The Best, If Not The Best, Win of the Year: Sixers Thump Bulls at WFC

The Best, If Not The Best, Win of the Year: Sixers Thump Bulls at WFC

Two very convincing cases were made tonight at the Wells Fargo Center. They were as follows:

1. The Sixers deserve to be taken seriously as a threat in the Eastern Conference.
2. Andre Iguodala deserves to be selected for the 2011-12 NBA All-Star Game.

We'll get to #2 in a bit, but obviously, let's concentrate first and
foremost on the more important #1. Simply put, the Sixers were awesome
tonight in their 98-82 win over the Bulls. They did everything you'd
want your basketball team to do, minus another fourth-quarter stretch
where things got a little tighter than need be. They hustled. They
executed. They took care of the ball. They shared the ball beautifully.
They hit from the outside. They scored easy baskets in the paint. They
got out on the break. They finished on the break. They got to the free-throw line. They converted at the free-throw line. No one player dominated, but they got contributions from everyone.

And they defended. Oh, lord, how they defended. Watching the game with
my roommate, we wondered why the Bulls weren't just dumping the ball
into the post, where front line Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah should've
been able to manhandle the undersized Sixers until we realized that
maybe the Sixers defense on the perimeter was just so stifling that they
were never even able to get the ball that far in. It took a world-class
penetrator (chortle) like Derrick Rose to break through, and though
Rose did do that on occasion—oh me oh my, is he a marvelous basketball
player—he didn't take over (18 points on 8-17 FG), he didn't get to the
line (1-3 FT, though he and the rest of the Bulls got jobbed on a couple
calls), and he didn't get any help from his teammates (no other starter
scored in the double digits). The Sixers racked up ten steals, and
seemed to spend the entire third quarter on the fast break.

Heroes for the Sixers were everywhere. Credit must first be given to
Lavoy Allen, turning into perhaps the most pleasantly surprising of all
the Sixers' many pleasant surprises this season. Not only did Lavoy
Allen rack up a career-high 15 points on 7-10 shooting, finishing plays
in the paint for the Sixers where there's been a seven-foot-sized
absence for the Sixers since Spencer went down, even scoring on a couple
Basketball Moves of his own, and not only did grab six boards and swipe
two steals to go with it, but he also distributed an impressive three
assists—tying a career high set Monday against Orlando. Needless to say,
big man got skills.

Jrue Holiday was another leading light for the Ballers tonight, bouncing
back from his rough game against the Magic with 17 points (8-15
shooting), five assists and just one turnover, converting some huge
layups and a game-breaking three to put the Sixers up 20 in the third
quarter. Lou Williams took some terrible shots (duh) but got himself to
the line, scoring 14 and keeping the Sixers afloat in that rocky fourth.
Thaddeus Young added 19 points and eight rebounds in what didn't even
feel like a particularly impressive game for the super-sub. And Evan
Turner, despite a rough 1-6 night shooting, still put up six rebounds,
four assists and two steals, and shut down sharpshooter (and ex-Sixer)
Kyle Korver on the perimeter after it looked like KK might have been on
the way to an Andre Miller/Willie Green-style Revenge Night game against
his old team.

But you guys know who this game was really about. The All-Star candidacy of Andre Iguodala has been a debate
among Sixers fans (and a discussion topic in the Sixers locker room)
for a few weeks now, and after tonight, I believe he's finally gonna get
there. In the Sixers' biggest game of the season, it was Andre Iguodala
and not Derrick Rose who was the most dominant player on the court—'Dre
was absolutely everywhere tonight, keying the Sixers' defensive effort
on the wings, getting two steals, grabbing nine boards, handing out four
assists and pouring in 19 points on 8-13 shooting, including 2-3 from
deep. In one stretch in the third quarter, 'Dre slammed home a
fast-break dunk, hit a step-back three and then slammed home another,
much louder fast-break dunk, whipping the WFC into a frenzy we haven't
seen since Game Four of the playoffs last year.

