Sixers lose to Wizards in first of hopefully many respectable losses this season

Sixers lose to Wizards in first of hopefully many respectable losses this season

The Golden State loss was embarrassing. Half-hearted offense, quarter-hearted defense, giving up open looks and highlight plays and letting eight-year Sixer Andre Iguodala have arguably his best-ever game on the Wells Fargo Center court wearing another team's jersey...not so good, Al. We want to lose this year, sure, but we don't want to have to lose like that.

Last night, I'd say, was infinitely preferable. Yes, they failed to kill off the ailing Washington Wizards, and yes, they probably could have gotten a hand up on defense or a body back in transition a couple more times than they did--giving up 116 points on your home floor is rarely totally justifiable--but they at least fought back throughout, kept it close for at least three quarters, and ultimately let themselves get beat by a more talented team. In the end, it's all good.

John Wall--the boy can ball. After an exceptional first half against the Sixers last week, the former #1 overall pick (and ostensible Evan Turner rival of sorts) played four strong quarters tonight against the Liberty Ballers, flashing the blinding speed and excellent drive-and-dish instincts that make him so spellbinding in the open court, but also showcasing a shooting stroke rarely seen across his first three seasons in the league, hitting 5-8 from downtown, easily his career high in threes for a game. (For reference, Wall went 3-42 from deep for the entire 2011-'12 season.)

All that said, he didn't outshine Evan Turner all that badly this time. Unlike most of their matchups, in which it's been abundantly clear who went #1 overall in 2010 and who went #2, Evan was equally on his game tonight, showcasing his much-improved mid-range game and not forcing matters in the half-court, ending with 24 points (on sparkling 9-13 shooting, including six free throw attempts and even his first three-pointer of the season), seven rebounds and four assists, with just one turnover. Evan is now shooting a mind-blowing (and likely unsustainable) 61% from two-point range this season, showing just how much he's improved his overall shot selection in Brett Brown's offense.

Evan's production last night was mostly matched by Spencer Hawes, who continued his strong start to the season with 23 points (on 9-16 shooting) with 13 points, five assists and a couple blocks--though he also chipped in six TO's, at least two or three of which were of the worst kind of head-smacking Hawesian quality. Michael Carter-Williams similarly put up big numbers, including 19 points, seven assists and five boards, but his shot selection was a little suspect at times, and he needed 21 attempts for his 19 points.

Perhaps the best sign of the night for the Sixers was that James Anderson finally got himself off the schneid a little, hitting a couple threes and scoring 13 points total, easily his best production in a Sixers game this season, amidst not particularly stiff competition. Really, of the Sixers' main offensive cogs, the only one who couldn't really find a groove last night was previous Wizard-killer Thaddeus Young, who struggled through a 3-11 night and couldn't seem to find himself any room to sneak in around the basket, getting badly outmuscled on both ends by the Washington frontcourt of Nene and Marcin Gortat.

And really, it wasn't the offense that failed the Sixers tonight, it was the defense. Slow rotations, missed assignments and failures to get back in transition were the biggest culprits--though admittedly, much of the latter had to do with the Sixers' 20 turnovers on the evening, which started far too many easy looks back the other way. Seven Wizards scored in double figures, which probably means that the defensive blame is across-the-board for the Sixers for this one.

But whatever. Plenty of teaching points for Brett Brown in this one, and plenty of Big Macs for the folks in attendance. It was a fun game to watch, it further inflated the stats of eventual trade targets Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes, and in the end, we're one loss closer to contending for Wiggins, Randle and Parker. It's all love, and we can only hope for more of the same for the rest of the season.

Eagles-Vikings Week 7: What they're saying

Eagles-Vikings Week 7: What they're saying

Riding a two-game losing streak, the Eagles (3-2) return home Sunday for the first time in nearly a month and welcome a familiar face to the confines of Lincoln Financial Field. 

Sam Bradford and the Vikings (5-0) will come to Philadelphia fresh off a Week 6 bye and, most notably, as the league's lone unbeaten team. Minnesota boasts one of the league's top defenses, ranking first in points allowed (12.6 per game) and second in yards allowed (287.6 per game), and is looking to improve to 6-0 for the first time since 2009.

The last time these two franchises met was back in December 2013, when Matt Cassell and the Vikings put up 48 points in a win over Chip Kelly's Eagles.

To get a better handle on this year's Vikings, here's what they're saying about the Eagles' Week 7 opponent.

Brian Robison poses yet another challenge for Big V
Making his NFL debut in a start against the Redskins last week, Halapoulivaati Vaitai struggled mightily. Ryan Kerrigan beat Vaitai and got to Carson Wentz for 2½ sacks, all of which came in the first half.

It won't get any easier for the rookie right tackle this week either, as he'll likely be lined up against Brian Robison for most of the afternoon. Robison has four sacks and two forced fumbles on the season and, according to Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune, the versatile 10-year defensive end could be difference maker on the defensive side of the ball Sunday.

"Whether his hand is in the turf at left end or he’s standing over a guard or center as the defensive tackle, Robison could be dropping back to cover a tight end or running back," Krammer wrote. "At the line, he’s given responsibilities to call stunts or twists depending on their own play call. Sometimes he’s setting the pick to free another teammate. ... And on Sunday against the Eagles and their rookie right tackle, keep an eye on Robison when he lines up at his traditional spot of left end. All four of his sacks this season, including two strip-sacks, have come from there."

Makeshift offensive line remains a question mark
The Vikings may be undefeated, but by no means are they made up of perfect parts. As the midway point of the NFL season approaches, Minnesota's injury-battered offensive line is still a work in progress. 

