Flyers look to keep offensive momentum going tonight in Pittsburgh

Flyers look to keep offensive momentum going tonight in Pittsburgh

After last Thursday's dreadful, eye-gouge-worthy, 3-0 loss to New Jersey, if you had said the Flyers would be rolling into Pittsburgh tonight with some offensive momentum, most Flyer fans would have looked at you as if you had three heads.

Well, guess what?

You don’t have three heads because the Flyers are actually rolling into Pittsburgh tonight with some offensive momentum, the most recent display of which came in last night’s 5-0 whitewashing of the Senators in Ottawa.

Jake Voracek scored twice and Matt Read, Vinny Lecavalier and Brayden Schenn also lit the lamp for Philadelphia as Steve Mason earned his first shutout in orange and black.

Add that to the four goals the Flyers put up on the Oilers in their previous game and Philadelphia has nine goals in its last two games.

Take away the 5-2 win over the Islanders on Oct. 26 and the Flyers had scored nine goals total in their eight previous games COMBINED leading up to the Edmonton game.

In other words, it’s an offensive explosion!

Okay, the exclamation point probably wasn’t necessary but the point is the Flyers may have finally found the consistent offense that they’ve been desperately yearning for all season.

And what better timing than before a meeting with Sidney Crosby and those filthy, rotten, blood-rival and Metropolitan Divison-leading Penguins.

The Penguins took the teams’ first meeting of the season by a score of 4-1 on Oct. 17 as the Flyers sleepwalked through the entire game, were smattered with a chorus of boos most of the night by the Wells Fargo Center crowd and were only kept in the game by a great, 31-save Mason performance in goal.

Last week, many would have considered tonight’s game a nationally-televised funeral march for the Flyers. But if the Flyers’ last two games are any indication, tonight’s matchup shouldn’t be as lopsided the first one the two Pennsylvania teams played.

The Flyers will need this new-found offense of theirs to keep up with the typically high-powered Penguins.

Despite the absence of sniper James Neal, who has only played two games this season due to an injury he reportedly may have suffered while playing wiffle ball – no, I did not make that up, - and a subpar year so far from Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh still ranks in the top 10 in the league in shots on goal per game, goals scored per game, power-play percentage and power-play goals scored.

That’s due in major part to Crosby who, as you may imagine, is tied for the league lead in points with the recently-injured Steven Stamkos. Don’t worry, I’ll spare you the horror of Crosby’s career numbers against the Flyers. You’re welcome.

The Penguins are going to score. We all know that. But now that the Flyers have shown over the past few games that they can score too, all bets are off.

In a bit of unsuspected news, it’ll be Ray Emery in net tonight for the Flyers and not Mason coming off last night’s shutout.

Mason has obviously been awesome this season and the clearly the Flyers MVP, but his career numbers in back-to-back situations aren’t so hot. Emery has only given up two goals combined in his last two starts. Has he done anything else of note recently? I’m not sure.

The Flyers have stuck an orange and black flag in Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center and claimed it territory of Philadelphia. Including the 2012 playoffs, the Flyers are 8-2-1there since it opened in Oct. 2010.

Keep in mind that despite how poorly the Flyers have played over the first six weeks of the season, they currently are only five points out of a playoff spot in a weak Eastern Conference and just nine points behind the first-place Penguins in an even weaker Metropolitan Division. So this is kind of a big game.

All else aside, let’s just hope tonight’s game is the usual raucous, ridiculously-entertaining Flyers-Penguins glass case of emotion we’ve come to know and love and not a repeat of that boring snoozefest from a few weeks ago.

Best of NBA: Bulls hand Spurs first road loss of season

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Best of NBA: Bulls hand Spurs first road loss of season

CHICAGO -- Dwyane Wade scored 20 points, and the Chicago Bulls handed San Antonio its first road loss after a 13-0 start, hanging on to beat the Spurs 95-91 on Thursday night.

San Antonio fell one win shy of matching the NBA's best road start set by the Golden State Warriors last season. The Spurs cut an 18-point deficit midway through the third quarter to four in the closing minutes, only to come up short.

Kawhi Leonard scored 24 for San Antonio. Patty Mills added 16 points, hitting 4 of 6 3-pointers. Former Bull Pau Gasol had 13 points and 10 rebounds in his first game in Chicago since signing with San Antonio in the summer, but the Spurs lost a road game for the first time since Oklahoma City knocked them out in the Western Conference semifinals last season.

Jimmy Butler scored all of his 13 points for Chicago in the second half. Rajon Rondo added 12 points, nine assists and 10 rebounds, and Chicago picked up the win after dropping three in a row and six of nine.

The Spurs hadn't dropped a regular-season road game since Denver beat them on April 8 (see full recap).

Scoreboard malfunction, quiet crowd don’t stop Wizards’ rally
WASHINGTON -- Overcoming a sluggish start in front of a sparse, silent crowd and with a malfunctioning scoreboard, the Washington Wizards came back to beat the Nuggets 92-85 on Thursday night, thanks mainly to Bradley Beal's 26 points and Denver's season-high 29 turnovers.

