Ouch, Babe: Sixers Lose Nail Biter to Wolves on Foul Call

Ouch, Babe: Sixers Lose Nail Biter to Wolves on Foul Call

At a certain point, it stops being bad luck and officially becomes a
real team character flaw. The Sixers' 92-91 loss tonight against the
Minnesota Timberwolves brough them to 2-5 for the year in games decided
by five points or less, with one of those wins being the Magic blowout
that Orlando cut to five in meaningless last-minute play, after going
8-15 in such games last year. Some of 'em might have been the result of a
bad bounce or two, but generally speaking, it's very hard to have faith
in this team when a game goes down to the wire, and their inability to
execute in a game's final minutes will forever hamper their ability to
move forward as a team in the NBA.

Tonight, you could argue that it was one of those fluke close losses,
akin to the Clippers loss where an excellently defended Chris Paul just
happened to hit a ridiculous turnaround jumper for the win. The Wolves
went ahead with 0.1 seconds to go in the game, thanks to a a foul call
on Andre Iguodala on a Kevin Love layup drive with the Wolves down one.
The replay showed that 'Dre got mostly if not all ball, but he might
have raked some of the hand as Love charged in, and really, that's a
call that the offensive player—especially a star like Love—gets eight
times out of ten. Hard to swallow, but it's more of a tough loss than an
unfair loss, and if the Sixers hadn't botched a couple possessions in
the final minutes, they wouldn't have been in that situation anyway.

Some positives in this one. Jrue Holiday had himself a nice bounceback
game after two straight clunkers, scoring 20 points on 10-20 shooting
(though the lack of FTs is again troubling) with five assists, three
steals and just one turnover. Jrue had the Sixers highlight of the
night, with an authoritative one-hand slam over Ricky Rubio on the fast
break, embedded below. The frontcourt also acquitted themselves
admirably against the Wolves' formidable big men, holding Kevin Love to
just 7-23 shooting and matching the Wolves on the boards, with both
teams grabbing 48 total.

A big part of that rebounding effort was Evan Turner, who pulled down
seven boards in less than 15 minutes of playing time. But that lack of
playing time is really starting to be a problem—the Extraterrestrial
played well tonight, getting off some nice shots early, crashing the
boards with typical abandon, and distributing well in the half court,
but Coach Collins was just not feeling Evan tonight, and Turner only
played about five minutes in the second half. It seems to me that
tonight's late-game malaise did a pretty good job illustrating why we
could use E.T.'s offensive talents in crunch time—if not today then
certainly in the not-too-distant future—but developing Turner doesn't
seem to be a priority for Collins right now. This is quickly becoming a
worrisome subplot to an otherwise encouraging Sixers season, and we hope
that whatever the issue is between Collins and Turner, it can be
quashed before it becomes an untenable situation.

That's three losses in a row now for the Liberty Ballers, and it doesn't
get any easier from here—Philly still has to visit Memphis and Houston,
both plus-.500 teams, before the All-Star break, and that old We Can
Beat Anyone confidence from a couple weeks ago is really starting to
fade fast. The Sixers really need to grab at least one of the next two
games, to avoid limping into the break on a potential 2-7 stretch and
continuing to lose ground to the Knicks, who look more legit than ever
after a win against Dallas today. It's good that we care enough to be
really disappointed by this recent losing, but personally, it's a
feeling I'd rather not get used to again so soon.

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

MONTREAL -- Eric Fehr and Jake Guentzel scored in the second period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins past the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Defensemen Ian Cole and Olli Maatta also scored for Pittsburgh, which won its second game in a row after a three-game skid.

Sven Andrighetto scored for Montreal, which lost its second straight and has only two wins in its last six games. The Canadiens' offense remained in a rut coming off a 1-0 loss Monday in Detroit.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray was back in form after Monday's wild 8-7 win over Washington, making 19 saves. But Carey Price's woes continued as Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 26-20. Price allowed three or more goals for the eighth time in 10 games (see full recap).

Vanek, Nielsen lead Wings over Bruins
DETROIT -- Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen scored in a shootout, lifting the Detroit Red Wings to a comeback 6-5 win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.

The Red Wings rallied from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits in the first period, and with 3:04 remaining in regulation, Gustav Nyquist scored to pull them into a tie.

In the shootout, Tuukka Rask and Petr Mrazek stopped the first shots they faced before Vanek scored for the Red Wings and Brad Marchand countered with a goal for the Bruins. Nielsen, who like Vanek joined the team last summer as a free agent, scored on the team's third attempt and Vatrano missed the net with a chance to extend the 1-on-1 duels.

