Crisis Averted for Flyers This Time (and Temporarily?)

Crisis Averted for Flyers This Time (and Temporarily?)

Let’s begin on a positive note for a change. The Flyers did
what they had to on Sunday night, beating an inferior opponent to halt a
three-game skid. They still face a steep climb to get back to respectability,
but at least they stopped the bleeding for the time being.

On the flip side, the boys in the orange sweaters were
flirting with disaster. Clearly the superior team for most of the game –
especially the first 20 minutes – Philadelphia only narrowly escaped the
Buffalo Sabres with a 3-2 victory. Just how close did they come to blowing a
two-goal lead?

Which of these measurements is smaller: an inch, or a tenth
of a second?

What should have been a relatively easy save for Ilya
Bryzgalov on a short-handed rush wound up dancing on the goal line. Luckily
Brayden Schenn was there to sweep away Cody Hodgson’s slapper from above the
faceoff circle after it trickled through the goaltender – not a moment too soon
either with Hodgson looking to finish the play.

Bryz has been getting a ton of grief lately, but looked
strong in this tilt even if Schenn did have the save of the night. Billy stopped
18 of 20 shots despite making his second start in as many days.

Besides, it’s not like this near-miss was the sole reason Buffalo
nearly closed the gap. The Sabres were given multiple shorthanded opportunities
on Flyer power plays down the stretch – one of which Jochen Hecht was able to
beat Bryzgalov on – while a dumb boarding penalty against Luke Schenn put his
mates in a tough spot as the third period was winding down.

Yet they survived.

Simon Gagne slipped his second score of 2013 past Ryan
Miller on a breakaway early in the first period, while Max Talbot tallied a
shorty of his own off a beautiful feed from Ruslan Fedotenko. Buffalo cut the
deficit to one before intermission, but Claude Giroux opened up round two with
a quick goal on the man advantage, blowing right through Buffalo’s
penalty-killing unit to set up that sweet wrister.

For Giroux, it was goal number eight this season. Kimmo
Timonen picked up his second assist of the night, giving him 16 – only two
defensemen in the NHL have more.

The important thing is the Flyers took care of business, and
prevented the sky from falling for a few more days at least. Picking up two
points on the lowly Sabres doesn’t signify a whole lot right now though, not
after losing to the Rangers, Penguins, and Bruins in succession, not when a
home-and-home with the Devils looms this week.

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Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

MIAMI — A woman performing the national anthem before an NBA preseason game in Miami on Friday night did so while kneeling at midcourt, and opening her jacket to show a shirt with the phrase "Black Lives Matter."

The singer was identified by the Heat as Denasia Lawrence. It was unclear if she remained in the arena after the performance, and messages left for her were not immediately returned.

Heat players and coaches stood side-by-side for the anthem, all with their arms linked as has been their custom during the preseason. Many had their heads down as Lawrence sang, and the team released a statement saying it had no advance knowledge that she planned to kneel.

"We felt as a basketball team that we would do something united, so that was our focus," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Throughout all of this, I think the most important thing that has come out is the very poignant, thoughtful dialogue. We've had great dialogue within our walls here and hopefully this will lead to action."

The anthem issue has been a major topic in the sports world in recent months, starting with the decision by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to not stand for its playing. Kaepernick cited racial injustice and police brutality among the reasons for his protest, and athletes from many sports -- and many levels, from youth all the way to professional -- have followed his lead in various ways.

"All I can say is what we've seen in multiple preseason games so far is our players standing for the national anthem," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in New York earlier Friday, at a news conference following the league's board of governors meetings. "It would be my hope that they would continue to stand for the national anthem. I think that is the appropriate thing to do."

The NBA has a rule calling for players and coaches to stand during the anthem.

Heat guard Wayne Ellington often speaks about the need to curb gun violence, after his father was shot and killed two years ago. He had his eyes closed for most of the anthem Friday, as per his own custom, though was aware of Lawrence's actions.

"At the end of the day, to each his own," Ellington said. "If she feels like that's the way she wants to stand for it, then more power to her."

Making a statement in the manner that Lawrence did Friday is rare, but not unheard of in recent weeks.

When the Sacramento Kings played their first home preseason game earlier this month, anthem singer Leah Tysse dropped to one knee as she finished singing the song.

Tysse is white. Lawrence is black.

"I love and honor my country as deeply as anyone yet it is my responsibility as an American to speak up against injustice as it affects my fellow Americans," Tysse wrote on Facebook. "I have sung the anthem before but this time taking a knee felt like the most patriotic thing I could do. I cannot idly stand by as black people are unlawfully profiled, harassed and killed by our law enforcement over and over and without a drop of accountability."

Joel Embiid ends preseason on impressive note, has Sixers excited

Joel Embiid ends preseason on impressive note, has Sixers excited

MIAMI — It’s a cautious optimism to be sure — there can be no other type for the Sixers right now given their history of injuries — but you can tell the team is starting to get excited about Joel Embiid.

In Friday’s 113-110 exhibition finale win over the Miami Heat (see game story), Embiid scored 18 points in 18 minutes before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.

The 7-0 center, who missed his first two NBA seasons because of foot surgeries, made 8 of 16 shots and 2 of 2 on free throws, adding a game-high nine rebounds.

“I’ve always felt like I’m a complete player — that’s what I do,” Embiid said. “I’m starting to get easy points.

“I just got better every game [in the preseason], defensively, offensively.”

Sixers coach Brett Brown said he is still learning how to best use Embiid.

Brown added that the rust is apparent in Embiid’s game. But …

“He is as self-taught as any player I’ve ever been around,” Brown said. “He grew up in Cameroon and hasn’t played a lot (because of injuries). But he studies, he looks at stuff. He pays attention. He’s instinctively curious.

“There’s a lot of stuff in his head that he thinks through. His mind is quicker than his feet. At times, his core, his balance and his decision-making are off because his mind is working faster than his body.”

Embiid scored most of his buckets on Friday at close range — a finger roll, a tip-in, a couple of put-back dunks, an alley-oop dunk and a fast-break layup. But he did make a 10-foot jumper and took — but missed — a three-point try.

“He does stuff in a game that makes you step back and say, ‘Wow,’” Brown said. “He will trail and hit a three. He will have a pound, pound drop-step, dunk.

“Like a traditional post, he will turn his face and make a bank shot. He has that up-and-under stuff.

“But he’s raw. His preseason has been highlighted by those few things that you notice, all under the umbrella of, ‘He really has a chance to be very, very good.’"

Brown was asked to summarize the Sixers' 2-5 preseason, and he called it a “completely erratic” exhibition season because of injuries.

“Jahlil [Okafor] hasn’t practiced,” Brown said. “Joel has been steady and incremental. I think we all see that Dario Saric has got a lot to offer. I think the pairing of Joel and Dario was solid.

“We’ve seen Jerami [Grant] have a really good preseason. Richaun Holmes has taken his opportunity to play big minutes. Those type of things come to my mind.”