John Wall scored only 15 points one game after a career-best 52, but nine came in the fourth quarter for Washington, which trailed by as many as 14 in the first half.

With starting point guard Emmanuel Mudiay inactive because of what the team said was a sprained right ankle, the Nuggets went 5 1/2 minutes without a point in the fourth quarter.

In that final period, they had 10 of their turnovers and shot 1 for 14 on 3-pointers -- including 0 for 4 in one last-minute possession (see full recap).

Gasol, clutch free throws lift Grizzlies over
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Marc Gasol scored 36 points and Toney Douglas made two free throws with less than a second left to give the Memphis Grizzlies an 88-86 comeback victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night.

Douglas finished with 11 points, scoring the game's final six points to seal Memphis' fifth straight victory.

Gasol was 13 of 24 from the field, including 4 of 6 from outside the arc. But Douglas, signed by Memphis this week because of injuries, took over down the stretch. The guard scored on a 19-footer with 34 seconds left, then converted two pairs of free throws in the last 20 seconds.

CJ McCollum led the Trail Blazers with 24 points, and Damian Lillard had 19 on 6-of-18 shooting. Evan Turner had 15 points and 10 rebounds (see full recap).

Sixers beat Pelicans without Joel Embiid leading the way

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Sixers beat Pelicans without Joel Embiid leading the way

BOX SCORE

NEW ORLEANS -- Joel Embiid shot just 5 for 15 from the field and the Sixers … wait … the Sixers won. 

Surprising? Actually, that’s just how the Sixers envision finding success.

It’s not about Embiid having a relatively quiet night on offense with 14 points, especially going 0 for 5 from three. It’s about other players getting involved and taking the burden off the rookie. Embiid has proved he can do a lot of things, but carrying a team each night in his first season isn’t what the Sixers have in mind. 

“I think that’s when we’re at our best,” Nik Stauskas said after the Sixers beat the Pelicans 99-88 (see Instant Replay). “Obviously there are a few guys in the NBA like a LeBron (James), KD (Kevin Durant) or Steph (Curry) that can single-handedly win a game throughout the entire season. But most of the teams are going to rely on bench players to step up and make shots and make plays. I think that’s when we’re most effective.”

Embiid entered Thursday night averaging 24.3 points and shooting 48.9 percent in Sixers wins (three games played). His 14 points against the Pelicans were his fewest in a victory this season. He also grabbed seven boards with four blocks and three steals. Embiid was a game-high plus-27, which Brett Brown called "massive."

Instead of being powered offensively by their centerpiece, the Sixers received solid efforts from the starters and reserves. Ersan Ilyasova scored 23 points (along with eight rebounds) for the second straight game. Sergio Rodriguez chipped in 16 points and eight assists. Off the bench,  Stauskas hit three treys en route to 14 points while Dario Saric scored 10 points with five rebounds as the team snapped an overall eight-game losing skid and a 23-game road losing streak. 

Embiid’s teammates attribute their success to the fact he is such a focal point of the opponents’ defense. In comparison to the beginning of the season when Embiid was getting stifled by double-teams, he has been learning how to pass out of them. Embiid expects to see two defenders every game and has been making adjustments to create opportunities for others to shoot rather than committing turnovers. 

“We’re not standing around a lot and just focusing on what Jo can do,” Robert Covington said. “Jo is making great moves to find guys that are open. He’s willing to pass. We’re starting to build the chemistry that everyone’s been looking for.”

Ilyasova has noticed a change in the flow of the offense and has capitalized on defensive mismatches when opponents swarm Embiid. 

“We just share the ball well,” Ilyasova said. “I find myself open. Obviously Joel does a great job of as far as when there is a double-team, just kicking out. When I see the open look, I try to knock that shot down.” 

This style of play is mutually beneficial for both Embiid and his teammates. Just because Embiid is passing out doesn't mean he's not getting his looks. Oftentimes, dishing out of a double-team allows him to get a better look on the next touch. 

“It’s a team effort," Covington said. "We’re doing so much as a unit that we’re not just focusing on just get Jo the ball and let him do his thing. He’s getting the ball, he’s surveying the floor and then he’s making his moves. He’s reading the defense really well. He’s doing a lot of [kicking out]. Then we find him a lot of re-posts and finding the open shot and making it easy for him to find the easy bucket.” 

Embiid is capable of scoring 20-plus in spite of his 28-minute restriction. The Sixers are making strides, though, by finding ways to win when he isn’t the running up the scoreboard. 

“I think there’s no doubt Jo is our best player and our offense is going to revolve around him most of the time,” Stauskas said. “But we’re playing our best when he’s posting up and kicking out to guys and they’re hitting threes or we’re taking pressure off him by making plays and the defense can’t just be solely focused on him. In a game like tonight, that’s kind of what you saw.”