Yes, the Sixers actually beat the Miami Heat tonight, and yes it was beautiful

Yes, the Sixers actually beat the Miami Heat tonight, and yes it was beautiful

Here's one question I left out of the Sixers Prediction League polling last week: Will there be one moment this year that makes you legitimately grateful to be a Philadelphia 76ers fan? I would never have included that question, mostly because it's extremely subjective, but also because I can't imagine why anyone would have answered yes. This season seemed like it would be a test of endurance and faith, that the best we could hope to do was survive it. It never occurred to me we would actually be able to enjoy it.

The Philadelphia 76ers beat the Miami Heat 114-110 tonight, and I don't think it's overstating matters to say it's all gravy from here. I legitimately felt more joy, more excitement, more connection watching this game, this team, tonight at the Wells Fargo Center than I expeted to feel over the course of the entire season. If the Sixers lost all 81 games after this--and given the good karma they must have had to burn to escape with the one tonight, I wouldn't rule out the possibility--I'll still be good to go.

How did it happen? To be honest, I'm not really sure. I was in such a frenzy by two minutes into this game--in which the Sixers somehow went up 9-0 leading into a Miami timeout, only to add another 10-0 run on top of that on the other side of the TO--that I watched the rest of the game through a sort of drunken haze, any hope I had of watching this game objectively and analytically long out the window. I remember isolated moments, but the overall picture is very blurry.

The one thing I can conclusively say about this win is that it flowed through Michael Carter-Williams and Evan Turner. MCW had--and I say this without exaggeration, I'm pretty sure--one of the greatest debut games in NBA history. 22 points on 6-10 shooting (a stunning 4-6 from deep), 12 assists, NINE STEALS and seven rebounds. With just one turnover. The nine steals, leaving MCW one short of an extremely rare debut-game triple-double, was legitimate history, breaking the previous record for a debut game by two. Oh, and he also hit a pair of game-sealing free throws with eight seconds to go. I didn't think he'd have a game this good the entire season, much less in his first game, MUCH LESS AGAINST THE TWO-TIME GODDAMN DEFENDING CHAMPION MIAMI GODDAMN HEAT WHAT THE HELL. Michael Carter-Williams was the cosmos tonight, and you can better believe I'll be writing more about it before the week's up.

ET was nearly as heroic. His 26 point, five assist, four rebound doesn't even do justice to the presence he was in this game, catapulting the Sixers to their hot start (including a dunk on LeBron--that's LEBRON JAMES I mean) and keeping them afloat during some rocky waters in the third quarter with some of the best moves I've seen him throw around near the basket in some time. There are some games where Evan manages to convince himself that he's still Ohio State World-Beating Evan Turner, and he can almost will his body to do things to make teams as good as the Heat look like Northwestern and Minnesota trying to guard him. That still didn't help him sink either of the potential nail-in-coffin threes he took in the game's final minutes, but...petty quibbles. ET was the man tonight, and it was loverly.

As Coach Brown said at the post-game conference, the list goes on. James Anderson hit some big threes and grabbed some tough boards. Daniel Orton unleashed a drop step at one point. Tony Wroten quietly had a career-high 14 points (on 6-9 shooting!) in just 233 minutes. Spencer Hawes was just about the only Sixer who could finish at or near the rim tonight, finishing with 24 points on 10-14 shooting, including a huuuuuge three to cut the Heat's lead to one late in the fourth. (Nine boards, too--the Heat bigs will make your starting center look like Moses Malone some nights.) It was such a team effort that even if you saw Kwame "Were you saying Booo or Boooorrroowwwn?" on the streets of Philadelphia tonight, you'd probably give him a pound.

Of course, it's worth noting that besides all the good stuff, the Sixers did give up a mind-boggling 80 points over the span of two quarters--including a WFC record 45 points in the second--the majority of it on an endless barrage of Heat three-pointers, including a quartet of Ray Allen treys to cap the third frame. One, a 48-foot heave to beat the buzzer, you just have to shake your head and give ol' Jesus S. a slow clap, but the other three, he was singing the Dixie Chicks he was so wide open. The Sixers have some major work to do with their defensive rotations, with Evan Turner as usual one of the primary culprits.

