Flyers, Briere Need a Slump Buster... Will It Be Sabres on Saturday?

Flyers, Briere Need a Slump Buster... Will It Be Sabres on Saturday?

A little over a week ago, there were a few stories running about how the Flyers' remaining stretch wasn't too bad, facing mostly teams outside the playoff bubble, nothing to worry about, etc. Then said stretch began, and with it, a bit of what you might call a Flyers slump. Three of their last four losses have been to teams with sub-.500 records, two of which were below the current eighth seeding, with one coming against the last place team in the East. 

What may have been overlooked or glossed over when poring at the favorable remains of the schedule was that the teams just outside the playoffs are playing to get inside that bubble, with their remaining games requiring a playoff-like intensity. The Flyers, meanwhile, are comfortably going to make the postseason, although they obviously have seeding to play for, if not the pride of being the best. 

Maybe the reminder of what it feels like to lose and have to answer questions about "intensity" and "wanting it" and your mistakes rather than the gorgeous goals and big saves you made will help the Flyers get back on track today. Let's hope so, because although they're set to face a team not currently in the playoff seedings, if we've learned anything this week, it's that a ninth place team can be pretty dangerous. 

The Sabres are three points out of eighth and four points out of seventh, but also neck and neck with the surging Maple Leafs in trying to oust a team above them. On Thursday, we got a good look at what kind of motivation that can impart in a team, when Toronto came in and took down the top team in the conference. The Sabres will no doubt see the Flyers as somewhat more beatable than they appeared during the stretch leading up to the All-Star Game. 

The Flyers may be without Jeff Carter again today, although not due to the flu that kept him out of Thursday's action along with Darroll Powe and Dan Carcillo. Carter's grandfather passed away. No word yet on today's actives and inactives. 

Before the Maple Leafs game, we importuned Kris Versteeg to light the Flyer fire against his former team. He kindly obliged. Today, we wouldn't mind seeing Danny Briere do the honors against his former team. It's been over two weeks since Danny last scored, and he has only two points in his last six games. After a hot January, Briere scored only twice in the month of February. What gives, Danny?

Briere has six points in two games against the Sabres this season, and the Flyers scored in bunches both times (11 total goals).

In a perfect little Flyers Saturday, Briere would net a pair, both on the power play, the Flyers would win, and we'd have three slumps busted at least temporarily. We'll settle for the W any way it comes though, and again, we're not worried about the team or any of its players. This type of slump is about as normal a thing as there is in hockey. 

Nerlens Noel posts thankful message to Philly fans

Nerlens Noel posts thankful message to Philly fans

Nerlens Noel's tenure in Philadelphia wasn't characterized by a whole lot of winning, but he'll still likely be remembered fondly by Sixers fans as being one of the original members of the process.

It's always an emotional time when a fan favorite departs for another city and a new team instead of seeing the championship aspirations many had for them in Philly through to fruition.

Noel posted an emotional message to his Twitter account on Thursday evening thanking the city of Philadelphia and its fans for the support they showed him through the ups and downs. 

The tweet contained the hashtag #Philly with a couple of exclamation points with a screenshot of a note that read:

What an exciting journey it’s been… To have such an amazing city embrace a kid from Boston coming out of Kentucky the way y’all did, is something I’ll truly never forget. And even through the ups and downs I never doubted the love here and that won’t change. Thank you to everybody that’s believed in me and supported through #TheProcess.

Love! -NN4

Noel was traded earlier in the day to the Dallas Mavericks for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut, and a conditional first round pick that will likely turn into two second round picks.

Bryan Colangelo will address the media on Friday morning to discuss his rationale behind moving Nerlens.

Related:

>>Every reason why the Nerlens Noel trade was unjustifiable 

>>Video: Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid say their goodbyes 

>>Joel Embiid reacts to Nerlens trade on Twitter: 'Trust it'

Joel Embiid: With Mavs, Nerlens Noel 'to get the chance he wanted'

Joel Embiid: With Mavs, Nerlens Noel 'to get the chance he wanted'

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Nerlens Noel emerged from the trainer’s room in a red sweatshirt and made his rounds of handshakes and hugs. It would be his last time in the Sixers' training complex as a member of the team, marking the end of the longest-tenured player’s stay in Philadelphia.

The Sixers traded Noel to the Mavericks on Thursday for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut and a top-18 protected first-round pick, according to a source (see story). He went through a portion of practice and was removed from it because of the deal. 

Noel’s now former teammates had a strong reaction to his departure. 

“Nerlens, he’s my guy,” Joel Embiid said. “He’s been my best friend since I got to Philly and I’m happy for him. He wants to start. I think in Dallas he’s going to get the chance to start and they’re going to re-sign him and they’re going to pay him a lot of money. Here it was kind of hard for him to start unless they were starting us together. But I’m happy for him. He’s going to get the chance he wanted.”

Noel’s future with the Sixers had been in question for two years as he enters restricted free agency this summer. Last season, the team struggled to find a way for him and Jahlil Okafor, both true centers, to play together. This season, the logjam was magnified when Embiid made his debut and took over the starting role. 

Noel candidly spoke out about the overcrowding at the beginning of the season but that situation was sidetracked when he missed 23 games because of injury. Once he returned, he quickly was on the short end of minutes. 

“I need to be on the court playing basketball,” Noel said in mid-December. “I think I’m too good to be playing eight minutes. Like, no, that’s crazy. That’s crazy. That’s crazy. They need to figure this s--- out.”

The Sixers did figure out his role, later making him the defensive leader of the second unit as Okafor became the odd man out. The Sixers also considered the possibility of pairing Noel and Embiid in the starting lineup, as they did with Embiid and Okafor, but that experiment played out only over a handful of minutes. 

“I’m a little bit disappointed,” Embiid said of not playing more alongside Noel. “I thought we should have tried that a little bit more. I think the few times we did, it actually looked pretty good offensively and defensively.”

Of the bigs, it seemed like Okafor would be the one moved at the deadline after being held out of two games because of trade talks. In the end, it was Noel as the one to go on Thursday. 

“He’s one of my favorite players here,” Dario Saric said. “He’s always ready for jokes, he’s always ready to enjoy every moment.” 

Noel was the only player remaining from Brown’s first season as head coach with the Sixers. Brown could not comment on the Noel trade because it was not official at the time he addressed the media. 

Ilyasova leadership missed
On Wednesday night the Sixers dealt Ersan Ilyasova to the Hawks for Tiago Splitter, a 2017 second-round pick and 2017 second-round pick swap rights. Even though Ilyasova played only 53 games for the Sixers, the veteran leader left his mark.

“He was a consummate pro,” Brown said. “He helped teach our young guys about that professionalism and helped contribute to our culture. He was good. You add those things up and we’re going to miss him.” 

Ilyasova’s departure affects those who played with him and behind him. Embiid credited Ilyasova for stretching the floor when they were in the starting lineup together. 

Saric, though, is perhaps the most impacted by the trade. Saric moved to the second unit when Ilyasova took over the starting role. He learned from his fellow international power forward, who helped him adjust to the NBA on and off the court. Saric is likely to get the nod as a starter. 

“For me, it’s hard,” Saric said. “I lost in Ersan some kind of mentor.” 

Brown also plans to play Robert Covington and Richaun Holmes at power forward at times, as well. If Covington slides over from small forward, Brown eyes Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Gerald Henderson and Nik Stauskas as players who could fill in at the three spot. 

The Sixers will resume activity on Friday morning for shootaround ahead of their game against the Wizards. They will approach that contest without familiar faces on the court. 

“I lost two good friends,” Saric said. “But this is the NBA. This is part of the business, part of the job.”