Losing This Would Suuuuuuck: Sixers Play Kyrie-Less Cavs in Cleveland

Losing This Would Suuuuuuck: Sixers Play Kyrie-Less Cavs in Cleveland

Free wins are a hard thing to come by on an NBA schedule. The Sixers
probably thought they had one a week ago when they faced the 0-8 Pistons
at home, but that team had been steadily improving and was long overdue
for a breakout effort. No, rather, I'd be surprised if the Sixers had
an easier game on their schedule this year than the one they have
tonight, against a 2-8 Cavaliers team that has lost six straight and
will tonight be without their starting point guard (and primary shot
creator and distributor) Kyrie Irving. If the Sixers can't cash this one
in, that's some bad news right there.

Because things don't get
any easier from here. The Sixers' 7-4 record thusfar this season without
starting center Flancrew Twyglum has been impressive, but it's largely
the result of a soft schedule that's been heavy on home games and light
on tough opponents. The next few weeks are filled with a lot of games
against teams currently hovering around .500, about half of them on the
road, and then two-plus weeks into December, shit gets really real with a
stretch of 10 games out of 11 on the road, including eight in a row
going into next January, with the Phoenix Suns the only thing close to
an "easy" win on the trip. If the Sixers can't stockpile their wins
while they can now, it's going to be an absoulety brutal winter for the
Liberty Ballers.

Of course, the Cavs aren't likely to roll over
and die tonight, exactly. They still have an energetic, aggressive
frontcourt in Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson, which will make
life interesting for a Sixers big rotation that has gotten killed by
offensive rebounding lately. And they have Dion Waiters, the rookie
top-five shooting guard out of Syracuse that has proven capable of
lighting it up on occasion. What they don't have without Kyrie is much
of a creator—Waiters only averages two assists a game, as does backup
point guard Donald Sloan, who has been absolutely miserable this year,
along with the rest of Cleveland's crappy bench. If Jrue and Evan can
get it going tonight, and the wings can hit threes as they did last
night, that should be enough to power the Sixers to a relatively easy
victory.

7:00 tip from Quicken Loans Arena. Just...win this game, guys. OK? Just do that.

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake continues to rack up the accolades.

A couple of weeks after being named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, the rising Philadelphia Union star was named to the MLS Best XI team as one of the league’s top players in 2016.

The rest of the team included:

• Forwards Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), David Villa (New York City FC) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)
• Midfielders Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), Sacha Kljestan (Red Bulls), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas) and Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
• Defenders Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids) and Jelle Van Damme (Galaxy)

Blake’s inclusion on the Best XI is not a surprise considering he already took home top goalkeeper honors. Even though he didn’t have the best numbers in the league, he made the spectacular look ordinary in his first full season as an MLS starter.

But it is unique for the Union, who haven’t had a player make the Best XI since Sebastien Le Toux was included for his 14-goal, 11-assist effort in Philly's 2010 expansion season.

Union winger Chris Pontius, who recently won the 2016 MLS Breakout Player of the Year award, made Best XI while with D.C. United in 2012. Former Union players to be honored on the prestigious list were Bakary Soumare with Chicago in 2008 and Justin Mapp with Chicago in 2006.

Another big honor like this will likely only increase the chatter that Blake could be sold to a big team in Europe soon. But a couple of weeks ago, the Union goalkeeper insisted his only focus for 2017 is on Philadelphia.

“From a personal standpoint, I’m hoping to have an even better season than 2016,” he said at the time. “To be able to go in and be consistent and do everything I can for the Union — and maybe be the goalkeeper to get them their first [MLS] Cup.”

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

There’s a number of reasons why the Flyers have a five-game winning streak, why they’re playing better hockey, and why they own the No. 1 wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
 
Perhaps the biggest reason of all is goaltender Steve Mason, who has won four of those games, compiling a 1.71 goals against average and .945 save percentage during that span.
 
Mason was named the NHL’s first “Star of the Week” on Monday. St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones were second and third stars.
 
“The team is on a roll right now and I’m a benefactor of that,” said Mason, who needs a win Tuesday against Florida to tie his career-high streak of five set Dec. 17-30 in 2013, during his first, full season as a Flyer.
 
“There’s strong play in front of me. The team is playing a little tighter in our defensive zone of late and making the goaltender reads that much more simple. 
 
“Right now, there’s a comfort level with the guys in front of me … Winning five in a row is nice and we’d like to keep making ground in the standings.”
 
His four victories last week were tops in the NHL. Among them, he had a season-high 45 saves in a 3-2 shootout win against Boston. 
 
Like many goalies, Mason prefers action. Games such as the 3-2 overtime win at Ottawa last week when the Senators only fired 21 shots, bother him.
 
“Those games, when you are not getting a lot of shots, the ones you do get will be a high-grade scoring chance,” he said. “And when you’re sitting around a few minutes not seeing the puck and all of a sudden see a chance like that …
 
“It’s more difficult to play [those games] than the games where there is a constant workload and you’re not thinking, but just playing. For myself personally, those are the games I enjoy the most. When I see a lot of pucks.”
 
The Flyers have seen dramatic improvement over the past month in their overall defensive play, from both their defensemen in down-low coverage in the slow and with their forwards on the backcheck.
 
Mason said the team has gone through “growing pains” with trying to integrate some younger bodies to the lineup this season – Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Nick Cousins  come to mind.
 
“You have to familiar with everybody,” he said. “Have a constant lineup where guys go out  shift after shift and night after night, you know what to expect from one another. When you have that kind of confidence in guys, it makes playing easier.” 
 
Mason’s 4-2 victory at Nashville on Sunday saw him go over .500 for the first time this season with a 9-8-3 record. 
 
His GAA is coming down at 2.76 while his save percentage has risen to .904.
 
“I was aware of it obviously, just because of the way the year started,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of work to get it above the .900 level.
 
“We’re obviously going to continue to work at getting it even better. The way the team’s playing right now and the way everybody’s clicking, we’re going at a good pace right now.”