At Midway Point, Talk of Flyers Demise Premature, but Still Waiting for a Spark

At Midway Point, Talk of Flyers Demise Premature, but Still Waiting for a Spark

The Rangers resumed ownership of the Flyers on Tuesday night,
their gritty 4-2 victory launching a brand new winning streak amid a season of
reruns. Philadelphia snapping an eight-game losing streak to New York back in
January looks like a blip on the radar now, a fluke if you will. Orange &
Black is just one for their last 11 versus the Rags.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Tuesday’s loss dropped the
Philadelphia hockey club back below .500. It prevented the Flyers from finally “stringing
together” a few wins for the first time all year. It reinforced notions that this
team is heading no place in particular very quickly in 2013.

We’ve reached the midway point, and the Bullies haven’t been
able to shake that narrative yet, although it’s not entirely fair. You can
easily explain away how they can be 11-12-1 through 24 games. The Flyers got a
bad jump out of the gate by beginning the season 2-6, and you’re probably tired
of hearing it, but opening the schedule with 19 tilts in 34 days made it
difficult to generate any sort of momentum.

Another way of looking at this picture is the Flyers have
gone 9-6-1 since their horrendous start, and they’re 3-2 since the brutal portion
of their slate has ended. If they continue at either pace, they are almost a
lock to reach the postseason.

And then?

Their record isn’t even the most concerning aspect anymore, rather
it’s been their inability to beat certain opponents. It’s nice any time a Philly
team can kick Pittsburgh’s ass with regularity, but that’s almost meaningless
when New York and New Jersey have their number.

The Flyers can’t win like that, not a Stanley Cup, not very
easily anyway. Maybe they’ll get lucky, and somebody else will take care of the
Rangers and Devils come playoff time – hey, there’s a one in four chance they
wouldn’t see either team in the first round, right?

Only that strategy is kind of like walking on to a minefield
without a map or any idea where you’re going or what you might step on.
You can’t assume the Flyers won’t run into either one of last season’s Eastern
Conference finalists once the tournament rolls around. That's not even a strategy.

It might be too soon to count them out anyway. Philadelphia’s
offense is climbing to its rightful permanent home in the NHL’s top 10, and
the power play is becoming flat-out scary, currently sixth-best in the
league. And while Ilya Bryzgalov has faltered a bit of late, he’s shown the
tendency to get white hot for stretches, so much so that he could unexpectedly
carry the Flyers for a month.

All they need it seems is to go on such a run. It can
happen. You could see traces of it building up against Washington and Ottawa before
New York got a hold of them on Tuesday night, or against the Islanders and Pens
a couple weeks back before they slipped up against Florida Panthers.

Until the Flyers can defend themselves against the likes of
New York and New Jersey though, it’s all proverbial wheel-spinning. In any
league, you gotta defeat the good teams to be the good teams. So far, Philly
has come up well short in that regard, even if it’s not too late to ascend to that level quite yet.

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Sixers merchandise sales on the rise along with win total

Sixers merchandise sales on the rise along with win total

Between recent wins and Joel Embiid’s All-Star push, fans are buying their Sixers gear.

According to Fanatics.com, a sports apparel website partnered with the four major sports, the Sixers rank fourth among all NBA teams in total merchandise sales over the past seven days. The Warriors, Cavaliers and Bulls are ahead of them.

Joel Embiid was the fifth-best selling player over that period. His popularity has risen during his enthusiastic All-Star campaign, which included celebrity shoutouts and an outpour of social media activity. Embiid is now up to 553,000 Twitter followers.

The Sixers have ranked in the league’s top 10 of merchandise sales since the beginning of the 2016-17 season. They hold the largest year-over-year increase during that time frame in the NBA this season.

In September, Ben Simmons ranked in the top 10 of NBA players in merchandise sales since draft night.

Sales from the Sixers' and NBA's official online stores are included in these statistics.

Sixers clicking just in time to face surging Raptors on Wednesday

Sixers clicking just in time to face surging Raptors on Wednesday

The Sixers are clicking just in time to face their toughest competition in over a month. The Raptors (28-13) come to Philadelphia as the Sixers have won six of their last eight games by holding one another accountable and taking each outing step-by-step.

“You feel like the group is coming together,” Brett Brown said. “You feel like all the work that we have put in is starting to pay dividends in relation to a solid foundation.”

The Raptors sit second in the Eastern Conference, just one and a half games behind the Cavaliers. The last time they met, the Raptors beat the Sixers 123-114 on Dec. 14 at the Wells Fargo Center.

A lot has changed since then, especially the rotations. Brown started Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together against the Raptors, an experiment that waned out after six games. The Sixers have found a formula to winning with an established starting lineup and a consistent second unit, with the added experience of Gerald Henderson and Nerlens Noel. They will be tested Wednesday as both Joel Embiid (illness) and T.J. McConnell (wrist) are questionable.

“When you look at this team, it’s a lot of talent but we didn’t play as a team,” Ilyasova said of the start of the season. “Now we come together. I think it’s all about the chemistry, we trust each other.”

The Sixers are looking to carry over the momentum of a 113-104 victory over the Bucks in Milwaukee on Monday. They got a test of All-Star caliber talent against Giannis Antetokounmpo, whom they held to two points in the second half. The Sixers will have their hands full with the backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry (22.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.2 assists) and DeMar DeRozan (28.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists).

One key to countering talent like that placing an importance on accountability. The players are not letting each other off the hook for mistakes on the court, regardless of who the opponent is.

“I could see it over the past couple weeks, guys coming out here and being more vocal on both ends of the court,” Noel said. “If one guy messes up, you’ve got to let him know so it won’t be a recurring thing. With that, guys are taking steps in the right direction, both leadership roles because everybody on this team can be a leader in their own way.”

The Raptors come in on a four-game winning streak.