The Center Can Not Hold: Under-Bigged Sixers Take on Wizards at Home

The Center Can Not Hold: Under-Bigged Sixers Take on Wizards at Home

Ugh. After getting blown out in Miami by a Heat team that couldn't miss a
shot if they wanted to (the night before laying just 82 on the Bucks—I
repeat, ugh), the Sixers should have been in for a nice little ego boost
at home tonight against the Wizards, who the Sixers have handily
dispatched twice already this season (and four times total if you count
pre-season). But not so fast, Rodriguez—the Ballers, already undersized
as is, will be desperately lacking in the big man department, with top
two centers Spencer Hawes and Nikola Vucevic out with injuries. OK, so
they'll just go small with Elton Brand at the center for most of the
game, right? Maybe not, since our starting power forward is suffering
from gastroenteritis and missed practice this morning, though he's at
the arena and it does look like he'll at least try to play.

I repeat: UGH.

Anyway, it could be worse—the Sixers are entering their easiest stretch
of the season coming up, with home games against the Wiz, the Bobcats,
the Pistons and the Nets (the four worst teams record-wise and
otherwise-wise in the East right now), and even an undermanned Sixers
squad should be able to take care of business in most of those games.
But with an absolutely brutal stretch coming up aftewards—I won't go
into the teams just yet, but trust me, it's not pretty—we need to be
stockpiling all our easy Ws for the winter, while we can. If we lose one
or more of these games because JaVale McGee, Boris Diaw and Greg Monroe
prove unstoppable inside, it may really come back to bite us down the
line when we're fighting for seeding (and possibly—gasp!—home court
advantage) in the post-season.

What's more, the Wizards have actually been playing half-decently of
late. They pulled the upset win of the year when they beat Oklahoma City
at home for their second win, and stayed in games against the
far-superior Nuggets and the should-be-far-superior Celtics until the
very end. The main reason for the improved play is the
better-late-than-never surge from sophomore player John Wall, who's
averaging 25.8 points, 8.3 assists and 8.0 rebounds over his last four
games. (Shooting numbers aren't great, but he's getting to the line like
a beast, with over 11 FTs attempted a game over that span.) But of
course, as much a concern as a hot Wall for the Sixers is previously the
mentioned center McGee, who torched Philly for 23 and 18 last time out,
and should be smacking his lips at the opportunity to go against a
Thad/Elton/Tony front line tonight.

7:00 tip from the WFC. By the way, the loss in Miami wasn't entirely
without positives. Evan Turner was looking sharp again, and played maybe
his best all-around quarter of basketball of the year in the second,
scoring double-digits before the half and ending with 16 points, six
boards and four assists. The team hung tough for three quarters, with
Vucevic in particular providing an unexpected spark with his 13 and 9,
until the big man went down with his strained knee and left us reliant
on the Battie/Brand/Lavoy Allen combo in the middle. The Heat pulled
away in the fourth, and proved once again that when LeBron is passing
and their other guys are making shots, they are not in the slightest way
beatable. Let's pray that if we have to face them again in the
playoffs, it's not until as late a round as humanly possible.

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Chris Kunitz beat Craig Anderson 5:09 into the second overtime to give the defending champions a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.

Kunitz scored twice, his first two of the playoffs. Justin Schultz added the other in his return from an upper-body injury, and Matt Murray stopped 28 shots on his 23rd birthday.

The Penguins are trying to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998 to win back-to-back titles. They will host Western Conference champion Nashville in Game 1 on Monday night.

Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel scored for Ottawa. The Senators rallied twice to tie it, with Dzingel making it 2-2 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Craig Anderson made 39 saves, but couldn't get a handle on Kunitz's shot from just outside the left circle. The Senators are 0-6 in Game 7s in franchise history.

The Senators forced a return trip to Pittsburgh -- where they lost 7-0 loss in Game 5 on Sunday -- by leaning heavily on Anderson in a 2-1 Game 6 victory, putting both teams at odds with history.

Ottawa came in 0-for-25 years in winner-take-all games, while the Penguins were 0-7 in Game 7s at home in series in which they also dropped Game 6.

Ottawa coach Guy Boucher told his resilient team to not get caught up in the big picture but instead focus on the small ones, a recipe that carried the Senators throughout a bumpy transition under their first-year head coach to the brink of the franchise's second Cup appearance.

The Penguins, trying to become the first defending champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009, came in confident they would advance if they could replicate their dominant Game 6, when they were undone only by Anderson's brilliance.

Pittsburgh has been nearly unflappable in the face of adversity under Mike Sullivan, going 12-2 in playoff games following a loss over the last two springs. He encouraged his team to "just play," code for fighting through Ottawa's neutral zone-clogging style and the bumping, grabbing and pulling that comes along with it.

A chance to play for their sport's ultimate prize on the line, the sheets of open ice the Penguins found so easily in Games 4-6 closed up. For most of the first 30 minutes, loose pucks hopped over sticks to spoil some scoring opportunities while Anderson and Murray gobbled up the rest.

Kunitz, relegated to the fourth line since returning from injury in the second round, picked up his first postseason goal in a calendar year when he completed a two-on-one with Conor Sheary -- a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 -- by slipping the puck by Anderson 9:55 into the second period.

The momentum lasted all of 20 seconds. Ottawa responded immediately with Stone -- who stretched his left skate to stay onside -- fired a wrist shot that handcuffed Murray.

Pittsburgh kept coming. Schultz, returning after missing four games with an upper-body injury, zipped a shot from the point through Kunitz's screen and into the net with 8:16 left in the third.

Once again, the Penguins could not hold the lead. Dzingel set up at the right post and banged home a rebound off Erik Karlsson's shot that hit the left post and caromed off Murray's back right to Dzingel's stick.

Notes
The home team is 21-20 in overtime Game 7s in NHL playoff history. ... Pittsburgh F Patric Hornqvist skated during warmups, but was held out of the lineup for a sixth straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Karlsson had 16 assists in the playoffs to set a team record. ... The Penguins are 10-7 in Game 7s. ... It was the fifth one-goal game of the series.

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick experienced a painful rehab start on Thursday night.

Rehabbing with Triple A Lehigh Valley, Kendrick was hit by a pitch twice before being removed after the sixth inning of the IronPigs' 8-4 loss to Indianapolis at Coca-Cola Park.

Both times Kendrick was plunked in the upper left arm, according to Tom Housenick of the Morning Call.

There was no update on if Kendrick was injured or taken out for precautionary reasons. Thursday marked Kendrick's second rehab start as he recovers from an oblique strain that has sidelined him since April 15.

The Phillies' leftfielder started at third base Thursday. At the beginning of his rehab assignment, Kendrick was expected to play four games and see time at third and first base, as well as in left field.

Kendrick made a throwing error at third on Thursday and finished 0 for 1 with a run scored. In his two games, he's 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.

Kendrick hit .333 with four doubles, a triple and five RBIs in 10 games with the Phillies prior to landing on the DL.

When he returns, he could see time at third base instead of left field if Maikel Franco continues to struggle (see story).