Keys to Game 4: Stop Playing Like You Just Drank the Blood of Kali Ma, Find New-Line Chemistry

Keys to Game 4: Stop Playing Like You Just Drank the Blood of Kali Ma, Find New-Line Chemistry

EDITOR'S UPDATE, 05/13/12: Recently it was brought to our attention that we may have offended some readers when we made a reference in the post below from the movie "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom." For that we humbly apologize. The700Level acts as a separate independent voice from our parent company and often uses movie and other pop culture references. The author was focusing entirely on the scene from the "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" movie that is linked to in the post and never intended to offend anyone or any group. He was previously unaware of the actual religious significance. Steps have been taken to prevent this in the future. We want to ensure our readers that we hold all religions and all views with the utmost respect and would never intentionally be insensitive to their beliefs. We hope you understand and continue to frequent The700Level. Watching game 3 between the Flyers and the Devils in a New York bar that didn't have the telecast's audio was a surreal experience. The Knicks were playing, so the best we could do was get one of the TVs set to Flyers-Devils. Sometimes we say we'd rather not have announcers distracting from game action, and the sounds of the game alone would be ideal. But in this one, I really could have used a few outside opinions on just what the hell the Flyers were trying to do. 
They seemed to be in slow motion at times. They looked stunned, dazed. Like they'd been forced to drink blood of Kali Ma out of a skull chalice and whipped into a lifetime of Thugee service in the dark underground bowels of Pankot Palace. The Black Sleep of Kali Ma… Alive… but… like a nightmare. 
The important question today is, on the brink of lowering themselves into a swirling, fiery pit, will the Flyers feel the flames and suddenly come to life in time to salvage the series?
Storylines including new-look forward lines and the probable return of Sean Couturier, below. 
LINESIn an attempt to jumpstart the offense and get more out of his top line players, Peter Laviolette has broken up the trio of Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, and Jaromir Jagr. Hartnell moves back alongside Danny Briere with Jake Voracek on the other wing. Giroux will center JVR and Wayne Simmonds. Brayden Schenn and Matt Read will have the 40 Year Old Veteran, Jagr. Tim Panaccio bets the house that Sean Couturier will play tonight, which is great news given the scare of an injury last game. If so, he'll stay with Max Talbot and Eric Wellwood. (Lines courtesy of Adam Kimelman)
Hopefully JVR's jump will help get the best out of Giroux again, and/or get the Wayne Train back on track. G looked ready to rock when he started the game with a big hit on the faceoff, but struggled to generate much in the way of dangerous attacks. He needs to play with the confidence of being the best player on the ice while resisting the idea that he must carry the team if they're going to win. 
Now, with these new lines... Let's not forget when and how to change on the fly...
WIN THE PUCK BATTLESThe Flyers beat the Penguins in part by being very effective in getting behind their defense, dumping pucks deep and winning the battles along the boards or behind the net. It's not that they haven't tried against the Devils, but Jersey has been much more successful in peeling away pucks either in the neutral zone before the Flyers can get through, or in the battles along the boards. Winning those is obviously an advantage the Flyers need to gain, but there's no simple answer as to how they can. 
GET THE POWER PLAY MOJO BACKAgain, obvious, and far easier said than done. Why isn't the power play clicking anywhere near the historic pace it set in the first round? Why couldn't the Flyers score on either of two man advantage opportunities in the overtime period of game 3. Unfortunately, the answer isn't necessarily fixable. The Devils are outstanding on the kill, stifling nearly 90% of all opposing power plays in the regular season while scoring 15 shorthanded goals. They're tenacious against the puck carrier, and they force mistakes that range in costliness from a simple clear to a shorty. 
The coaches have no doubt popped in the game tape from the Devils' first round series, when the Florida Panthers were surprisingly effective when up a man. The Flyers did tally once on the power play in game 3, but they may need to double up if they want to get out of the Rock with a win tonight. 
What would you do differently if you had to draw up the PP for tonight?
BLOW OUT MARTY'S CANDLESMartin Brodeur turned 40 years old today. Rather than letting him celebrate with a win, let's see if he'll cry at his own party. The Flyers can get bodies in front and frustrate Marty. Arming Giroux with a Simmonds or JVR screen could be lethal. 
Brodeur is another reason the dump-in isn't working. Acting like a third defenseman, cutting off wheel-arounds and firing crisp passes, he can nullify the tactic entirely. The game 1 puckhandling jitters could be over, meaning the Flyers will have to be more effective gaining the zone and setting up from the top down, rather than from behind the goal line. Either way, it'll take strength along the boards and some ownership of the low slot. 
DON'T RUIN SUNDAY NIGHT FOR EVERYONEIf I'm going to have to watch Game Of Thrones on DVR at like a million o'clock on a school night, it had better be after tossing up a celebratory recap and not some head-hanging, brink-of-elimination sob story. Ya better show up on your dire wolves and quit acting like you're up against the White Walkers. 
The Devils have made it clear that they're no underdogs. But despite the lackluster efforts of the Flyers in games 2 and 3, I find it hard to believe that Jersey is the better overall team. That doesn't mean they won't still advance. The Flyers have played well below their potential, and they need to adapt their game to a completely different opponent than the one they beat in the opening series. 

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.