Sixers Hold Off Mavericks With Smallest Margin of Victory Ever

Sixers Hold Off Mavericks With Smallest Margin of Victory Ever

Don't let the final 100-98, two-point scoring margin fool you—this 76ers
/ Mavericks game was a whole lot closer than that. Not only was it neck
and neck all the way through, but the game came down to the final
possession (despite the Sixers being up nine with just over three
minutes to go), where the Mavericks got two chances to steal the victory
from the Sixers, both of which seemed nearly inevitable until they just
didn't quite happen. It was a coin flip at best, but the Sixers escaped
with the win, moving to 9-6 on the season.

This thing really
did seem over when Jrue Holiday connected on a long two to put the
Ballers up nine with about 3:20 to go. But an O.J. Mayo three here, a
Vince Carter putback there, and the Mavs had suddenly cut the score down
to two, with Mayo drawing a foul with three seconds left and stepping
to the free throw line to likely send the game into overtime. But the
87% FT shooter missed his first, necessitating him missing the second to
try to get the team a putback. Instead, Mayo's second miss spilled out
to the good-shooting forward Jae Crowder behind the arc, and Crowder
quickly squared up a three for the win. The heave looked good on its
descent—Mark Cuban certainly looked like he expected it to connect—but
somehow it spilled off the rim as time expired. Breathe.

The
Mavs' late surge threatened to turn sour what would have otherwise been a
fairly sweet Sixers victory. Sure, it would've been a tight home win
against a middling Western team, but it was done on the backs of our
core young guys—Jrue, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young—and as Mike Prada of
Bullets Forever tweeted,
the development of those guys (esp. Jrue and Evan) is way more
important for the Sixers than wins and losses. Still, wins remain
infinitely preferable, especially when the game seemed good as wrapped a
couple minutes earlier, so we here at the Level appreciate whatever
divine forces caused that Crowder shot to rim out, thus allowing us to
dwell on the game's positives.

For instance: Evan Turner scored a
team-high 22 points tonight. More notably, he did it in only 12 shots,
hitting eight of them (including two threes) and going 4-5 from the
line. Turner has now scored in double digits for seven straight games,
the longest such streak in his career. (He's also set the longest streak
of his career with multiple threes in a game, with, uh, two.) Courtesy
of Derek Bodner,
here are Turner's numbers over that seven-game stretch: 16.9 ppg, 6.2
rpg, 5 apg, 48.9% FFG. (He's also 41.6% from three and 84% from the
line.) If Evan put those numbers up for a whole season, combined with
the solid defense he's been playing and the Sixers' winning record, he'd
be a borderline All-Star contender.

[RELATED: VIDEO: Evan Turner Hits His 'MJ Move,' Cracks Joke at Doug Collins]

Of course, seven games is
not a whole season, and we've seen Evan play in hot stretches before
only to revert to sloppy, inefficient, haphazard play for equally long
periods immediately afterwards. But the sample size keeps getting
larger, and in 15 games so far this season, only two or three could you
call real duds. And as well as we may have seen him play for a week or
so at a time before, we've never seen him shoot the ball like
this—especially from deep, where he only made 11 threes all last year,
but already has ten in 15 games this year. It's not concrete yet, but
it's very, very encouraging.

And then there's Jrue. The Damaja
didn't have his best game in this one, turning the ball over six times
and coming up short on some big possessions down the stretch, but he
still ended with 18 and 7 on 7-13 shooting, and check out his
numbers over the last seven, again courtesy of Bodner: 18.9 ppg, 9.4
apg, 3.3 TOpg, 46.1 FG%, 41.2 3PT%. And with his 20 and seven tonight,
Thad's numbers over that stretch are pretty damn solid too: 15.8 ppg,
8.3 rpg, 52.1% shooting. Oh, and not coincidentally, the Sixers went 5-2
over that seven-game span.

Of course, as we focus on the
positives, we should probably point out that there's still a reason that
the Sixers are coming so close to giving some of these wins away, and
the primary reason—aside from turnovers tonight, of which we had an
uncharacteristic 17—is a lack of production from the bench and the
center spot. Dorell Wright and Nick Young had some nice moments on
defense, but were relative non-entities on offense, shooting a combined
2-10 and 0-3 from three. Dorell has been particularly disappointing,
since it seems like if he's not squaring up behind the arc, he doesn't
have a clue what to do—opponents are running him off, and when he fakes
and drives to the basket, it almost always seems to result in disaster.
Maalik Wayns scored a career-high ten tonight, but his qualifications as
a backup PG still seem limited, and right now all he can do is play the
homeless man's Lou Williams for about 12 minutes a game as Coach
Collins figures out how to steal minutes on the bench for Evan and Jrue.