Really, this looked all the world like it was going to end as a "good show, but sorry, you're not beating LeBron with this crappy team" moral victory loss. The Heat shaved the Sixers' 22-point lead from the first quarter--and we're talking EARLY in the first quarter--to nil in the third, and even went up as much as eight, with LeBron doing his usual ownage schtick, ending the game with 23 points (on just 11 shots!) and 12 assists, and neither Ray, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers or Chris Bosh seeming inclined to miss ever again. But the Sixers kept up the intensity--the awesome crowd, sure to be the WFC's best showing of the season thanks to the presence of LeBron and AI, probably played a part--and the Sixers survived long enough to capitalize on Miami's next offensive lull, outscoring the Heat 29-16 over the final quarter and securing the unlikeliest of W's.

There's a couple other caveats to add to the Sixers' victory, though they're really more about the Heat's loss. The DNP for Dwyane Wade might have hurt them more than I realized, as his defensive presence was missed some on the perimeter--he might have actually been the better matchup against MCW or even ET with his size--and the Heat did seem visibly drained, especially at first, from the emotion and physicality of their matchup with Chicago last night, following the presentation of their second straight championship rings. I still would never have predicted the Sixers would take advantage of these mitigating factors for Miami to even be in the game, let alone win it, but Miami does have excuses to content themselves with, should they choose.

And I would indeed be remiss if I didn't mention: This changes nothing. The Sixers might be a little better than we gave them credit for, but it's still way, way too early to give them that kind of credit. MCW will not play like this every game--unless he was playing possum for the entire exhibition season, this is the very, very high end of his spectrum of play, and we're likely to see a whole lot more of the low before season's over. ET will struggle, Spence will no-show, Tony Wroten will appear to not give a shit. If the Sixers and Heat play this game 1000 times, I don't think the Sixers win more than four, and that regression to the mean will likely be borne out over the course of the season to follow.

But holy crap, was this game worth it. This is the reason you continue to follow a team when they're bad, why you stay loyal when it appears that they're not going anywhere. Because you never know. Games like this are rare, impossibly so, but they happen. And when they do, you're really not going to want to miss out on it. One game down, and the 2013-14 Sixers campaign is already a success. The Jacksonville Jaguars have beaten the Denver Broncos, and it was so, so sweet.

And before you worry that this derails the entire #TANKADELPHIA operation, don't worry--we'll have every chance to get back to Wiggins-riggin' business Friday night against the Bulls. If they somehow win that game too, then we'll talk panic. For now, we bask.

Eagles-Colts preseason: 10 players to watch

Eagles-Colts preseason: 10 players to watch

It’s time for the dress rehearsal.

For the most part, preseason games don’t give us a great idea of how a team will do during the regular season, but at least the third game can sometimes offer a glimpse because starters play the most in this game.

After last year’s preseason Game 3 against the Packers, when it looked like nothing was going to stop Sam Bradford and the Eagles from going to the Super Bowl, hopefully we’ve all learned our lesson. In that game, Bradford looked like Joe Montana and Chip Kelly looked like Bill Walsh. Turns out they were just Bradford and Chipper.

Still, there’s plenty of reason to watch Saturday night. Here are 10 players to keep an eye on:

WR Dorial Green-Beckham
DGB played a little bit last week in Pittsburgh and was targeted twice, but now he’s been with the team for a week and should have a better grasp of the offense. He’ll get some run with the first-team offense, which should be fun to watch. Physically, Green-Beckham is a freak. He’s 6-foot-5, 230, and ran a 4.49 in the 40 coming into the league last year. He has a skillset unlike anyone else on the team and unlike many in the league.

OL Stefen Wisniewski
Because rookie Isaac Seumalo is out Saturday night with a pec injury, the veteran Wisniewski is filling in. Wisniewski has started each of his 77 career NFL games since entering the league and doesn’t want the streak to end. He views Saturday as an audition to win the starting job, although Doug Pederson said he won’t strip Seumalo of his starting gig because of injury. Even if Wisniewski isn’t a starter, he’s still the top backup at all three interior linemen positions.

CB Leodis McKelvin
McKelvin hasn’t done a ton to impress during training camp or in the first two preseason games, but he’s still clearly a starting cornerback on this team — even though Nolan Carroll has looked better early. It’s important to watch McKelvin because you know what’s coming: a division with Dez, Odell, DeSean and others.

RB Wendell Smallwood
After suffering a quad injury in camp, this will finally be Smallwood’s first NFL game action. The time he missed was significant, but he still likely has a roster spot locked up. The biggest thing he needs to show Saturday is the ability to pass block. If he’s unable, it’ll keep him off the field this season.

QB Sam Bradford
I probably don’t need to tell you to watch the starting quarterback, but I am anyway. The first-team offense didn’t do much to alleviate any fears last week in Pittsburgh. Bradford partially blamed it on purposeful vanilla game-planning because the Eagles face the Steelers in Week 3. That’s probably somewhat fair, but fans probably want to see a little more production from the unit.