Starting tackles Matt Kalil and Andre Smith are both sidelined with season-ending injuries. Starting guard Brandon Fusco suffered a concussion Week 5 against the Texans, but is expected to return against the Eagles. Center is the only position on the line the Vikings haven't had to replace because of an injury at some point this season.

But despite the constant changes up front, Minnesota has been stout overall in protecting the quarterback, allowing eight sacks and 27 quarterback hits across five games. According to Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press, the performance of that makeshift offensive line is going to be key in the Vikings' potential success down the road. 

"What’s best for Bradford and the Vikings’ standing as the NFC’s top dog is better pass protection," Murphy wrote. "He was sacked twice when Houston defenders turnstiled Clemmings and hit hard in the pocket other times. ... Offensive line intrigue never is a sexy storyline, but how well the Vikings manage the unit week to week figures to be an underlying factor to their continued success."

Strong away from home
The Vikings are a just a few years removed from going winless on the road, finishing 0-7-1 away from home in the 2013 season. Minnesota secured wins in only two of its first 10 away games under the tutelage of Mike Zimmer, but have since gone on a tear.

Minnesota has won seven of its last eight road games dating back to last season and, in their most recent game away from U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings took down the Panthers, 22-10, in Week 3. A testament of a true contender is having the ability to win consistently on the road, which holds true with the Vikings.

According to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press, the Vikings' vast improvement over the past two-plus seasons has contributed to them becoming a stronger team away from home.

"Facing a tough opposing crowd once was a tall order for the Vikings, but it’s much less of one now. After being one of the worse road teams in the NFL earlier this decade, they’re now one of the best," Tomasson wrote. "Overall, the Vikings have improved, having gone from 7-9 in 2014 to 11-5 last season to 5-0 this year. That’s the main reason the road record has gotten so much better. Still, players say the continuity the team has had has especially helped when entering rugged road environments."

While Vegas has the Vikings as light favorites on the road, national experts have them heavily favored straight up to hand the Eagles their third straight loss.

ESPN: All nine experts picked the Vikings

CBS Sports: Seven of eight experts picked the Vikings

FOX Sports: Three of five experts picked the Vikings 

Flyers Skate Update: Ivan Provorov has a new partner

Flyers Skate Update: Ivan Provorov has a new partner

Ivan Provorov has a new partner.

Provorov will be paired with Brandon Manning on Saturday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, a changeup from the first four games of the season. Mark Streit drops to the third pair with Nick Schultz, a tandem that worked together most of last season.

"We're going to change them up," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said after the team's morning skate. "We're going to look at a couple of different things. Some of the combinations are some familiar ones, such as Streiter-Schultz. They played a lot of minutes together last year. It's a move that we want to take a look at."

The Provorov-Manning pair is an interesting one. It should allow the 19-year-old to activate more in the offensive zone with Manning playing positionally sound. Manning has played with an extra edge thus far, showcasing a far more aggressive brand of hockey than he's shown previously with the orange and black.

With Streit, an offensive-minded blueliner, Provorov had to cover for his partner. Provorov also ran into some tough luck situations, too. Now with Manning, Provorov has the handcuffs off a little bit. Manning plays well positionally and while he has been more aggressive, he knows when to stay back, which will help Provorov.

It's another adjustment for the rookie. Through four games, he said, there haven't been any surprises in terms of his expectations for how the NHL game plays.

"I think what I expected is what I got," Provorov said. "It's the best league in the world, you expect all four lines to be great, you expect fast pace, physical game and that's what I got. I'm still learning, but I'm trying to do better as the games go on."

Provorov has one assist this season and enters Saturday as a minus-5, largely because of the Chicago game Tuesday. Hakstol praised Provorov's maturity level and ability to self-evaluate. What he hasn't done with Provorov is talk about numbers.

"There are some meaning in stats and we take the meaningful areas and apply those," Hakstol said. "But I haven't talked to any of the young guys about their statistics. We're four games in. I don't make too much of statistics right now. We're evaluating day-to-day play and looking at areas that we can use as strengths and areas individually we can improve."

Starting slow
If there has been one common theme through the first four games, it's the Flyers' poor starts. In first periods this season, they've been outscored, 6-1 (see game notes).

On Thursday night, the Flyers again came out of the gates slow. It was their first game back after a season-opening road trip out West, which Jakub Voracek said was a factor.

Voracek, who has four assists, said the burden falls on the individual player to focus on the small details and avoid committing mistakes.

"As a player, if you don't have that extra step, you just have to keep it simple," he said. "It's going to come around. The first 10 minutes, you have to make sure you don't make mistakes and I think that we were trying to do too much if we weren't feeling right. It showed last game against Anaheim. We were a half-a-step slower."

Four games isn't a large enough sample size for Hakstol to make a definite statement on the Flyers' first-period woes. The second-year coach said he'll have a better understanding where his team is at after the Carolina game.

"I think we'll answer that question after the start tonight," Hakstol said. "I think we'll get a fair evaluation of our starts after our start tonight, and if we have a problem, we'll know it after tonight. If we don't, we'll know that as well.

"Pretty clear, crystal clear, black and white in my mind. Tonight should tell else what type of team we are at the start of the hockey game."

Projected Flyers Lineup
F: Brayden Schenn-Claude Giroux-Wayne Simmonds

Travis Konecny-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek

Nick Cousins-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Matt Read

Chris VandeVelde-Boyd Gordon-Roman Lyubimov

D: Andrew MacDonald-Shayne Gostisbehere

Ivan Provorov-Brandon Manning

Nick Schultz-Mark Streit

G: Steve Mason