Sixers Hold Off Mavericks With Smallest Margin of Victory Ever

Sixers Hold Off Mavericks With Smallest Margin of Victory Ever

Don't let the final 100-98, two-point scoring margin fool you—this 76ers
/ Mavericks game was a whole lot closer than that. Not only was it neck
and neck all the way through, but the game came down to the final
possession (despite the Sixers being up nine with just over three
minutes to go), where the Mavericks got two chances to steal the victory
from the Sixers, both of which seemed nearly inevitable until they just
didn't quite happen. It was a coin flip at best, but the Sixers escaped
with the win, moving to 9-6 on the season.

This thing really
did seem over when Jrue Holiday connected on a long two to put the
Ballers up nine with about 3:20 to go. But an O.J. Mayo three here, a
Vince Carter putback there, and the Mavs had suddenly cut the score down
to two, with Mayo drawing a foul with three seconds left and stepping
to the free throw line to likely send the game into overtime. But the
87% FT shooter missed his first, necessitating him missing the second to
try to get the team a putback. Instead, Mayo's second miss spilled out
to the good-shooting forward Jae Crowder behind the arc, and Crowder
quickly squared up a three for the win. The heave looked good on its
descent—Mark Cuban certainly looked like he expected it to connect—but
somehow it spilled off the rim as time expired. Breathe.

The
Mavs' late surge threatened to turn sour what would have otherwise been a
fairly sweet Sixers victory. Sure, it would've been a tight home win
against a middling Western team, but it was done on the backs of our
core young guys—Jrue, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young—and as Mike Prada of
Bullets Forever tweeted,
the development of those guys (esp. Jrue and Evan) is way more
important for the Sixers than wins and losses. Still, wins remain
infinitely preferable, especially when the game seemed good as wrapped a
couple minutes earlier, so we here at the Level appreciate whatever
divine forces caused that Crowder shot to rim out, thus allowing us to
dwell on the game's positives.

For instance: Evan Turner scored a
team-high 22 points tonight. More notably, he did it in only 12 shots,
hitting eight of them (including two threes) and going 4-5 from the
line. Turner has now scored in double digits for seven straight games,
the longest such streak in his career. (He's also set the longest streak
of his career with multiple threes in a game, with, uh, two.) Courtesy
of Derek Bodner,
here are Turner's numbers over that seven-game stretch: 16.9 ppg, 6.2
rpg, 5 apg, 48.9% FFG. (He's also 41.6% from three and 84% from the
line.) If Evan put those numbers up for a whole season, combined with
the solid defense he's been playing and the Sixers' winning record, he'd
be a borderline All-Star contender.

[RELATED: VIDEO: Evan Turner Hits His 'MJ Move,' Cracks Joke at Doug Collins]

Of course, seven games is
not a whole season, and we've seen Evan play in hot stretches before
only to revert to sloppy, inefficient, haphazard play for equally long
periods immediately afterwards. But the sample size keeps getting
larger, and in 15 games so far this season, only two or three could you
call real duds. And as well as we may have seen him play for a week or
so at a time before, we've never seen him shoot the ball like
this—especially from deep, where he only made 11 threes all last year,
but already has ten in 15 games this year. It's not concrete yet, but
it's very, very encouraging.

And then there's Jrue. The Damaja
didn't have his best game in this one, turning the ball over six times
and coming up short on some big possessions down the stretch, but he
still ended with 18 and 7 on 7-13 shooting, and check out his
numbers over the last seven, again courtesy of Bodner: 18.9 ppg, 9.4
apg, 3.3 TOpg, 46.1 FG%, 41.2 3PT%. And with his 20 and seven tonight,
Thad's numbers over that stretch are pretty damn solid too: 15.8 ppg,
8.3 rpg, 52.1% shooting. Oh, and not coincidentally, the Sixers went 5-2
over that seven-game span.

