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.

Pete Mackanin: Like Chicago Italian beef, Freddy Galvis is the best

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Pete Mackanin: Like Chicago Italian beef, Freddy Galvis is the best

CHICAGO – Other than the Italian beef sandwiches from Portillo’s that he loves so much, Pete Mackanin hasn’t had much to feel good about during his trip to his hometown.
 
Mackanin’s rebuilding Phillies have been bulldozed by the powerful Chicago Cubs two days in a row (see game story) and have lost four of five games on a road trip that ends with one more in Wrigley Field on Sunday afternoon.
 
As difficult as it was to see his club get roughed up on Saturday, Mackanin was able to find a sliver of something good in the rubble of a 4-1 defeat.
 
“The highlight of the day was Freddy Galvis -- all day,” Mackanin said.
 
Mackanin listed all the things his 26-year-old shortstop did, from a tremendous relay throw to the plate to stop a run from scoring, to his two hustle plays that led to the Phillies’ only run in the ninth.
 
Galvis, who made several outstanding plays in the field on Friday, vowed to cut down on his errors after making 17 last season. He has just one in 48 games this season and Mackanin is more than impressed with the improvement.
 
“He’s making every play there is,” Mackanin said. “To me, if he’s not the best shortstop in the league, I’d like to see the guy that’s playing as consistent defense as he is.
 
“I’m thrilled with the way he’s playing. He’s playing hard and kind of taken a leadership role just with the way he goes about his business.”
 
Galvis has improved his defense by committing himself to concentrating for 27 outs and not getting careless on routine plays.
 
“I’ve been working with Larry Bowa on trying to set my feet and make the routine plays,” he said. “Don’t try to do too much. Just throw the ball, catch the ball and that’s it. So far, so good.”
 
Mackanin has made it clear that he expects his players to play hard and hustle. He made a huge statement to that effect when he benched his best player, Odubel Herrera, for not running out a ground ball in Detroit on Monday night.
 
So it was not surprising to see Mackanin heap praise on Galvis for his hustle in the top of ninth inning Saturday.
 
Galvis led off the inning with a pop up to right field. Outfielder Jason Heyward and second baseman Ben Zobrist got their signals crossed and the ball fell in. Galvis, running hard the whole way, ended up on second with a fluke double.
 
“That was huge the way he ran that out,” Mackanin said.
 
Galvis then moved to third on a ground ball and scored the Phillies’ only run on a risky base running play. Ryan Howard whiffed on a dropped third strike. As catcher Miguel Montero threw to first to complete the out, Galvis sprinted down the line and slid safely into home. He was able to get a huge jump because the Cubs shifted Howard and left third uncovered. Had Galvis been out at the plate, the game would have been over and it would have gone down as a bad play. But he made it and Mackanin loved it. 
 
“He hustled on a routine fly ball that turned into a double, advanced and scored on the throw to first after the strikeout – it made my whole day,” Mackanin said. “It burnt the shutout. I like to see a guy like that play with that kind of energy.”
 
Earlier in the game, Galvis was hit by a pitch on the right ankle. The pitch got him good and he hobbled to first base. But his dash for home in the ninth inning proved he was OK. Still, he wore an ice pack on the leg after the game. It was a noticeable enough ice pack that Galvis had to be asked whether he expected to play on Sunday.
 
“(Bleep) yeah,” he said.

Once again, Phillies can't measure up to rampaging Cubs

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Once again, Phillies can't measure up to rampaging Cubs

CHICAGO –- For those who called this a measuring stick series, well, you’re going to need a bigger ruler.

The Phillies are still miles upon miles from being able to match up consistently with baseball’s elite clubs.

They’ve encountered one of them the last two days and the results haven’t been pretty: Two losses to the Chicago Cubs by a combined score of 10-3. The Cubbies have pounded nine extra-base hits in the two games and four have been home runs. The Phillies have just three extra-base hits, all doubles, and one was a pop-up that dropped in because of a communication breakdown in the Cubs’ outfield.

