There was a point in time where this might have been unthinkable. On Friday, the Winter Classic became just another casualty of the NHL lockout.
The league made the move to cancel the New Year's Day event nearly two full months in advance due to an imminent financial commitment with the University of Michigan -- the site of this year's game -- according to Tim Panaccio's story. The Associated Press reports (via Puck Daddy) the league will re-schedule the Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at The Big House for 2014.
Even though we heard this was likely coming over a week ago, it's still difficult not to be a little shocked. Before the lockout ever got underway, and even in its infancy, most observers felt the NHL would be unwilling to miss the Classic. It's a showcase event for the sport that generates tens of millions of dollars for the league and host city.
Now that it's gone, the landscape of the labor dispute has been altered dramatically. With the Winter Classic once believed to be untouchable, there was a sense that the NHL inevitably would resume play by January 1. Obviously that was not the case, so what milestone remains to drive the owners and union toward a resolution?
It's only November, but there is no end on the horizon. The players seem to be united in their desire to have the contracts they signed honored in full, and the owners aren't even listening to any offer that does not include a rollback on salaries. At what point do we reach the point of no return, and lose an entire season for the second time in less than a decade?
It really felt like we could've gotten this one. The Denver Nuggets are hardly pushovers, but they came into this one a 7-13 team that'd lost their last three games, and even last night they seemed fairly beatable, even for a Philadelphia 76ers team still missing Robert Covington (in additional to our usual mini-roster of absentees). But Philly's energy sagged in the third quarter as Denver caught a second wind, and they spent the final frame hitting shots that the Sixers couldn't answer. Final score: Nuggets 106, 76ers 98.
The most sobering part of the loss was that Joel Embiid finally played what would best be described as "a bad game." Not that bad, of course — even at his worst, Joel still managed 16 points and notched career-high five blocks. But he only shot 5-15 from the field, turned ball over three times, grabbed just four boards and played a large part in the sinkhole offense that the Sixers played in the late third and early fourth that ultimately cost them this one. JoJo still has trouble reading double teams and knowing when not to attack into traffic, and his frustration was extremely evident as he kept trying to do too much and paying the price for it.
Nonetheless, even with an off Embiid night and a still-slumping Sauce — officially down to Left in the Car Overnight temperature after a night of 4 points on 1-7 shooting in 35 minutes — Philly probably still coulda gotten this one. Sergio Rodriguez appears to have swiped Nik's swag at least temporarily, with a season-high 17 points on 7-14 shooting to go with seven dimes and three steals, while Dario Saric and Ersan Ilyasova also poured in 17 and 8 each, and the Nuggets wings were largely kept quiet for two and a half quarters. But even while struggling, the Nuggets paraded their way to free-throw line — 34 FTAs for the night, including 12 for Danilo Gallinari alone — and once they caught fire late, the Sixers just couldn't keep up.
A bummer for a team that's now lost seven in a row, and has to face the Grizzlies tonight in Memphis — their fourth game in five nights, and the first of a three-game road trip — without Embiid and also without Jahlil Okafor, out with illness. Even with the Grizz missing their own big names (no Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons, Zach Randolph or Vince Carter lately) and likely suffering from fatigue of their own after a double-OT road win last night in New Orleans, the 4-17 Sixers are gonna have a tough go matching Memphis' grit and grind tonight. Anytime you feel like Supermanning in and saving the day now would be cool, Nerlens Noel. Just sayin'.
Elton Brand is back with the Sixers, albeit not on the court.
The Sixers agreed with the former NBA forward to name Brand Player Development Consultant. In a press release, the team said Brand will be working with Sixers players in 'every facet of their on- and off-court development' while also working in the front office.
“We are extremely excited to bring Elton Brand back into the organization where he will be a valuable resource to our young and developing team," Bryan Colangelo said in the release. "Elton’s leadership and character displayed throughout his playing career as a player align perfectly with our vision, direction and culture of this basketball team, coaching staff and management group."
Brand retired during training camp after 17 NBA seasons, including five with the Sixers over two stints. The 6-foot-8 forward came out of retirement last season to provide a veteran presence for the Sixers and eventually played in 17 games when the team was snakebitten by injuries.
He will now continue to be an influence on the Sixers' young core thanks to his new role with the basketball operations department.