Of course, as we focus on the
positives, we should probably point out that there's still a reason that
the Sixers are coming so close to giving some of these wins away, and
the primary reason—aside from turnovers tonight, of which we had an
uncharacteristic 17—is a lack of production from the bench and the
center spot. Dorell Wright and Nick Young had some nice moments on
defense, but were relative non-entities on offense, shooting a combined
2-10 and 0-3 from three. Dorell has been particularly disappointing,
since it seems like if he's not squaring up behind the arc, he doesn't
have a clue what to do—opponents are running him off, and when he fakes
and drives to the basket, it almost always seems to result in disaster.
Maalik Wayns scored a career-high ten tonight, but his qualifications as
a backup PG still seem limited, and right now all he can do is play the
homeless man's Lou Williams for about 12 minutes a game as Coach
Collins figures out how to steal minutes on the bench for Evan and Jrue.


The Sixers actually did get some good combined minutes at the
pivot tonight from Lavoy Allen, Spencer Hawes and Kwame Brown, but it's
bullpen by committee for Collins with those three guys, and they're
always giving up something having any one of them on the floor. Hawes
and Allen had some moments offensively, but couldn't keep Mavs center
Chris Kaman from doing damage in the post, so Collins brought in Kwame.
The K-Man did slow down Kaman, and even had a couple putback dunks for a
six-point, eight-rebound final line (season highs, and likely to stay
as such for a while), but also missed a couple easy looks around the
basket, and proved a late-game liability when Dallas coach Rick Carlisle
resorted to Hacking-a-Kwame in the fourth quarter. There's no easy
solution to the team's center problem—at least until that guy with the
big hair decides he's good to lace up—so Collins will have to continue
mixing and matching and hoping at the five and hoping not to get exposed
too badly on either end while doing so.

Next up: The Sixers
visit Charlotte for their first game this season against the
surprisingly decent Bobcats. Not a lot of gimmes remaining on the
schedule for the 2012 calendar year, but a lot of winnable games still.
If Evan, Jrue and Thad can keep up their hot play—I'm gonna resist all
kinds of temptation and not refer to them as any kind of Big Three just
yet—I like our chances in that one.

MLB Notes: Aroldis Chapman rejoins Yankees on 5-year, $86 million deal

MLB Notes: Aroldis Chapman rejoins Yankees on 5-year, $86 million deal

OXON HILL, Md. -- Aroldis Chapman found a spot in a most familiar bullpen -- a very rich spot, too.

The hard-throwing closer reached agreement to return to the New York Yankees on Wednesday night with the highest-priced contract ever for a relief pitcher, an $86 million deal for five years.

A person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press that the contract was pending a physical. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal was not yet complete.

Once it's done, the 28-year-old lefty whose fastballs routinely top 100 mph would shatter the previous richest contract for a reliever -- that was the $62 million, four-year deal Mark Melancon signed with San Francisco just a couple days ago during the winter meetings.

Chapman was acquired by New York from the Cincinnati Reds last offseason, then missed the first 29 games of the season due to a domestic violence suspension from Major League Baseball. The Cuban was traded to the Chicago Cubs in late July and helped them win the World Series, becoming a free agent when it was over.

Chapman went 4-1 with 36 saves and a 1.55 ERA in a combined 59 games for the Yankees and Cubs. He struggled some in the postseason as the Cubs beat Cleveland for their first championship since 1908.

With the Yankees this season, Chapman teamed with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances in one of the most dominant bullpens in baseball history. Miller was later traded to Cleveland, but Betances is still with New York.

Earlier this week, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said the team was interested in both Chapman and fellow free agent closer Kenley Jansen. The Yankees had already made one deal at these meetings, signing slugger Matt Holliday, before paying a lot more to bring Chapman back to the Bronx.

Fox Sports first reported the agreement.

Rangers: Gomez reaches deal to stay with team
OXON HILL, Md. -- Carlos Gomez is staying with the Texas Rangers.

The outfielder agreed to an $11.5 million, one-year contract, a deal subject to a successful physical.

"Many of the objectives of the Rangers for Carlos go beyond one year," his agent, Scott Boras, said Wednesday. "Certainly Carlos really enjoyed the team and the environment and feels he's got a great chance to win. So I think both parties' objectives were met by that deal."

Gomez, who turned 31 last weekend, figures to play center as general manager Jon Daniels structured an outfield that includes Shin-Soo Choo in right and Nomar Mazara in left. Ian Desmond left Wednesday for a $70 million, five-year deal with Colorado.

