Represent: Flyers All-Stars Set to Rock in Ottawa at 4

Represent: Flyers All-Stars Set to Rock in Ottawa at 4

I don't know if it's my age or something going on in the sports themselves, but it feels like all-star games have taken a sharp downturn in terms of importance to fans in recent years. The NFL's Pro Bowl has long been somewhat laughable. The NBA All-Star Game is more spectacle than sport. Major League Baseball's Midsummer Classic attempted to inject relevance and competition by tying its outcome to a significant postseason element, and in so doing, pissed off the purists in its ranks.

Like the sport itself, the NHL's All-Star Game is something seemingly strictly for its own diehard fans, with little attention from outside media outlets or casual fans. Adding the element of a pair of captains choosing the sides gave it some new life last season though, and new media have also shown us more of how much the players enjoy the weekend. The league and the team have done a great job of posting videos and first-hand accounts to their own sites, which is fitting because the All-Star Game is a celebration of the simple fact that there is a league at all. No score is settled, no permanent rivalry revisited. Just players playing the game.

This season's game is a pretty special one for Flyers fans though, with three veterans and a pair of rookies representing Philadelphia up in Ottawa. So far, it's been a perfect representation, too.

Claude Giroux's presence is that of one of the league's truly elite forwards. The Flyers have had scoring depth in season after season, but it's been a long time since they had this kind of star power at the top. Scott Hartnell's All-Star story may trump G's though.

Philly loves an underdog, and to say Hartnell was a long shot for playing in this weekend when the season started is a bit of an understatement. But I think just about everyone would agree that since that time, he's flat out earned the opportunity to be recognized among the league's best players in the first half. And it certainly seems like he's enjoying it.

Harts has, unsurprisingly, had a life-of-the-party presence in Ottawa, tweeting his self-deprecation and appreciation throughout the weekend. And, in the skills competition, he showed that he's here because he is in fact skilled, not just a skilled pest. He and Giroux made sure to salute the linemate that helped them both get to Ottawa (see that, plus Hartnell's skill on the one-timers and a sweet breakway move by Sean Couturier in the video below).

Earlier this season, ESPN's Pierre LeBrun called Kimmo Timonen underappreciated. I'm not sure I'd agree with that being the case in Philly. It's nearly impossible to find a fan who has anything but appreciation for the Finnish veteran. We all know how much trouble the team would be in without him, and we're proud to see him still among the league's elite. Most of the All-Stars are pretty young, and Kimmo can still skate with them in any game.

After old man Timonen, the veteran Hartnell, and rising star Giroux, there are two very talented rookies showing the league that the future is bright in Philly. Couturier has played his ass off as a rookie, filling every role asked of him from checking line and PK duties to high lining and power plays. Matt Read finally found an NHL home, and a bunch of other franchises are kicking themselves for passing him up both in the draft and a handful of training camps.

SOME WTF IN THE LINES
At 4PM today, Giroux and Hartnell will be on one side, with Timonen on another, a fun if somewhat awkward twist. G's line will be centering Logan Couture and Steven Stamkos. Hartnell will skate with the Sedin twins. Goalies will rotate every period. Defense will lay off to the degree that "checks" should be listed in drinking games.

A LITTLE MAGIC LEFT IN THE TANK
Growing up, I loved All-Star weekend. I was a big NHL fan, loving the Flyers first and foremost, but having plenty of favorites in other cities as well. The Winter Classic and 24/7 have been a good reminder of the fact that their guys are human too, and Hartnell acknowledged the same effect hitting him as he had a blast with some rival Rangers up in Ottawa.

The score won't matter today, but we'll still be rooting for the Flyers to show 'em well. And for a #hartnelldown or two...

Instant Replay: Knicks 110, Sixers 109

Instant Replay: Knicks 110, Sixers 109

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- A 17-point game came down to the final possessions. 

The Knicks squeaked out a 110-109 victory, holding on to this one after suffering a buzzer-beating loss to the Sixers on Jan. 11. 

The Knicks squandered a double-digit lead in the fourth as the Sixers slowly chipped away at their lead at the line. The Sixers got within one, 106-105, when T.J. McConnell drained a three after a series of Sixers’ free throws. 

Jahlil Okafor scored a go-ahead basket during a hustling Sixers possession with nine seconds remaining to give the Sixers a 109-108 lead. 

In the end, it was Carmelo Anthony, who had been running up the scoreboard all night (37 points), that nailed the game-winning jumper over Robert Covington. Kyle O’Quinn picked off the Sixers' final inbound attempt. 

Inside the box score
• Okafor finished with a season-high 28 points and 10 rebounds. He had eight rebounds in first half, including a coast-to-coast fast break.

• Dario Saric continues his strong Rookie of the Year push. He finished with 19 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. 

• Robert Covington struggled from the field overall (7 of 19, 2 of 11 from three) but filled up the stat sheet with 20 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

• Anthony did what Anthony does. He scored 37 points on 15 of 25 from the field, including the game-winner.

Anderson debuts
Justin Anderson made his Sixers debut in the first quarter. Anderson is a multi-positional player and the lineup reflected that. He first played with Rodriguez, Stauskas, Covington and Holmes. Anderson played 3:47 and went 0 for 1 from three with a rebound and a foul. 

