Now This is Fun: Three-Game Sixer "Test" Stretch Begins Against Nuggets

Now This is Fun: Three-Game Sixer "Test" Stretch Begins Against Nuggets

You'll all be happy to know that the Sixers remain on top of ESPN hoop guru John Hollinger's Power Rankings
for a second week this week, which is at least two more than we
would've expected from the Liberty Ballers going into '11-'12. But
looking amidst the many stats that Holly uses to calculate said
rankings, there's that one number that continues to make them stick out
from all the other top ten teams: .372, their "Strength of Schedule"
number that averages the record of the opponents the team has played.
For contrast, no other team in the top ten has an SOS lower than .460,
and the Heat (currently ranked at #2) are way up at .506.

All of this is to say that basically, the Sixers' opponents this season
have been creampuffs. Their "signature win" was against a banged-up
Pacers team at home, and the other three best teams they've played—the
Blazers, Jazz and Knicks—were all losses. (Close losses on the road, but
Ls just the same). Many, especially those incredulous at the Sixers' #1
ranking on ESPN (and even Marc Stein has 'em #3 now), say the Sixers
can't be counted among the East elite until they get some big Ws, even
if their chances at such big Ws have been few and far between in their
first 13 games.

Well, all that changes in the next three games. The Sixers play three
legitimate, proven teams now, with a chance to either show the league
that this team means business, or to demonstrate that we're still not
ready for prime time just yet. It starts tonight with a home game
against the 9-5 Nuggets, continues on Friday with a visit from the 10-4
Hawks, and concludes Saturday against the 9-4 Heat in Miami. Going 1-2
in this stretch would be borderline-acceptable, going 2-1 would be a
triumph, going 3-0 would be a downright statement. Going 0-3 would be
very, very tough to swallow.

Unfortunately, as will be the case for much of this strenuous,
strike-shortened season, the Sixers enter this pivotal stretch of the
season a little bit banged up. Coach Collins had even the boys doing
yoga to get their bodies right yesterday, but Spencer Hawes is still
gimpy with a sore back, and Evan Turner (who missed the Sixers' win over
the Bucks on MLK Day) is questionable with a thigh contusion. With
depth the Sixers' primary calling card, it's fairly crucial that these
guys be willing and able to play over the next three games—though at
least with the Sixers, unlike with some other teams, the loss of any one
guy isn't going to be exactly crippling.

As with the Bucks win, pivotal to success against the Nuggets will be
winning the point-guard battle. Jrue Holiday had his best game of the
season on Monday, with 24 points (on 11-17 FG), five dimes and five
steals, while helping keep Bucks PG Brandon Jennings to 7 points on 3-11
shooting. He'll need to perform similarly against Ty Lawson, the
lightning-quick point who the Sixers passed up to draft The Damaja,
currently in the midst of a near-All-Star season with the Nugs,
averaging 16 and 7 with nearly 50% shooting and a PER over 20.

7:00 tip from the WFC. "I'm down to win all of 'em—all the home games,
away games," Jrue boldly proclaimed after the Sixers' latest win. "We
could go undefeated from here on out. I'm cool with that.” Us too,
natch, though we might hit a hitch or two in that gameplan over the next
four days. If not, then we'll really have earned that #1 spot after all.

Flyers-Stars 5 things: Streaking like it's 2002?

Flyers-Stars 5 things: Streaking like it's 2002?

Flyers (16-10-3) vs. Stars (11-11-6)
1 p.m. on CSN and CSNPhilly.com

Remember when it was a fight for the Flyers to simply sew together back-to-back wins?

Prior to this run, they had done it just twice in the first 22 games.

Now, they’re the hottest team in the NHL, winners of seven straight and trying to make it eight on Saturday afternoon when they welcome the Dallas Stars to the Wells Fargo Center.

Here are five things you need to know for the matchup:

1. The great eight?
Jeremy Roenick, Mark Recchi, John LeClair and Eric Desjardins.

Roman Cechmanek and Brian Boucher.

These are just some of the players that were wearing Flyers jerseys when the team last won eight consecutive games, back on Jan. 6-19, 2002.

It’s worth mentioning, before the 2004-05 season, winning streaks were a bit more challenging with a tie being the result if overtime went scoreless. The extra session was also not 3-on-3, like it is now.

Still, what the current Flyers are doing is impressive. They’ve gone to the shootout only once over the seven-game spurt and have outscored the opposition by 10 goals, 27-17.

2. Raffl winners
Dave Hakstol has called Michael Raffl a big-bodied, straight-line forward, which is certainly not off the mark.

But from time to time, Raffl will show the deceptive skill side of his game.

He did it Thursday night to win the Flyers’ 6-5 affair over the Oilers in the final minute and a half of regulation for his second game-winner over the last three contests.

"Raf has this stutter step that's undercover speedy," Steve Mason said postgame Thursday (see story). "He used it in Nashville to get a big goal and then here tonight.

"It looks like he's going to stop fully up, but he finds another gear and he really adds another element to that line that brings physical play.

"He has that sneaky talent, too, that can make you pay."

Raffl is quietly making teams pay. The Flyers are 4-0-2 in games that he scores a goal. Despite missing eight games because of injury, the 28-year-old Austrian is on pace for around 20 goals.

That’s much-valued secondary scoring and complementary play.

3. Not so bright
Before reeling off seven straight wins, the Flyers were in a similar spot to which the Stars are in now.

Dallas, which finished 50-23-9 last season — best in the Western Conference — after starting 19-5-0, can’t find consistency through 28 games this season. The Stars have won back-to-back games just once thus far and goaltending has been an issue as Dallas is surrendering an NHL-worst 3.18 goals per game.

The Stars do not lack offensive firepower, however. Center Tyler Seguin is tied for second in the NHL with 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists), while linemate Jamie Benn isn’t far behind at 24 (eight goals, 16 assists).

Also, veteran forward Jason Spezza is coming off a three-point game (one goal, two assists) in Dallas’ 5-2 win over the Predators.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: We’ve got to go Jakub Voracek after the winger’s one-goal, three-assist performance on Thursday night. Voracek has been an absolute monster on the seven-game winning streak, posting 11 points with three goals and eight assists for a plus-6 rating.

Stars: It’s hard not to say Seguin, a dynamic player who always gives the Flyers trouble. His 21 career points (nine goals, 12 assists) against the orange and black are his second most versus any team.

5. This and that
• Mason is on a career-best six-game winning streak in which he’s posted a 2.27 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. Since Nov. 12, Mason is 9-3-1 with a 2.34 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.

• Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen is a dreadful 1-10-3 lifetime against the Flyers with a 3.49 goals-against average and .891 save percentage, while backup Antti Niemi is 4-1-0 with 1.48 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.

• Dallas has won its last three meetings with the Flyers by a combined score of 7-3.

• The Stars have lost 11 of 15 on the road.

• Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov has four points (two goals, two assists) in his last four games.

Penn State fan surprised with Rose Bowl tickets in heartwarming video

Penn State fan surprised with Rose Bowl tickets in heartwarming video

It's been a long road back to relevance for the Penn State football program. 

The Nittany Lions surprised just about everyone this season by finishing 10-2, winning the Big Ten title and claiming a spot in the historic Rose Bowl against USC on Jan. 2. 

For one fan, the surprise season went one step further.

Per ESPN's Instagram account ...

But wait, there's more. 

Not only was he surprised with Rose Bowl tickets in what could be the most touching video of the year, but he even got a personal call from Penn State head coach James Franklin thanking him for his support. 

Not a bad way to close out 2016.