Gomez batted just .210 with five homers in 85 games this year for Houston and was released by the Astros in August. He signed with Texas and hit .284 with eight homers and 24 RBIs in 33 games. An All-Star in 2013 and '14 with Milwaukee, Gomez has a .257 average and 116 home runs in 10 big league seasons.

"J.D. was very clear from the onset about them wanting Carlos back, and we've had communication since the season's end to pursue that," Boras said. "So it was something in our minds and in their minds. It was just a constant dialogue."

AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.

Red Sox: Sale not worried about being ace
BOSTON -- New Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale says he isn't worried that he might not be the ace of the pitching staff after being traded from the White Sox to Boston.

The 27-year-old lefty told reporters on Wednesday, "We play for a trophy, not a tag."

Sale was traded to the Red Sox on Tuesday at the baseball winter meetings. He was the top starting pitcher on the market, and the Red Sox gave up touted prospect Yoan Moncada as part of a package to land him.

Sale has been an All-Star for five straight seasons and finished in the top six of the Cy Young Award voting each time. He joins a staff that already includes 2016 Cy Young winner Rick Porcello and '12 winner David Price (see full story).

Best of NBA: Cavs ride Big 3 to huge win over Knicks at MSG

Best of NBA: Cavs ride Big 3 to huge win over Knicks at MSG

NEW YORK -- LeBron James scored 25 points, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love also surpassed 20, and the Cleveland Cavaliers crushed the New York Knicks 126-94 on Wednesday night.

James had nothing to say Wednesday morning about Knicks President Phil Jackson and not much more about his decision to not stay with the team in a Donald Trump-branded hotel, but he and the Cavs made a loud statement at Madison Square Garden.

It was their second straight win after a three-game skid, and they did it easily in handing the Knicks their worst loss of the season. Irving led Cleveland with 28 points and Love scored 21, 16 in the first quarter.

Brandon Jennings scored 16 points for the Knicks, who had their four-game winning streak snapped and lost for the just the third time in 10 games. He started for Derrick Rose, who missed his first game of the season with lower back pain.

Tristan Thompson grabbed 20 rebounds for the Cavs. They played without guard J.R. Smith, who returned to Cleveland for additional testing after hyperextending his left knee Monday in Toronto (see full recap).

Antetokounmpo drops triple-double in Bucks’ win
MILWAUKEE -- Giannis Antetokounmpo got his second triple-double of the season to lead the Milwaukee Bucks over the Portland Trail Blazers 115-107 on Wednesday night.

Antetokounmpo had 15 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists for his seventh career triple-double -- second-most in franchise history -- and is the only NBA player averaging at least 20 points, eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals this season.

Jabari Parker added 27 points for Milwaukee, which rebounded from a one-point home loss to San Antonio on Monday to win for the fifth time in six games.

The Bucks entered holding opponents to a NBA-best .311 shooting percentage from 3-point range, but Portland drill a season-high 17 of them.

Damian Lillard made five of them and scored a team-high 30 points to go with seven rebounds and six assists.

C.J. McCollum added 23 points, including four 3-pointers, as the Blazers continued a nine-game stretch of playing eight times on the road (see full recap).

Streaking Rockets roll over Lakers
HOUSTON -- Eric Gordon made a career-high eight 3-points and scored 26 points to help the Houston Rockets cruise to a 134-95 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night.

James Harden added 25 points in three quarters for the Rockets. They scored a season high and extended their winning streak to a season-best four games.

The Rockets were up by 12 in the third quarter, then had a 22-6 run to make it 96-68 and put the game out of reach with about 3 minutes left in the quarter. Houston made four 3-pointers and got a nifty one-handed dunk from Clint Capela in that run to pad the lead.

Gordon already had four 3-pointers seven minutes into the first quarter after making each of his first four attempts. It was his seventh straight game with at least four 3-pointers, which is a franchise record.

Houston's winning streak is its longest since taking five straight in January.

Lou Williams led the Lakers with 24 points. They have lost four in a row, their longest skid of the season (see full recap).