Sixers Give Up 20th Straight to Heat, But It Was Close (And Jrue Dunked on LeBron)

Sixers Give Up 20th Straight to Heat, But It Was Close (And Jrue Dunked on LeBron)

In a way, this was sort of a best of both worlds situation for the
Sixers. Sure, it would have been fun to snap the Heat's near-historic
win streak, get the team their first win against Miami since they were
starting Sherman Douglas and Rony Seikaly, and cause LeBron's hairline
to recede back a little further. Instead, they gave their fans one of
the most entertaining games of the season (and easily the play of the
year at the WFC), showed why the Sixers do still have some potential for
the future remaining, all without further disrupting the master plan of
Tankapalooza '13. Everyone's a winner, really.

Normally, I'd
wait a couple paragraphs to talk about Jrue's play of the game, try to
build up suspense for it and such, but that thing was so much fun that
I'm not gonna insult you by burying it any further down. With 90 seconds
left and the Sixers down two, Jrue split a double-team trap well beyond
the arc, blew past the help man and dunked on the final line on
defense, late to rotate to the basket—and that guy just happened to be
LeBron James, far more used to being on the fun side of the
posterization.


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Not quite DeAndre Jordan over
Brandon Knight—LeBron doesn't get himself in the frame quite enough for
that—but considering who LeBron is, considering how good Jrue's move
was, and considering the late-game situation (and that the reigning MVP
had an uncharacteristically terrible fourth quarter, going only 1-10 in
the final frame), it's probably a dunk they're gonna be talking about
for a long time. It's also one of the few truly fond memories we'll take
as Sixers fans from this utterly lost NBA season.

Jrue was
awesome for much of the game, though, particularly the second half,
where his dishing and swishing (sorry, Knicks fans) helped get the
Sixers back into it a couple times when it looked like Miami was gonna
pull away. He ended with one of his best all-around stat lines of the
season, with 21 points, seven boards, seven assists and three steals
(with three turnovers), now officially out of the slump that plagued him
for a four-or-five-game stretch there. Evan Turner also had his first
good game in a while, scoring 15 on 7-13 shooting (over half his shots!
Evan!) with five assists (and it should've been six, but more on that in
a minute) and three rebounds.

Undoubtedly, though, the star
tonight was Thaddeus Young. Thad absolutely tortured the Heat—who have
struggled much of the season to rebound the ball—with his activity in
this one, feasting on the boards (15 rebounds, one away from a season
high) and scoring 24, most on easy slips to the basket and a couple open
jumpers. After struggling a little bit in his first couple games from
injury, Thad is now back to the near-All-Star form he was playing at
pre-injury, averaging 21 points and 9.3 rebounds over his last six
games.

So how did the Sixers lose this one? Well, LeBron was
absolutely unstoppable in the first half, and his final stat line—a
typical 27/7/8 for LBJ—reflects just what an incredible first two
quarters he had, considering what a non-entity he was in the fourth,
settling for far too many long jumpers and handling the ball with
uncharacteristic carelessness. And Dwyane Wade wasn't all that far
behind, ending with a 21/8/3 that included a huge third-opportunity
putback in the game's final minute to put the Heat up three.

But
the real undoing for the Sixers tonight came with two Evan Turner
interior feeds to Spencer Hawes late in the game. The first one was just
too risky a needle-threading on Evan's part, and it resulted in an
unsurprising turnover for the Sixers. The second one, with the Sixers
down three with a little over 20 seconds to go, was beautiful, and hit
Spence virtually unguarded underneath the hoop—but Spence blew the gimme
reverse, and the game was basically over.

Another one for the
ping-pong balls, then, and they'll have another chance to slip in the
rankings on Saturday when the Pacers come to town. Still...fun to have a
reason to write a recap after a loss. Thanks for keeping it
interesting, Ballers.

Flyers-Penguins 5 things: Different teams meet outdoors at Heinz Field

Flyers-Penguins 5 things: Different teams meet outdoors at Heinz Field

Flyers (28-25-7) at Penguins (37-14-8)
8 p.m. on NBC, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

It’s time for some outdoor fun.

The anticipated Flyers-Penguins Stadium Series game has arrived, as the two rivals clash Saturday night at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

Let’s get you ready for it all with five things to know.

1. Eye on the ice
The one caveat of playing ice hockey outdoors is, of course, the weather.

The forecast is calling for rain showers from morning until noon with temperatures in the low-to-mid 50s. The precipitation is expected to taper off and temperatures are expected to dip into the high-30s for puck drop.

The ice can still be playable with some rain. Both teams are expected to have their morning skates indoors. No matter what, the game ice will certainly be a bit different than playing in a concealed arena.

“I'm sure they will do the best they can to have it ready,” Michael Del Zotto said this week (see story). “Unless it is really cold, the ice is always going to be chippy playing outdoors.

“It doesn’t matter what the ice conditions are because both teams are playing with it. It’s not an advantage or disadvantage for either team. Both have to deal with it.”

Ultimately, players are ready for anything weather-wise -- with the wind being just as big of a concern as the ice (see story).

2. Two directions
The Flyers and Penguins are in contrasting spots.

Pittsburgh is built for another Cup run.