The Sixers actually did get some good combined minutes at the
pivot tonight from Lavoy Allen, Spencer Hawes and Kwame Brown, but it's
bullpen by committee for Collins with those three guys, and they're
always giving up something having any one of them on the floor. Hawes
and Allen had some moments offensively, but couldn't keep Mavs center
Chris Kaman from doing damage in the post, so Collins brought in Kwame.
The K-Man did slow down Kaman, and even had a couple putback dunks for a
six-point, eight-rebound final line (season highs, and likely to stay
as such for a while), but also missed a couple easy looks around the
basket, and proved a late-game liability when Dallas coach Rick Carlisle
resorted to Hacking-a-Kwame in the fourth quarter. There's no easy
solution to the team's center problem—at least until that guy with the
big hair decides he's good to lace up—so Collins will have to continue
mixing and matching and hoping at the five and hoping not to get exposed
too badly on either end while doing so.

Next up: The Sixers
visit Charlotte for their first game this season against the
surprisingly decent Bobcats. Not a lot of gimmes remaining on the
schedule for the 2012 calendar year, but a lot of winnable games still.
If Evan, Jrue and Thad can keep up their hot play—I'm gonna resist all
kinds of temptation and not refer to them as any kind of Big Three just
yet—I like our chances in that one.

Stay or Go Part 9: Jalen Mills to Wendell Smallwood

Stay or Go Part 9: Jalen Mills to Wendell Smallwood

In the ninth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — part 9 is Mills to Smallwood.

Jalen Mills
Cap hit: $559K

Roob: Mills has all the tools to be a capable cornerback except world-class speed. He’s fearless, he’s cocky, he’s smart, he’s a hard worker. He just doesn’t have that make-up speed you want your top outside corners to have. I’ve seen enough positives from Mills that I definitely want him on my team. I’m not sure he’ll ever be a starter, but I definitely want him around.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Mills really got thrown into the fire as a seventh-round rookie, didn’t he? It wasn’t all good, but it wasn’t all bad either. It’s pretty obvious defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s loves Mills’ competitiveness. He doesn’t have top-end speed and that’s probably going to prevent him from ever becoming a top-of-the-line corner in the league. But there’s no reason he can’t stick around for a long time. He certainly has the right mindset to be a corner in the NFL and that’s a part of the battle. The Eagles really need to upgrade the corner position, which could greatly reduce Mills’ role, but he should still have one. 

Verdict: STAYS

Aaron Neary

Roob: Neary is a guard who spent the year on the Eagles’ practice squad.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: I’d say there’s a fair to good chance most of you have never heard of Aaron Neary. He’s an undrafted O-lineman out of Eastern Washington who was on the practice squad in 2016. I’d be lying if I told you I knew a lot about him. 

Verdict: GOES

Jason Peters
Cap hit: $11.7M

Roob: Cut Jason Peters at your own risk. You want the $9.2 million cap savings that the Eagles would gain by releasing the perennial Pro Bowler? Find it somewhere else. Because some guys simply should never be released. Peters is an all-time great Eagle and unless his level of play drops off dramatically, he should be allowed to decide when it’s time to go. Only Chuck Bednarik has been picked to more Pro Bowls than Peters in Eagles history. Peters rebounded from a subpar 2015 with a vintage Peters season this past year. Considering that the Eagles have a promising young quarterback who has to be protected and considering that Lane Johnson is one more positive test from a two-year suspension, Peters has to stay. I don’t care what the cap savings would be by getting rid of him. He’s too good and means too much to cut him. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Sure, the Eagles could save over $9 million in cap room if they cut Peters, but who would they get to play? While they’d be fine moving Lane Johnson to left tackle, they’d then be relying on Halapoulivaati Vaitai to play right tackle. And while that might be the plan in coming years, it would weaken the team in 2017. Peters might not be the dominant force he once was, but he had a very good season and he was able to play 97 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, which is huge. He gets paid a lot, but he’s still worth it. 

Verdict: STAYS

Isaac Seumalo
Cap hit: $764K

Roob: I asked Jason Kelce about Seumalo back in training camp and Kelce said he thinks the third-round pick will one day be a Pro Bowl center. Pretty clear Seumalo is the heir apparent to Kelce, it’s just a matter of when the transition occurs. Kelce wasn’t as awful as some people seem to think. He actually finished the season strong. But I think Kelce goes this offseason and Seumalo is your opening-day center in 2017. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Seumalo’s rookie year was a really interesting one. It started with a pec strain in training camp that slowed him down, but eventually ended with his getting some real experience. In all, Seumalo played six different positions in 2016: right tackle, right guard, left guard, left tackle, fullback and tight end. He didn’t even play center, which might be his most natural spot. I think he’ll have a real shot to be the team’s opening-day starter at left guard. 