LB Mychal Kendricks
A hamstring injury has kept Kendricks out until this point of the preseason, but he should be good to go Saturday. The oft-injured Kendricks was probably one of the more frustrating players on the 2015 team. He has plenty of talent, but needs to finally put it all together. This is our first look at him in the new defense.

WR Paul Turner
The future Hall of Famer is pushing hard for a roster spot. He’s been good during camp and the preseason, but his lack of versatility could hurt him. He’s a slot receiver and the Eagles already have a pretty good one in Jordan Matthews, and Josh Huff could be OK in that spot, too. Turner’s pushing for a spot is a result of his play paired with the struggling group.

TE Chris Pantale
Earlier this week, Pederson still seemed committed to keeping four tight ends, which would mean Pantale’s roster spot is safe. It’s fair to wonder, though, if he’s worth a roster spot, especially if Trey Burton is at least somewhat capable of playing fullback. That lead blocker role is why Pantale is still in the mix, so we’ll have to see how much Pederson uses it on Saturday.

LB Stephen Tulloch
Tulloch is 31, coming off an offseason ankle surgery and just joined the team recently. How much does the middle linebacker have left to give? It’s pretty clear he’s coming to Philly to be a backup for now, but it’ll be interesting to see if he can prove himself to the point where he warrants playing time. Knowing Jim Schwartz’s defense should allow him to jump in quicker than another player off the street.

WR Rueben Randle/Chris Givens
A two-for-one deal! I’m lumping these two together because they’re in similar situations. Both signed one-year “prove-it” deals, but what have they proven so far? With the addition of Green-Beckham and with the solid play of Turner, it looks like one or both of these veterans could be in danger of being left off the 53-man roster.

Best of MLB: Bryant homers twice, Cubs spoil Ruiz's Dodgers debut

Best of MLB: Bryant homers twice, Cubs spoil Ruiz's Dodgers debut

LOS ANGELES -- Kris Bryant hit a tiebreaking two-run homer in the 10th inning to go with an earlier solo shot, lifting the Chicago Cubs over the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-4 on Friday night in the series opener between NL division leaders.

Bryant's 35th homer capped a comeback from an earlier two-run deficit and extended the Cubs' winning streak to four games. Chicago fans chanted "MVP! MVP!" as Bryant scored behind Dexter Fowler, who singled leading off.

Chicago improved to 19-4 in August while earning its major league-leading 82nd victory.

Travis Wood (4-0) got the victory with one inning of relief. Aroldis Chapman struck out two in the 10th to earn his 10th save.

Adam Liberatore (2-1) took the loss, allowing two runs and four hits in one inning (see full recap).

Mariners overcome Sale's 14 K's to beat White Sox
CHICAGO -- Chris Sale struck out 14 but got outpitched by Felix Hernandez and the Seattle bullpen, and the Mariners ended a three-game skid Friday night by beating the Chicago White Sox 3-1.

Hernandez (9-4) improved to 5-0 in eight starts since returning from the disabled list, throwing 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball.

Sale (15-7) gave up five hits and walked none in his fifth complete game of the season. He retired the final 16 batters, striking out 10 of them.

Sale struck out six straight in the sixth and seventh innings, one shy of Joe Cowley's team record.

Franklin Gutierrez hit a solo home run and Adam Lind added an RBI double off Sale.

Todd Frazier's 32nd home run in the seventh was one of eight hits off Hernandez until he left with the bases loaded (see full recap).

Gonzalez earns 100th win as Nationals top Rockies
WASHINGTON -- Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy hit solo homers and drove in two runs each, and Gio Gonzalez earned his 100th career victory as the Washington Nationals beat the Colorado Rockies 8-5 on Friday night.

Gonzalez (9-9) threw six innings and allowed two runs and four hits with one walk and five strikeouts.

Mark Melancon retired Christhian Adames for the final out. Melancon entered the game shortly after Nick Hundley hit a three-run homer off Shawn Kelley to pull the Rockies within three.

While Gonzalez hit the century mark, Rockies rookie Jeff Hoffman (0-2), remains in search of his first major league win (see full recap).

Best of NFL: Tom Brady on target, leads Patriots to win in preseason debut

Best of NFL: Tom Brady on target, leads Patriots to win in preseason debut

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tom Brady looked sharp in his preseason debut, throwing a 33-yard touchdown pass to Chris Hogan in helping the New England Patriots to a 19-17 preseason win over the Carolina Panthers on Friday night.