The Bruins were dominant early before blowing a chance to keep Detroit at a distance in the Atlantic Division standings (see full recap).

Burns, Pavelski push Sharks past Kings
LOS ANGELES -- Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels scored in the San Jose Sharks' seventh win at Staples Center in their last eight trips, 3-2 over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.

Joe Thornton had two assists and Martin Jones made 22 saves for the defending Western Conference champion Sharks, who wrapped up their regular-season series against their biggest rivals with three victories in five games.

After Burns scored his 19th goal in the opening minutes, San Jose hung on through a scoreless third period to continue its recent domination in downtown Los Angeles, including three victories in last season's first-round playoff series.

Tanner Pearson and Marian Gaborik scored for the Kings, who ended a seven-game homestand with four defeats (see full recap).

McDavid scores in OT, Oilers edge Panthers
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Connor McDavid scored the winning goal in overtime as the Edmonton Oilers won their fourth game in a row, 4-3 over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night.

McDavid, who also had two assists in the game, got a breakaway late in overtime and got the puck away with 2.6 seconds left. Florida's James Reimer made the glove save, but the puck was ruled to be across the line via video review.

Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu and Jordan Eberle also scored for the Oilers, who have their longest winning streak since December 2015.

Vincent Trocheck, Michael Sgarbossa and Greg McKegg had goals for the Panthers, who have lost two straight (see full recap).

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

BOX SCORE

The Sixers weren’t supposed to beat the Raptors, were they? This was going to be an “easy” game for the visiting team, which was coming to Philadelphia on a back-to-back that started in Brooklyn. The Raptors are a playoff team, and second in the Eastern Conference at that. Not to mention, they had defeated the Sixers in their last 14 meetings.

Maybe easy would have been the case the last time the two teams played back in mid-December. For the Sixers, though, things have changed since then and a 94-89 win over the Raptors on Wednesday proved this recent success is not fleeting (see Instant Replay).

“I don’t think it’s a fluke,” Joel Embiid said. “We’re competing. We’re winning games. We’re playing great defense. We finally found what we’ve been looking for.”

The Sixers had been missing clearly-defined roles and a defensive identity (see story). Now that Brett Brown has whittled down his roster to 10 players and laid out a starting five and second unit, the team has been gelling in those two aspects. The Sixers have won seven out of their last nine games, with the Raptors being the highest caliber of competition.

The Raptors entered the game averaging 111.5 points per game, first in the East and third in the NBA behind only the Warriors and Rockets. They had scored less than 100 points in just seven games this season. Additionally, the Raptors had been held to under 90 points by a single opponent: the Spurs. Not bad company to be in. 

Embiid led all players with 26 points (including 12 for 14 from the free throw line) to go with nine rebounds (see highlights). The Sixers staved off 25 points (11 for 21 from the field), six assists and three rebounds from DeMar DeRozan and 24 points (11 for 16 from the line), four rebounds, four assists and five steals from Kyle Lowry, who fouled out. The Raptors shot 25 percent from three and 65.2 percent at the free throw line.  

“We’re playing with a spirit, we’re playing with a defensive mindset,” Brown said. “There is a belief within each other amongst the team that is the best that it’s been since I’ve been here.”

The Sixers' winning stretch began against subpar teams, opponents who earlier in the season some would look at the schedule and say, the Sixers could probably take that one, as they tried to project a batch of victories. The Sixers turned those wins over the Nuggets, Timberwolves and Nets into momentum and carried it into a matchup against the Knicks.

Even though the Knicks are looking lost this season, they still have veteran offensive firepower that can take over a game against a struggling opponent. The Sixers made noise by beating them at the buzzer, then escalated their performance against the postseason-hungry Hornets and Bucks. 

The Raptors are different, though. There is no questioning their success and potential to make a deep playoff run … again. Nonetheless, the Sixers handled this well-seasoned opponent with composure and confidence down the stretch. 

They stayed together when DeRozan hit a jumper with 1:53 to play to give the Raptors their first lead since the second quarter. The Sixers responded to the one-point deficit with a 7-0 run to push the edge up to six points with 20.7 seconds to go.

“I think it says we’re for real. It shows our consistency that we’ve built throughout the year,” Nerlens Noel said. “We’re relentless. We have a young group of guys that know how to play the game and play it the right way and will come out there and compete against anybody in this league. I think the perception should be a whole different one now.”

The Sixers showed they can compete with top talent. Their wins aren't just coming from teams at the bottom of the standings. 

"That gives us a lot of confidence," Embiid said. "Coming into the game, we had a lot of confidence. Winning against the second-best team in the East is just amazing. We’re going to keep on working."