Look, it wasn't a perfect game from 'Dre—it never is, never has been,
never will be. He still coughed up the ball three times, split his only
two free throws, took a handful of ridiculously ill-advised shots
(though at least he hit a couple of them tonight). But if you ever
needed a demonstration of his value to the 76ers, of what he can and
does do for this team, you saw it on the floor against Chicago. There
aren't five players in the whole league that could've done all of what
'Dre did tonight, and on a team with one of the best records in the East
but no immediately obvious All-Star candidate, it will almost certainly
fall to 'Dre to get his first nomination in his eight seasons of being
one of the league's most underappreciated players. (By the way, look
back on that 2004 draft sometime. Besides Dwight Howard and maybe Josh Smith–another likely first-time AllStar this year—is there anyone you'd rather have on your team than Andre Iguodala?)

So, a hell of a win for the Sixers—"The best, if not the best, win of
the year," Zumoff adroitly put it as the Sixers pulled away in the
third. Sure, you could say that it's not a 100% on-the-level win—the
Bulls were, after all, missing two starters in Luol Deng and Rip
Hamilton—but eventually, you have to ask yourself: Who are the really
good, totally healthy teams in the East this year? Not the Bulls. Not
the Hawks. Not the Pacers. Not the Heat, until very recently. Nobody,
including the Sixers, have had all their key parts available for all (or
even most) of this season, yet it's the Sixers who are now 5-1 against
playoff-bound East teams. In the words of Mike McDermott from Rounders, if you look at your schedule and can't spot the real Eastern Conference contenders, then you are one of those Eastern Conference contenders. 

Next up, then: The Miami Heat, dispensers of the only decisive Sixers
loss this season, on Friday at the Wells Fargo Center. Despite the good
feeling from this win, I still can't feel too great about facing
Miami—mostly because with the players on their team, I'm not really sure
why they should ever lose to anyone, ever—but they've already made
their point in the first two games of this tough seven-game swing. We've
still got a long way to go, but the 16-6 Sixers—just one game behind
the pace of their finals-bound 2001 season—are for real. Time to get
with this, people.

Best of NHL: Sabres snap Blues' 6-game winning streak

Best of NHL: Sabres snap Blues' 6-game winning streak

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Robin Lehner stopped 16 shots in the third period and 37 overall, and the Buffalo Sabres snapped the St. Louis Blues' six-game winning streak with a 3-2 victory on Saturday.

Evander Kane and minor-league callup Nicholas Baptiste each had a goal and an assist in Buffalo's third straight win, matching a season best accomplished three times. Ryan O'Reilly also scored for the Sabres (26-23-10), who have three more wins than losses for the first time since closing the 2011-12 season 39-32-11.

Vladimir Tarasenko also scored for St. Louis, which lost for the first time since a 4-1 defeat to Pittsburgh on Feb. 4 (see full recap).

Jets spoil Julien's return to Montreal
MONTREAL -- Patrik Laine and Mathieu Perreault each had a goal and an assist, and the Winnipeg Jets spoiled Claude Julien's return to Montreal with a 3-1 victory over the Canadiens on Saturday.

Joel Armia also scored for Winnipeg (27-29-5), and Connor Hellebuyck stopped 19 shots. The Jets had dropped five of six.

The Canadiens fired coach Michel Therrien on Tuesday and hired Julien in hopes of getting their season back on track. Julien also coached Montreal from 2003-2006.

But Julien's first game back was more of the same for the first-place Canadiens (31-20-8), who have lost three in a row and seven of eight (see full recap).

Senators top Leafs to gain on Canadiens
TORONTO -- Mark Stone had a goal and four assists, Derick Brassard scored twice in the third period and the Ottawa Senators recovered after blowing a two-goal lead to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-3 on Saturday night.

The Senators pulled within two points of Montreal for first place in the Atlantic Division. Ottawa led 2-0 after one period but trailed 3-2 in the third before getting a tying goal from Mike Hoffman and a power-play goal from Brassard. Stone and Brassard added empty-netters, and Chris Wideman and Ryan Dzingel also scored for the Senators.

Ottawa has won four of five overall and three of four against the Leafs this season. Craig Anderson stopped 34 shots.

Morgan Rielly, Nazem Kadri and William Nylander scored and Auston Matthews had two assists for the Maple Leafs. Frederik Andersen allowed four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

NBA All-Star Saturday: Glenn Robinson III dunk champion; Eric Gordon wins 3-point contest

NBA All-Star Saturday: Glenn Robinson III dunk champion; Eric Gordon wins 3-point contest

NEW ORLEANS -- Glenn Robinson III is the NBA's new dunk king, with an assist to Indiana teammate Paul George, the Pacers' mascot and a Pacers cheerleader.

