Win Another One, Why Not: Hot Sixers Face Spurs at Home

Win Another One, Why Not: Hot Sixers Face Spurs at Home

I've said it before, but going into this seven-game stretch of
toughness—the "death march," as my dad refers to it—I said that the team
needed to win three games, and I hoped they would win four. Well, five
games in, and they've already taken care of the four-win mark, and still
have games against the Spurs and Clippers to possibly even add to that.
It's more than I expected, to say the least, but it's been damn fun,
even with that awful loss against Miami, and it's permanently silenced
critics who say the team isn't legit. (And by "permanently" of course I
mean "until they lose a game or two again".)

In any event, even with the stretch a success regardless, the Sixers do
have to still play the last two games, and it'd be damn good if we could
win one or two of 'em just the same. Tonight they face the visiting San
Antonio Spurs, who despite another year of tread and the loss of
All-Star shooting guard Manu Ginobili to injury for over a month, have
been just as much of a factor as always in the Western Conference,
winning five straight games coming into tonight (including one against
the league-best Oklahoma City Thunder) and posting a 17-9 record for the
year thusfar, good for the three seed in the West.

The key, as seems to be the case with nearly every team the Sixers have
faced in recent weeks, will be stopping the point guard—in this case,
firecracker Tony Parker, who proved in that game against the Thunder (42
points, nine assists, zero turnovers) how dangerous he can still be once he gets going.
Also, the Spurs' front line of the not-quite-ageless Tim Duncan and
young'n DeJuan Blair can rebound the hell out of the ball, so the Sixers
risk getting punked on the boards the way they were against the Lakers
if EB, Nik, Lavoy and company aren't rotating well and banging
bodies under the basket.

Spencer is out tonight while Elton will give it a shot.

7:00 tip from the WFC. As good as the Sixers have been of late, they
need to keep winning to stay afloat, not just in the East on the whole
but in their division specifically—with the Celtics winning nine of ten
and the Knicks seemingly reanimated by the brilliant play of point guard wunderkind Jeremy
Lin, the Atlantic may not be as easy to secure as we previously hoped.
It'd be nice to not have to obsess over the standings much this year if at all possible.

*

One awesome quote from Coach Collins pregame powwow:

Coach Collins was asked once again about the amazing atmosphere at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday night when his team defeated Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. He said he did savor it a bit when there was about 5 seconds left in the game.

"Bynum's shot went in the air, I saw it miss," Collins said. "It was a chance to look around a little bit like I did when we beat Miami in the playoffs. When the fans were chanting 'Beat L.A.' it reminded me of 1980 when I was here and the good feeling our guys had. More importantly, just the courage our guys played with the other night. I said it before, you have to be a strong-willed guy to be able to take the torment that Kobe Bryant will throw at you during a game."

He later added that he's not worried about what the doubters around the league may be saying about his club.

"Just to look around to see our crowd so excited, that's why I came here. I wanted these people to be excited about their team again. I know there's a lot of people out there that still think we're the little engine that can't. That's okay, we're just gonna keep chugging."

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

NEW YORK -- John Wall had 29 points and 13 assists, scoring Washington's final four points in the last 32 seconds as the surging Wizards beat the New York Knicks 113-110 on Thursday night.

Otto Porter Jr. made six 3-pointers for the second straight night and added 23 points, but the Wizards needed big plays from Wall down the stretch to win their fourth in a row.

He made two free throws to put Washington back on top after New York had rallied to take a 110-109 lead, then rebounded Carmelo Anthony's miss and left all the Knicks in his dust as he raced down the floor for a dunk with 13.7 seconds to play.

Anthony finished with 34 points but Wall stole the ball from Brandon Jennings to prevent the Knicks from attempting a 3-pointer that could have tied it (see full recap).

Leonard scores 34 to lead Spurs over Nuggets
SAN ANTONIO -- Kawhi Leonard scored 34 points, rookie Dejounte Murray added a season-high 24 and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a pregame injury to Pau Gasol in beating the Denver Nuggets 118-104 on Thursday night.

Denver's three-game winning streak was snapped despite a career-high 35 points from Nikola Jokic.

Leonard had his fifth straight 30-point performance, right after learning he will start for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game for the second consecutive season.

The Spurs were unexpectedly without Gasol, Tony Parker and then coach Gregg Popovich. Gasol and Parker were both late scratches due to injury, and Popovich was ejected for the first time this season.

Gasol broke the ring finger on his left (non-shooting) hand by jamming it against Kyle Anderson's shoulder during pregame warmups while attempting a running hook. The 16-year veteran center immediately clutched his hand and left the court.

X-rays revealed the break, and the Spurs said there is no timeline for Gasol's return.

Irving, James lead Cavs over Suns
CLEVELAND -- Kyrie Irving scored 26 points, All-Star teammate LeBron James had 21 points and 15 assists, and the Cleveland Cavaliers looked more like themselves at home in a 118-103 win over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

The Cavs were back in Quicken Loans Arena following a six-game road trip (their longest of the season) that concluded with an embarrassing 35-point loss at Golden State. But on their home floor, they had better offensive balance and ball movement while improving to 30-11 -- the same record Cleveland had at the halfway point of its 2016 NBA championship season.

Channing Frye scored 18, Iman Shumpert 17 and James Jones 14 while filling in for star forward Kevin Love, still bothered by back spasms.

Tyson Chandler had 22 points and 16 rebounds, but the Suns lost for the fourth time in five games (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).