Flyers West Shred Hitch's Blues Again as Richie, Carter, Williams All Score

Flyers West Shred Hitch's Blues Again as Richie, Carter, Williams All Score

One
of the great things about this year's NHL playoffs is that the league's
new deal with NBC ensures that if there's a game we want to see, we
can. Last night, with the Flyers off, the remotes got a workout between
Phillies-Cubs, Rangers-Caps, and Kings-Blues. For me, with my twisted
and temporary rooting interests, I hit the trifecta. The Phils won. The
Rangers lost. And the Kings won, with former Flyers featuring
prominently. 

It's an odd feeling, rooting for other NHL teams,
even those you hate, just because you hate them a little less than their
given opponents at the time. But that's one of the great parts of
watching playoff hockey—for a variety of reasons, you find yourself
invested in teams you usually either despise or simply don't care about.
I probably don't need to explain why I'd prefer to see the Rangers
bounced out; sure, nothing would make me happier than to see the Flyers
beat the Rangers in the ECF on their way to a Cup Finals win, but after
witnessing the Blue Shirts' dominance over the Orange & Black this
season, I could be plenty happy seeing them depart before the next
round, should the Flyers make it past the Devils. 

Out West, I'm enjoying seeing the Kings do well,
with mostly good memories of the former Flyers that are featured so
prominently in their organization. Last night, the trio of Mike
Richards, Jeff Carter, and Justin Williams all scored in a 5-2 Kings win
over the Blues, and Richie mixed it up as always. Adding to the
intrigue of this series for Flyers fans, the Kings are facing a Blues
team bossed by Ken Hitchcock, the former Flyers head coach who was fired
after the new young core, led by the once and future Kings, did not buy
into his system. 

A quick look at some highlights below. 
Richie
opened the scoring by putting home a loose puck just 30 seconds into
the game. Not the most remarkable goal from a video highlights
perspective, but keeping in mind the back story, watch the look on
Hitch's face when he sees the game start out this way. 

HITCH FACE!

Anze Kopitar's brilliance on a shorthanded opportunity bears a screening as well. Watch this:

 The first period scoring wasn't done yet, and the
Kings were soon up by a 3-0 count with less than a minute and a half to
go. Carter scored the third:

Still not done, Kopitar scored AGAIN to make it 4-0 at the first intermission. 

After Andy McDonald got one back for the Blues in
the second, it was Justin Williams' turn to light the lamp, swatting
home a rebound to extend the lead to 5-1. 

The Blues would score with five minutes to go in the
third, but it was all LA on the night, and they now hold a 2-0 lead in
the series after smoking the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks in the first
round. OK, maybe we've had our fun, and they can start losing a few out
there… 

With the score 5-2 and the game squarely in "Set the
Tone for Game 3" mode, TJ Oshie just LIT UP the Kings' Dustin Penner.
It was a legal hit, but not one a team shouldn't still have some
objection to, and you can probably guess who was there to object… 

Puck Daddy, whose video is above, has more on the final sequence here

It's only the second round, but the playoffs have already been a pretty amazing ride.

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

BOX SCORE

Brett Brown was ready to do it Wednesday night. The matchup against the Kings presented an opportunity to experiment with playing Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together. That pairing had to wait two days, though, after the Kings game was postponed

On Friday, Embiid and Okafor shared the court for just under 13 minutes in the Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic (see Instant Replay), who also rolled out a duo of bigs in Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. 

“I thought we had our moments,” Embiid said. “We shared the ball, we made shots. Obviously we need to play more together and learn how to play with each other.”

Embiid and Okafor first played together for 5:29 in the second quarter. They scored all of the Sixers' 12 points during that time, including a pair of threes by Embiid. They also combined for five boards. The Sixers outscored the Magic, 12-9, with the bigs in together.

The benefits of the floor spacing was apparent. Oftentimes in the game, Okafor could be seen open at the basket with a hand up for the ball while Embiid was also getting looks from long range. 

“I liked our spacing, I liked the high-low stuff we were doing,” Brown said. “I think when you post Joel, that Jahlil is going to play sort of hide-and-seek on the other side of the floor, and work that low zone, and become — I hope — a potent offensive rebounder. When you post Jahlil, Joel has the ability to space to three.”

Brown turned to Embiid and Okafor again in the fourth. At that point, the Magic had a 23-point lead. Their next 7:25 together was a chance to give them a long run in live game action. They combined for another 12 points and four rebounds. All of their buckets were layups, dunks or free throws. Both teams scored 19 points with Embiid and Okafor in that segment.

Both Embiid and Okafor finished the game with double-doubles: 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Embiid; 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks for Okafor. 