Robinson leaped over all three, snagging the ball from George along the way before finishing with an emphatic, two-hand, reverse jam, giving him a perfect score -- and the title -- on his final dunk.

Robinson edged out Phoenix's Derrick Jones Jr., who was done in by his failure to complete his difficult first dunk of two in the final round.

Jones still managed a perfect score on his second dunk, when he received a bounce-pass in the paint, put it between his legs and threw down a left-handed jam. But Robinson made sure it wasn't enough.

In the 3-point contest, Houston's Eric Gordon dethroned Golden State splash brother Klay Thompson. Kristaps Porzingis of the New York Knicks won the Skills Challenge.

Both dunk finalists delighted the crowd with soaring slams over teammates and others that showcased the explosive spring in their vertical leaps.

Robinson had one dunk in which he leap-frogged one man sitting on another's shoulders, grabbed the ball from the elevated man's hands and slamming it home.

Jones jumped over four teammates including Devin Booker and Marquese Chriss in the first round. He also drew roars from the crowd when he took a pass off the side of the backboard from Booker with his right hand, put the ball between his legs to his left for a round-house jam.

The dunk that cost him was a bold one. He tried to leap a friend and the Suns' gorilla mascot, grab the ball on the way over, put it between his legs and then finish with a windmill. But he couldn't get the dunk to go down in his allotted three attempts.

DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers and Aaron Gordon of Orlando were unable to emerge from the first round. Jordan dunked over DJ turn tables and Gordon dunked after receiving a bounce pass from a drone that had flown over the court with the "Star Wars" theme music playing.

Eric Gordon got his win in New Orleans, where he played the previous five seasons before leaving last summer in free agency.

Gordon's score of 21 in a final-round tiebreaker defeated Cleveland's Kyrie Irving, the 2013 winner who had 18. The pair had each finished with a score of 20 in the final round, meaning they each had to shoot 25 more balls to decide it.

"I wasn't really concentrating on how many I made," Gordon said. "It's all about just knocking down the shot. I never counted in my head or anything. I just go out there and just shoot the ball."

Thompson was stunningly eliminated in the first round, missing a final shot from the corner that could have put him through ahead of Kemba Walker.

Big men reigned supreme for a second straight year in the skills competition, with the 7-foot-3 Porzingis beating Utah's Gordon Hayward in the final round.

Those vanquished in earlier rounds included guards John Wall of Washington and Isaiah Thomas of Boston, both because they couldn't make their initial 3-pointers required to close out the course before Hayward did, even though Hayward had trailed each of them dribbling down the court by a considerable margin before hitting his clinching shots.

Porzingis emerged from the big-men's division that included the Pelicans' Anthony Davis and Denver's Nikola Jokic.

"It's a good feeling that I'm able to showcase my skill with my size and show to the kids that you're capable of doing that even if you're tall and lanky like me," Porzingis said. "I think a lot of kids now growing up will improve those perimeter skills just seeing guys like -- I don't want to mention myself, but big guys with perimeter skills that can do it."

Porzingis and Hayward were neck-and-neck until the end of the course, but Porzingis hit his 3 first to end it.

The three-round, head-to-head obstacle-course competition tests dribbling, passing, agility and shooting skills.

Earlier on Saturday, Rollie Massimino, who coached Villanova to the 1985 NCAA championship, and Chris Webber were among the 14 finalists for this year's Basketball Hall of Fame induction class.

Others include NBA referee Hugh Evans, Connecticut star Rebecca Lobo, two-time NBA scoring champion Tracy McGrady, five-time All-Star Sidney Moncrief, Baylor women's coach Kim Mulkey, Kansas coach Bill Self and two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich.

Previous finalists returning to the ballot include point guard Tim Hardaway, record-setting high school coach Robert Hughes, Notre Dame women's coach Muffet McGraw, former Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan and 10-time AAU national champion Wayland Baptist University.

Enshrinees will be announced at the Final Four on April 3. The induction ceremonies in Springfield, Massachusetts are Sept. 7-9.