While Anderson said he had learned about the Sixers by watching his first game from the bench, he will get more on-the-court experience on Sunday when he plans to spend time at the training complex on the team’s off day. 

Bigs Convene
Joel Embiid was with the Sixers in New York. After the second quarter ended, he stayed on the court to talk with Kristaps Porzingis and Joakim Noah. Both Knicks big men also were sidelined on Saturday.

Trust It
T.J. McConnell isn’t the only one to #trustthefriendship with Saric. Check out this no-look pass to Robert Covington. 

Up next
The Sixers have a day to bounce back from this loss. The 48-9 Warriors come to town on Monday. 

Villanova pushes past Creighton despite exhaustion before off week

Villanova pushes past Creighton despite exhaustion before off week

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, PA. – Jay Wright finally admitted what we could all see.

The Wildcats are gassed.

No. 2 Villanova beat No. 23 Creighton, 79-63, Saturday at the Pavilion to clinch the Big East Conference regular-season title outright (see Instant Replay).

The Wildcats are 27-3 and 14-3 in the conference, but the last couple weeks their lack of depth has shown.

With Omari Spellman ruled ineligible before the season by the NCAA, Phil Booth out since November with lingering knee pain and Darryl Reynolds out the last five games with a rib injury, Wright has essentially been limited to five starters, freshman Dante DiVincenzo off the bench and a few minutes a night from freshman Dylan Painter.

It's taken a significant toll on the six guys in the rotation. 

Big late leads have dwindled or, in the case of Wednesday’s game against Butler, disappeared. Three-pointers have front-rimmed. Defensive assignments have been missed.

Through it all, Wright refused to admit fatigue was an issue.

Now, with the Wildcats securely the top seed in next month’s conference tournament, Wright is being honest about his team.

They’re exhausted.

“I know you guys have asked a lot, 'Do I think we’re getting worn down with seven guys, 6 1/2 guys,' and I said I don’t think so, I think we can do it,” Wright said Saturday after the Senior Day win over Creighton.

“I gotta answer your question, but it just doesn’t do us any good saying we’re worn out. It’s not an excuse. Other teams have things to deal with. I get we weren’t pretty, we haven’t been pretty, today wasn’t pretty. But I think it just speaks to the leadership of these seniors and I think it speaks to the character of these seniors (that they got through it).

“Are they tired? Yeah. Are they worn down some? Yeah. But it doesn’t matter. Other teams got stuff too. It’s not the reason you lose. It can’t be the reason you lose. Maybe you were tired and you didn’t concentrate or we didn’t defend or we didn’t rebound. That’s what happened and that’s the way we look at it.

“I wasn’t trying to BS you, I was just saying that whether you’re tired or not doesn’t matter, you’ve got to get it done, and we got it done. I’m so proud of them and it’s senior leadership. It’s talented players and senior leadership.”

Villanova now has a week off before an essentially meaningless game next Saturday at Georgetown.

It’ll be the Wildcats’ first extended break since the season began.

“They haven’t had an off week because they played Virginia (two weeks ago in a non-conference game), and now they get it and a chance to get their legs back,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.

“It’s a long season and when you don’t really have a chance to catch your breath, especially because he’s riding six or seven guys pretty hard right now? I’m sure this week off will do them some good.”

Sophomore transfer Eric Paschall had a career day Saturday, with 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting to go with six rebounds. Josh Hart added 16 points and eight boards, Kris Jenkins overcame another off shooting night from three (1 for 7) to record 15 points, four boards and three assists, and Mikal Bridges had 11 points and eight rebounds. DiVincenzo and Jalen Brunson each scored nine points. 

The next meaningful game Villanova plays will be March 9 in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament in New York.

Now it’s time to rest. And heal.

“It’s going to be good for us,” Jenkins said. “We get a couple days off. We’ll still watch film, still learn, still get better, but physically we need a couple days to regroup and get ready for Georgetown and then the Big East tournament.

“Georgetown is first, but we really do need this break.”

On Saturday, Villanova built an 11-point lead, gave it all away, fell behind, traded off seven second-half lead changes, then went on a 16-4 run midway through the second half to finally put away the Bluejays.

With the threes not falling, the Wildcats focused on attacking the rim and scoring in the post in the second half.

Jenkins in particular had an unusual game. He stopped shooting treys and made 5 of 8 shots from inside the arc. That’s the second-most two-pointers he’s ever made and the most he’s ever attempted.

“Just playing off my teammates and adjusting to how teams play me,” said Jenkins, shooting just 30 percent from three the last 10 games.

“They really take away threes and try not to let me get any clean catches so always being aggressive and trying to make the right play.”

For a tired team, backing off the threes was huge.

Villanova outscored Creighton 36-18 over the last 14 minutes after Creighton took its biggest lead – two points at 43-41.

Now comes rest.

“It’s big for these guys,” Wright said. “In my mind, we just had to get to today. We just gotta get through it without getting somebody else hurt and without just being dead.

“Because we’re going to get time off. We’re going to take Sunday off, we’re going to have a light day Monday, and then we’re going to take Tuesday off, because these guys really need the rest. So this is perfect timing for us.”