Saturday’s 4-1 loss was the Phillies’ sixth defeat in the last eight games and fourth in five games on this challenging trip that started in Detroit (see Instant Replay). Like the Cubs, the Tigers can mash the baseball. The Phillies can’t and it’s catching up with them. They are averaging just 3.22 runs per game, second-worst in baseball. Saturday’s loss marked the 18th time they’ve been held to two or fewer runs in their 49 games. It’s a tribute to their pitching that they’re still three games over .500.

Something must be done to spark the offense. Management has basically said it wants to take more time to evaluate the team and its place in the standings before it decides whether to pursue a bat in the trade market. And even if club officials decide to pursue a bat, they won’t compromise the rebuild — i.e. trade away the prospects it has worked to accumulate — to get one.

So what you’re looking at in the short-term is more of Tommy Joseph — that’s a move that has to be made as Ryan Howard is down to a .154 batting average— and maybe Cody Asche, who could join the club during the coming homestand.

Not too long ago, the Cubs were a rebuilding team, just like these Phillies. Now, they are baseball’s best club, leading the majors with 33 wins and outscoring opponents by 126 runs. (The Phillies, by the way, have a run differential of minus-38.) The Cubs have one goal for this season: Snap their 108-year World Series drought. Anything less will be a disappointment.

There’s more to this Cubs team than offense, though. The Phillies have seen that over the last two days. Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs two starting pitchers, have allowed just two earned runs in 15 1/3 innings.

Hendricks came within one out of a shutout Saturday. The right-hander was not overpowering, but he threw a lot of strikes and the Phillies did nothing with them. He scattered five hits, did not walk a batter and struck out seven. The middle of the Phillies' order — Maikel Franco, Howard and Cameron Rupp — went 0 for 12 with four strikeouts.

Manager Pete Mackanin tipped his hat to Hendricks.

Sort of.

“Let me say this,” Mackanin said. “I don’t want to take anything away from Hendricks because he’s a damn good pitcher and I like him a lot, but I feel like we took pitches we should have hit and we swung at pitches we shouldn’t have swung at. He gave us just enough, not a lot, but just enough, pitches out over the plate to hit and we didn’t capitalize. We took too many pitches that were hittable. That being said, I really like the kid. But I think we should have been more aggressive early in the count.”

Why weren’t the Phils more aggressive?

“Who knows?” Mackanin said. “They just didn’t look aggressive at the plate.”

The Cubs, in turn, were aggressive. They came out of the gate pounding baseballs. Leadoff man Dexter Fowler homered in the first inning against Jerad Eickhoff and Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist both had doubles as the Cubs took an early 2-0 lead.

Eickhoff got better and gave the club six innings, but the bats couldn’t bail him out.

“Eickhoff started off real shaky and didn’t show command,” Mackanin said. “The ball was up in the zone and it looked like it might get ugly when they scored early. But after the second inning, he settled down and pitched well, the way we’ve seen him pitch, using all his pitches.”

Said Eickhoff: “They’re a good team, but all good teams can be manipulated and controlled. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that.”

Vince Velasquez gets a chance to try to control the rampaging Cubs on Sunday.

Andrew Bynum's new hairdo will haunt your dreams

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The Associated Press

Andrew Bynum's new hairdo will haunt your dreams

Of all the questionable decisions in Andrew Bynum’s career, this might just take the cake as the worst. No, it definitely does. 

Just look at that hair. What was he thinking? Was he even thinking at all?  

Bynum, who is no stranger to bad — I mean really bad — hair, looks to be enjoying his retirement. But let’s dig a bit deeper. Put on your polarized sunglasses and look past that bright yellow hair, because there is much more going on in this picture.

Forget his time as a member of the Sixers, smiling in a picture with a Penguins’ fan might be the biggest travesty Bynum has committed against the city.

And where was this picture taken? It appears to be a casino or arcade. Wherever it is, for the sake of Bynum’s precious knees, let’s hope it’s not a bowling alley