Brady relieved Jimmy Garoppolo late in the first quarter and completed a 37-yard pass to Aaron Dobson on his first play from scrimmage, leading to a field goal. On his second drive Brady heaved a perfectly placed over-the-shoulder pass to Hogan down the right sideline for a 9-0 lead. Brady's other two drives failed to produce points.

While Brady was on the mark, league MVP Cam Newton struggled mightily in his most extensive playing time of the preseason. Newton was intercepted twice and the Panthers failed to get any points on his eight first-half possessions. Overall, the Panthers scored just three points in 10 Newton-led drives.

The sixth-year quarterback was high on some passes and didn't get much help from his receivers, who had problems getting separation and dropped four passes, including one by Brenton Bersin on a fourth-and-2 at midfield.

New England's defense shut down the league's highest-scoring offense from a year ago. They also intercepted Derek Anderson and allowed only one passing play of more than 15 yards in the first half.

Garoppolo, expected to start the first four games for the Patriots while Brady serves a suspension for his role in "Deflategate," returned in the second quarter but couldn't get anything going.

In the third quarter he rolled out of the pocket while under pressure and missed an open receiver who'd gotten behind the defense. His six drives resulted in no points, although Stephen Gostkowski missed a 30-yard field goal on the New England's opening possession (see full recap).

Redskins overcome slow start to beat Bills
LANDOVER, Md. -- Kirk Cousins found a groove and undrafted rookie running back Robert Kelley made the most of his chance and the Washington Redskins beat the Buffalo Bills 21-16 Friday night in the third preseason game.

With the Bills (1-2) resting almost their entire starting defense, Cousins overcame a rough start to finish 12 of 23 for 188 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.

Despite coming mostly against Buffalo's second- and third-stringers, it was an important recovery for Cousins, who had thrown only five passes in the preseason and didn't play last week in an effort to test backup Colt McCoy.

Kelley ran for 51 yards on 12 carries in a personal showcase with Matt Jones and Chris Thompson out and after seventh-round pick Keith Marshall sprained his left elbow on his only carry of the game.

Bills starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor played only two series, by coach Rex Ryan's design, going 2 of 5 for 11 yards before being replaced by E.J. Manuel.

Ryan also opted to rest running back LeSean McCoy and several key defenders, including defensive tackle Kyle Williams, linebacker Jerry Hughes and cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Stephon Gilmore.

Coach Jay Gruden took a more conventional dress-rehearsal approach to the third preseason game for the Redskins (2-1) and got the kind of performances he'd like to see from top players such as tight end Jordan Reed, receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, left tackle Trent Williams and cornerback Josh Norman.

Reed, Garcon and receiver Ryan Grant each caught a touchdown pass from Cousins, and Norman looked sharp on defense along with second-year linebacker Preston Smith and lineman Ziggy Hood (see full recap).

Roethlisberger shreds defense in Steelers' win over Saints
NEW ORLEANS -- Ben Roethlisberger torched New Orleans' defense for 148 yards and two touchdown passes on his first two series of this preseason, then got the rest of the game off while the Steelers rolled to a 27-14 victory over the Saints on Friday night.

Roethlisberger, who sat out of the first two preseason games, opened by leading a 14-play, 76-yard drive on which he converted two third downs and found tight end Jesse James for a 5-yard score. His next series was highlighted by his 57-yard scoring pass down the left sideline to Antonio Brown, also playing for the first time this preseason. The Steelers star finished with 12 completions on 17 attempts.

Pittsburgh running back Le'Veon Bell also made his preseason debut, gaining 21 yards on three carries, but his lost fumble in the second quarter -- forced by cornerback Delvin Breaux and recovered by linebacker Dannell Ellerbe -- led to Drew Brees' only TD pass. Brees' strike went to Willie Snead, who made a difficult juggling catch as he landed on his back following a collision near the back of the end zone.

Brees had a difficult night behind a struggling offensive line. It didn't help that starting left tackle Terron Armstead left the field unexpectedly in the first half for undisclosed reasons. Brees completed 9 of 12 passes, but for only 78 yards. One of his better throws connected with newly acquired tight end Coby Fleener for 26 yards, but it was called back for holding on Armstead.

The Saints have dropped all three preseason games.

Steelers backup Landry Jones went 19 of 22 for 206 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown pass to Sammie Coates. He also completed a 58-yard pass to Coates to set up Chris Boswell's 40-yard field goal (see full recap).