“I thought they played well together,” Vucevic said. “I thought it was tough to guard them because they’re both really good offensively.”

Okafor credited his friendship with Embiid, which dates back to high school, as a key to coexisting well on the court. Both emphasized their off-the-court relationship would help them in a game situation. 

“I think the communication piece went really well,” Okafor said. “He was talking to me, I was talking to him.”

Scoring and communication always seemed to be the easier parts of the pairing to tackle. Defense, though, was the challenge given that one of the centers would have to guard the four spot. Okafor noted their transition D as an area that needs improvement.

“We’re both used to going right to the rim,” Okafor said. “I think I had a couple easy buckets. That’s something we’ll be able to fix.” 

Brown had based his decision of when to play Embiid and Okafor together on the matchups. While the two could boast their own edge on the offensive end, Brown didn’t want to play them in a scenario in which they’d be at a huge defensive disadvantage. 

“It’s not offense to me, it’s defense. That’s the thing that is most challenging,” Brown said. “We want to play fast. We want to put points on the board. You don’t want to play in the 80s. You don’t want to do that, that’s not our sport anymore. So you want to make sure that you're capable of guarding the opposition.”

Vucevic noticed the challenge from an opposing perspective. He understands the necessary changes since playing alongside Biyombo.  

“It takes time for them to get adjusted, especially for the guy that will be playing the four defensively,” Vucevic said. “They’re not used to that because they always back down to the paint guarding the fives. It’s a different look. They have to work on it, communicate, and I think they’ll be fine.” 

On a night with few highlights in a 17-point blowout loss, Brown was able to take away a positive from this anticipated duo.

"I thought Jahlil and Joel did a really good job," he said. 

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Joel Embiid didn’t see four quarters of basketball from the Sixers in their 105-88 loss to the Magic Friday night (see Instant Replay). Their efforts were inconsistent as they fell flat in long stretches and allowed the Magic to build up double-digit leads as high as 29 points.

The Sixers gave up a 16-0 run in the first and shot just 6 for 26 (23.1 percent) in the quarter. The Magic, who had lost a one-point game to the Grizzlies in Memphis the night before, rallied together to seize this opportunity.

“They just made a lot of shots that we didn’t,” Embiid said. “That’s the game, but we didn’t play hard all 48 minutes and we need to do a better job next time.”

The Sixers didn’t break 30 points until 4:33 to go in the second and attempted just two free throws in the first half. By the end of the third, the Magic had a 21-point lead which they held on to with in ease in the fourth. 

The Magic outshot the Sixers on all areas of the floor: 47.4 percent to 37.9 from the field and 50.0 to 28.1 from three. While the teams had nearly equal percentages from the line, the Magic shot 18 for 26 compared to only 7 for 10 from the Sixers. 

“They missed a lot of shots,” Magic forward Jeff Green said. “We got stops, were aggressive, guys just played hard and created for one another and played as a team.”

Covington injured
The Sixers are waiting to learn more news on the extent of Robert Covington’s injury. In the fourth quarter, Covington exited and did not return after suffering a left knee sprain when he collided with T.J. McConnell chasing a loose ball in front of the Sixers’ bench. If the starting small forward has to miss time, Sixers head coach Brett Brown is thinking ahead to possible lineup changes. 

“We'll try to figure out what his next week represents,” Brown said. “If we aren't with him, maybe there's a chance we can look at Dario [Saric] a little bit at the three.”

Covington is averaging 8.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 27.5 minutes per game. Saric has been coming off the bench at power forward behind Ersan Ilyasova. He started 10 games earlier this season at the four spot. 

Embiid honored
The Sixers honored Embiid during a timeout for being named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month (October and November). Embiid was appreciative of the award and has his sights set on the bigger picture this season.

“All the hard work I’ve put in, it feels great,” Embiid said earlier in the day at shootaround. “Obviously, maybe the bigger picture is Rookie of the Year, that’s what matters. … I don’t have my mind set on that. But if I can get it, that would be nice.”

Brown sees this recent showing as just a glimpse into what Embiid will be able to do over his career. Embiid leads the Sixers with 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. 

“This in infant stages, early days for him,” Brown said. “His body of work, given his lack of playing basketball, really is jaw-dropping for what I think he can be. To jump in and get rookie of the month I think is a real, sort of, quick snapshot view of him now. I think what he’s going to be is going to be extremely special.”

Embiid also is shooting 51.4 percent from three, including 3 for 5 against the Magic. When asked if he would like to participate in the three-point contest All-Star weekend, he said "it would be nice" and noted he would have to work on the speed of his release.