The Flyers are not yet. Instead, they are fighting simply for their postseason lives.

The orange and black have lost seven of their last 10 games. Since the 10-game winning streak, they are 9-15-4 with the NHL’s second-fewest points at 22.

When the Flyers won 10 straight, they had a plus-14 goal differential over that span. In the 28 games since, they have scored an NHL-low 48 markers and own a minus-36 goal differential.

So, like last season, the Flyers have a mighty mountain to climb for a playoff berth (see story). They are now five points back of the Islanders, who currently hold the second wild-card spot with 68 points. The Flyers, at 63 points, also trail the Bruins (68) and Panthers (66), while the Sabres (62) and Lighting (62) are right there in the mix.

Meanwhile, the defending champion Penguins are third in the NHL with 82 points and first with 3.47 goals per game, spearheaded by Sidney Crosby’s league-best 33 scores.

3. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Brayden Schenn is on a three-game goal streak and ranks No. 1 in hockey with 14 man-advantage tallies. Since Jan. 8, he is tied with Wayne Simmonds for the Flyers’ lead in goals at eight. He also owns eight goals and eight assists in 23 career games against Pittsburgh.

Penguins: Right winger Patric Hornqvist, who plays alongside Crosby, was super active in the first meeting with the Flyers, recording two assists, five shots on goal, three hits and three blocked shots. The 30-year-old has 17 goals, 18 assists and a plus-19 rating, while the Penguins are 12-3-0 when he scores a goal.

4. This and that
• Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth is making his sixth straight start and ninth in the last 10 games. He is 2-2-2 with a 2.23 goals-against average, .921 save percentage and two shutouts in seven lifetime matchups with Pittsburgh.

• Penguins goalie Matt Murray is 5-1-2 in his last eight games with a .940 save percentage and 1.84 goals-against average. In two career games (one start) against the Flyers, the 22-year-old is 1-0-0 and has stopped 39 of 41 shots faced.

• Pittsburgh has won four of the last five meetings with the Flyers. This is Game 2 of the four-game regular-season series between the teams. The Penguins won the first matchup, 5-4, on Oct. 29 at the Wells Fargo Center.

• Penguins defensemen Justin Schultz (upper body) and Kris Letang (upper body) will be game-time decisions. Schultz is a team-best plus-31 on the season, while Letang is a two-time All-Star.

• Jakub Voracek has 32 points (15 goals, 17 assists) in 29 career games against Pittsburgh.

5. The rivalry
Relive some great moments from the Flyers-Penguins rivalry with these terrific pieces from CSN’s Orange Line.

Danny Briere recalls brawl in Pittsburgh

The origin of Philly’s hatred for Crosby

Reliving Flyers’ five-overtime playoff win

Mario Lemieux returns to form in first game back

Top Flyers-Penguins moments

Another wild-card run? Flyers need it to start outdoors

Another wild-card run? Flyers need it to start outdoors

PITTSBURGH -- At this point, the Flyers are sick of talking about Saturday night's Stadium Series outdoor game against the Penguins at Heinz Field.

They just want to get it on and get it over with. Too much buildup.

“Yeah, kind of,” Simmonds said Friday. “For us, this is an extremely important game. We’ve got to get all the points we can possibly get going down the stretch if we want to make the playoffs.

“Obviously, it’s going to be an exciting time. A lot of guys have families here. But we have to stay focused on the goal.”

To say the Flyers need points right now is a huge understatement. They are five points behind the New York Islanders for the Eastern Conference's final wild-card spot.

That’s the farthest they have been behind since occupying the wild card on Dec. 4. When the Flyers won their 10th consecutive game Dec. 14, they were 14 points ahead of the Islanders.

That’s a 19-point swing in the standings since then.

“So, we just have to find a way to get two points and get some wins in a row here,” Jakub Voracek said. “Every game against Pittsburgh is special. Playing an outdoor game -- I don't know how many people are going to be here -- but it's going to be a great experience.

“For us, every game is a huge game. So, if you play Pittsburgh or Colorado, it doesn't matter. You have to get two points.”

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said Friday night he believes his team can still make a playoff run and salvage a wild card.

The thing is, when the Flyers made their second-half push last season, it actually began in mid-February -- earlier than now.

A couple players got hot, as did Michal Neuvirth and then Steve Mason, and you could see momentum building in the team over weeks.

That hasn’t been the case here. It’s almost March and the Flyers are floundering, no one is scoring and they are losing games despite playing pretty good hockey with no answer on how to turn things around without a major scoring increase across the board.

“It's a different season,” Voracek said of the comparison. “Different teams. You could use it as an advantage. … We have to play our hockey. The last two games, we went 1-1, but we played pretty good. We have to be ready [Saturday].”

Hextall said what happens this weekend and Tuesday against Colorado will have a trickle-down effect on what he does Wednesday at the NHL trade deadline (see story).

“We’ve played well enough at times this year that we can mount a run,” Hextall said. “I have no doubt in my mind. We’ve been playing pretty good the last eight, nine games. Except for the Edmonton game.

“But we haven’t gotten results. We need to get results. It’s not about moral victories or playing good against Washington. That’s fine and dandy, but not good enough. We have to win games.”

It starts tonight.