Critically Acclaimed Sixers Face Different Form of Test with Visiting Kings

Critically Acclaimed Sixers Face Different Form of Test with Visiting Kings

So we're all agreed that yesterday was a test for the Sixers, right?
They'd beaten some lousy road teams, they'd absolutely destroyed the
subpar competition at home, but with the 6-2 Pacers visiting, they
finally had the chance to prove themselves against a legitimately good
team—albeit one who was missing a couple key players, and had padded
their stats against some subpar competition themselves. And by all
accounts, they passed the test—they didn't run the Pacers out of the WFC
the way they did the Pistons and Raptors, but they still won soundly,
and kept their win streak and its accompanying momentum alive and
kicking.

All good, then. Tonight, however, the Sixers face a very different, but
equally important and perhaps more dangerous test. They will be playing
host to the 3-6 Sacramento Kings, a team which, if not for the existence
of the Washington Wizards, would define the word "dysfunctional" in the
NBA, already having fired coach Paul Westphal amidst a PR scrape
between he and budding-star big man DeMarcus Cousins, and having some
definite issues sharing the ball against the team's many formidable
scorers (including Cousins, bruising combo guard Tyreke Evans, one-time
Sixer swingman John Salmons and hyped college gunner Jimmer Fredette).

Meanwhile, the Sixers are suddenly among the toast of the league. Four
out of five ESPN pundits labeled them the fifth best team in the league
right now, while stat guru John Hollinger has done the unthinkable by
placing them atop his Power Rankings—which are derived via scientific
formula and thus don't carry the weight of him actually calling the
Sixers the best team in the league, but still. They are now being viewed
as a team legitimately on the rise, and almost unarguably, they are a
team that is fundamentally sound in all the ways that the Kings are not.

So, common sense says that they should murder this Kings team, and be
well into Garbage Time by the start of the fourth quarter. But in the
NBA, as in all pro sports, it's never that simple. The Kings have beaten
the Lakers at home already, and recently came from 21 back to steal
what looked to be a sure Bucks win. If the Sixers are as rock-solid a
unit as we're starting to think they are, they should still win this
game handily, but if the Kings are still hanging late, it'll be
interesting to see if this team has the stuff to put them away without
getting caught in an Andy Reid-style trap game. Regardless of how they
do it, a true top five team wins this game—so needless to say, we'd like
the Sixers to prove all the critics right and extend their winning
streak to six games with this one.

7:00 tip from the WFC. No Marcus Thornton tonight for the Kings, as the
team's leading scorer is out with a knee contusion. Not like it's a
catastrophic loss for the Kings—they have so many one-on-one scorers
that the loss might actually simplify things for Sac-Town—but it's a
little weird how the Ballers seem to keep facing teams temporarily down a
key member, as they did with the Warriors (Stephen Curry), the Pistons
(Rodney Stuckey and Ben Gordon), and of course, last night's Pacers
(Danny Granger and George Hill). Makes you grateful for our health
thusfar this season—knock on everything—and makes you hope Spencer
Hawes' back doesn't cause any more trouble than it already has.

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets crush Islanders, 7-0

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets crush Islanders, 7-0

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Unlike some other NHL teams coming off their bye week, there wasn't a spot of rust on the sleek Columbus Blue Jackets.

In their first game following a five-day break, the high-energy Blue Jackets blew out the New York Islanders 7-0 Saturday as backup goalie Joonas Korpisalo earned his first career shutout.

Josh Anderson and Nick Foligno each scored twice, and David Savard had a goal and three assists. Boone Jenner and Jack Johnson also scored to help the Blue Jackets end New York's three-game winning streak (see full recap).

Zibanejad scores in OT to help Rangers beat Devils again
NEWARK, N.J. -- The New York Rangers are finding ways to win, and the New Jersey Devils just aren't.

Moments after goaltender Antti Raanta stopped Kyle Palmieri on a breakaway, Mika Zibanejad scored 1:16 into overtime and the Rangers rallied to beat the Devils 4-3 on Saturday.

"I had to redeem myself after that letdown on the breakaway the other way," said Zibanejad, whose mistake gave Palmieri a chance to complete a hat trick. "Rants came up big and it's nice to see that puck cross the goal line once again and win the game."

The goal was Zibanejad's first in 16 games and it gave the Rangers their ninth win in 11 games (9-1-1). Struggling New Jersey got its fourth loss in five games (1-3-1) (see full recap).

Shaw's OT goal gives Canadiens 14th straight win over the Leafs
TORONTO -- Andrew Shaw scored 1:06 into overtime and the Montreal Canadiens beat Toronto 3-2 on Saturday night for their 14th consecutive victory over the Maple Leafs.

Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk had the other goals for the Canadiens, who increased their Atlantic Division lead to four points over Ottawa and five on Toronto. They are 3-7-1 in the last 11 games and 2-2-0 under new coach Claude Julien.

Carey Price stopped 32 shots for Montreal, including a breakaway by Auston Matthews in overtime. The 19-year-old Matthews scored twice to reach 30 goals in his rookie season, and Frederik Andersen was sharp with 25 saves for Toronto (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Noel scores 9 points, grab 10 boards in Mavs debut

Best of NBA: Noel scores 9 points, grab 10 boards in Mavs debut

DALLAS -- Harrison Barnes scored 19 points and Dirk Nowitzki had 18 points and nine rebounds as the Dallas Mavericks ended a three-game losing streak by beating the New Orleans Pelicans 96-83 on Saturday night.

The Pelicans fell to 0-2 since trading for DeMarcus Cousins and pairing him with Anthony Davis.

Davis had 39 points and 14 rebounds but scored only 12 in the second half. Cousins finished with 12 points and 15 rebounds.

Seth Curry scored 10 of his 13 in the fourth quarter to help Dallas pull away. His 3-pointer with 4:49 to play gave the Mavericks an 84-72 lead, and the Pelicans never got closer than six after that (see full recap).

Harden leads Rockets past Timberwolves in 142-130 shootout
HOUSTON -- James Harden had 24 points and 10 assists to lead the Houston Rockets to a 142-130 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves as both teams set season scoring highs in a Saturday night shootout.

Houston won for the sixth time in seven games, handing the Timberwolves their first road loss in more than three weeks.

Minnesota committed a season-high 25 turnovers that led to 38 points for the Rockets.

Playing against Houston's guard-heavy rotation, Minnesota went inside all night and outscored the Rockets 68-44 in the paint. Karl-Anthony Towns had 37 points and 22 rebounds, and Andrew Wiggins added 30 points (see full recap).

Bulls benefit as James sits with strep, beat Cavs 117-99
CLEVELAND -- Dwyane Wade scored 20 points and Jimmy Butler recorded a triple-double, leading the Chicago Bulls to a 117-99 victory Saturday night over the Cleveland Cavaliers, who played without LeBron James.

James missed the game with strep throat, and coach Tyronn Lue said he wasn't sure how long the Cavaliers would be without the four-time MVP. Cleveland struggled as it often does without its star - they are 4-19 without him since he returned to Cleveland in 2014, including 0-4 this season.

Chicago has won all three games against Cleveland this season. It took advantage of James' absence to win its fourth straight overall (see full recap).

George ejected, Heat stay hot with 113-95 win over Pacers
MIAMI -- Paul George had another frustrating night in Miami.

Hassan Whiteside scored 22 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, Dion Waiters added 22 points and the red-hot Miami Heat pulled away late to beat the Indiana Pacers 113-95 on Saturday night. Miami outscored Indiana 42-22 in the final 16 minutes, all with George watching from the Pacers' locker room after an ejection.

"It felt like a playoff-type game," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said (see full recap).