performance of the season.

Rookie Devontae Booker will make his first start Sunday when the Broncos (5-2) play the Chargers (3-4), with Kapri Bibbs backing him up.

Rival Penguins may be what Flyers need to get off to fast start

Rival Penguins may be what Flyers need to get off to fast start

VOORHEES, N.J. — Saturday might be a good time for the slow-starting Flyers to meet their cross-state archnemesis.
The Pittsburgh Penguins often bring out the best in the Flyers.
They’re sitting atop the Metro Division with 11 points and their veteran leaders, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel are having an impact.
“Stanley Cup champs, it’s going to be emotional,” Jakub Voracek understated. “Something has to change tomorrow. That team is very fast. If we’re gonna have a slow start, they’ll jump out 2-0 or 3-0 and it will be hard to come back. We can’t afford to do that tomorrow.”
The Flyers had been living off comebacks lately, but fell short against the Coyotes in Thursday's 5-4 loss.
Since 2014, the Flyers are 4-1-0 against the Penguins at Wells Fargo Center. That’s the good news. 
The bad news is the Flyers have given up 30 goals this season — tied for worst in the league — and they’re meeting an offensive machine.
“These are always intense games with a fun atmosphere and we’ve got to be ready for it,” said goalie Steve Mason, whose slot has been under siege with uncontested shots lately. “We don’t want to take them lightly and get off on the wrong foot like we did [against Arizona]. 
“We've got to take the play to them and not sit back and let them dictate things. They’re too good for that.”
Dave Hakstol said after the Flyers’ poor first-period performance against the Coyotes that it shouldn’t matter who they face next, they simply need to start faster. It’s been a problem most of this season and haunted them early last fall, as well.
“They’re a team that comes out hard and it’s as good a challenge as any for us,” Hakstol said. “After the loss in our building, it shouldn’t matter who we’re playing at the start of the hockey game.”
Interestingly, Mason said following that loss that the Flyers seem hellbent on trying to outscore their opponents without taking care of their defensive responsibilities. 
Given the influx of speed and some new offensive talent, perhaps the emphasis has switched to offense at the expense of defense.
Offensively, Claude Giroux (9 points) and Voracek (8) are among the top 10 in NHL scoring. Giroux leads the league in three areas: nine assists, six power play assists and six power play points.
Rookie Travis Konecny is tied for fifth with six assists. Wayne Simmonds’ four power play goals rank first with Matt Moulson (Buffalo). 
Lotta offense behind the Flyers' 28 goals scored.
“It’s a good question,” Voracek said. “It’s tough to say. It’s still early, but if you’re going to get scored on so many goals a game, you’re obviously doing something wrong. Might be the case. It’s hard to answer. 
“We have to make sure even if we have talented players offensively ... we have to be responsible defensively. In today’s hockey, everybody can play defense.” 
You never know which direction these games against Pittsburgh will go. They can be very physical and low-scoring. Or they can be wide-open, pond hockey with a goal fest. 
“Bluntly, last year, they played a fast, pressure-type game and I didn’t think we dealt very well with it,” Hakstol said. “That won’t be any different tomorrow. 
“They’ll play a fast, pressure-type game and we have to be ready to deal with it and take advantage of it. That will be a challenge for us.”
Defensive pairs
Hakstol changed his defensive pairs in practice. 
Brandon Manning worked with Radko Gudas; Ivan Provorov worked with Mark Streit; and Nick Schultz was with Shayne Gostisbehere.
Why the changes?
“They weren’t very good [against Arizona],” Hakstol replied. “It’s not all on the D-pairs, that’s for sure. There is some thought process behind ... switching the pairs. But ultimately, the goal is to have a more competitive group of six back there playing below the top of our circles.”
Andrew MacDonald, who had several turnovers/miscues this week, will sit against the Penguins.
Hakstol didn’t mince words when asked why he was reinserting Schultz into the lineup.
“Absolute, competitive, prideful defender,” he said. “I’ll leave it at that.”
As for the lines, it would appear Nick Cousins will be scratched because he centered Michael Raffl and Scott Laughton in practice and both are injury-scratches right now.