The Sixers won a game last night

The Sixers won a game last night

Ohhh, Evan. Our boy ET has been heavy in the thick of the worst stretch of play of his season, averaging just 13 points a contest on 37% shooting over his last six games, dropping his field goal percentage to below 45% and his PER to below league-average--and that's just his offense, as his defense has been even worse, as Derek Bodner of Liberty Ballers did a fine job detailing the other day.

But just as you started thinking it might be well into 2014 before we get even another break-even performance from Evan Turner, the Extraterrestrial gifted Philadelphia 76ers fans at the WFC last night with one of his best performances as a pro, scoring 29 points on 13-22 shooting, to go with ten boards and five assists. And the biggest of those 13 field goals came as time expired in overtime, as he hit the game-winner to give the Sixers their 121-120 vengeance victory against the Brooklyn Nets, who eviscerated them in New York just four days earlier.

You'll notice that it was a very un-Evan Turner-like game-winning attempt for a number of reasons, not the least of all being that it actually went in. The fact that ET actually took the ball to the basket with seconds to go instead of pulling up for one of his patented (and rarely successful) stepback elbow jumpers is a very encouraging sign that perhaps our volatitle fourth-year wing has not totally thrown in the towl on this season, and might still be able to put in the work to get back to the level he was playing at at season's start, despite his relatively lazy play of recent weeks.

Of course, Evan's return to form might have much to do with the return of their starting point guard, Michael Carter-Williams. MCW had a good-not-great stat line for the night--15 points on 5-13 shooting, with ten assists and three steals--but his presence totally changed the energy of the team from the first minutes of the game, as he got the team back into their ball-pushing, easy-scoring ways, also helping to get Turner a couple good looks for buckets at the basket early that set him on his way to an 8-8 start to the game from the field. It's just a different team with Carter-Williams out there, and a much less difficult-to-watch one, I'd proffer.

And it should also be noted that any worries about the trade rumors (and rumored trade requests) surrounding Thaddeus Young of late certainly did not affect his play last night. Thad went off for 25 points on 11-18 shooting--including 3-3 from downtown (now shooting 39% from deep for the season!)--with six points, four assists and three steals, an all-around performance that reminds us just how valuable Thaddeus has been to this team over the past seven-plus seasons, and how we'd be damn foolish to let him go just for the same of doing so. Way to stiff upper lip it, Thad.

Of course, you could hardly say that all that ails the Sixers was remedied tonight. The defense was still...problematic, as the team gave up 108 points in regulation to a Nets team missing Kevin Garnett and recent Sixer-slayer Joe Johnson. And surprise, surprise, the three-pointer proved the primary bug-a-boo, as the Ballers gave up a combined 15 longballs to Paul Pierce, Alan Anderson and Mirza Teletovic, stretching their record total of games of 15+ three-pointers given up in a season to seven. There will be game film to watch for Brett Brown on this one, for sure.

Nonetheless, a win is a win, and as much as the Sixers are better off losing just about whenever possible at this point, I think the guys needed this to keep the team from completely falling apart. We want the team to lose, but we don't want them to quite be depressing, and a win last night goes a long way towards staving off such total misery. Plus, it was the Ballers' last home game before the holidays and the new year, so it was the least they can do for their few faithful home fans remaining.

Sixers go to Milwaukee tonight to begin a six-game roadie, with all five after tonight coming against the much tougher West. In other words, store up the good vibes now, because it's gonna be a real long winter.

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).

Red Wings' Vanek, Nielsen score in 6-5 SO win 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 lead Sharks past rival LA Kings, 3-2
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 overtime to lead Oilers past Panthers 4-3
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."