Verdict: STAYS

Aziz Shittu

Roob: Rookie defensive tackle spent the year on the practice squad. Depending on what happens with Bennie Logan in free agency, the Eagles could be on the prowl for defensive tackle depth this offseason, and Shittu is an interesting guy. He had a good training camp last year coming off a solid career at Stanford and it’s fair to say he has a chance, depending on what the Eagles do in the draft and free agency. Going with my instincts on this one.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: I actually really liked Shittu coming out of Stanford and not just because I giggle like a schoolgirl every time I hear his name. For an interior defensive lineman, he has some real pass rushing potential. I think he would have been the undrafted guy to make the team over Destiny Vaeao had he not missed the spring because of the silly college graduation/quarters rule. I’d like to see him get a legitimate shot to stick here. It’s a longshot, but I’m going to take a chance with this one. I think he can make the roster. 

Verdict: STAYS

Wendell Smallwood
Cap hit: $601K

Roob: We spend so much time talking about the Eagles’ desperate needs at cornerback and wide receiver that it’s easy to forget they're just as desperate at running back. Assuming Ryan Mathews isn’t back, the Eagles will have a real need for a No. 1 back. You can’t draft or sign every position. So Smallwood could get a real shot at the lead back role. Can he handle the role or is he best suited to be a No. 2? Not sure yet. I like how Smallwood responded when he got double-digit carries against the Steelers, Falcons and Seahawks. Averaged 4.2 yards in those three games. And he had nine runs of 10 yards or more out of just 77 carries. I know Smallwood is a player. I’m just not sure where he’ll fit in. Maybe it’s the No. 28 jersey, but at worst I see him as a Correll Buckhalter-type, a solid No. 2 back who can fill in once in a while as a lead guy. At best? We’ll see. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Smallwood might not be the true answer at the running back position, but he proved enough to earn a roster spot next year and a role in the offense. I’m not sure if his ceiling is very high, but he got better throughout the year, specifically as a blocker. He’ll be back for Year 2. 

Verdict: STAYS

Flyers in familiar spot in standings as critical games before break await

Flyers in familiar spot in standings as critical games before break await

While many people believe the Flyers are in far better shape right now than where they were a year ago, the fact is, they are pretty much the same.
 
After 48 games played, the Flyers have the same number of points now as they did last season – 52.
 
The critical difference – and this is why fans say they’re better off – is that a year ago at this juncture, the Flyers were five points behind Pittsburgh in the wild-card chase.
 
Right now, they own the second wild-card spot, but there are five teams behind them within four points or less of catching them, two of which have games in hand.
 
Earlier this week, Toronto was ahead of them and the Maple Leafs have three games in hand, which makes Thursday’s showdown against the upstart Leafs at Wells Fargo Center a very critical game.
 
That game represents the back end of the Flyers' 13th back-to-back set, which starts Wednesday with a date at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.
 
If ever two games in a short week prior to the All-Star break were of prime significance, these next two seem to qualify.
 
“A hundred percent,” said Jakub Voracek, the Flyers' leading scorer with 42 points. “It’s the same for every game. Practice and come to the rink with a win in your head.”
 
To a man, the Flyers go into the nationally televised showdown with the Rangers feeling great about themselves because of the extraordinary effort they showed in Sunday’s 3-2 comeback victory against the Islanders in OT.
 
“I felt like we won the Stanley Cup with that overtime goal,” Voracek kidded. “That’s how happy we were. There was a lot of relief. Now we have to keep going.”
 
Just five points separate nine teams from the second wild-card position right now. The Eastern Conference is just as tight as it’s always been. Within the Metropolitan Division, just five points separate the Flyers from the three times tied for last in the conference - the Islanders, Sabres and Lightning.  
 
“It’s been that way,” said coach Dave Hakstol. “Right from the drop of the puck in October, it was going to be a battle. You can’t get too distracted by it. You worry about the job in hand and that’s tomorrow.”
 
The focus this week is rather narrow: two games left before the All-Star break begins on Friday.
 
“Yeah, both these games have implications directed to us in the standings,” said goalie Steve Mason, who will start against the Rangers. “Both being Eastern Conference teams and they are right with one another.
 
“We have to have a short mindset. We have the Rangers and that’s going to be a tough game going into MSG. Once that game is over, we focus on the Leafs.”
 
The Rangers have beaten the Flyers twice this season already – both in South Philly. While the games were mostly competitive, there remains a huge disparity in one critical area for both teams this season: goal differential.
 
The Rangers have a plus-40 differential while the Flyers check in at minus-18. As poor as Henrik Lundqvist (2.75 goals against average) has been this season – although his recent performances are trending upward – he still owns the Flyers.
 
In his last 15 games against the Flyers, going back to Jan. 1, 2013, Lundqvist is 11-3-0 with a 1.91 GAA and .938 save percentage.
 
“This is huge, especially in MSG,” Voracek said. “We lost two games in a row to them at home. Hopefully, we get points.”
 
In his last three starts this month, Lundqvist is 3-0, with a 1.32 GAA and .952 save percentage. In other words, the “old” King Henrik appears to have regained his throne just in time to face the Flyers.
 
“Their goaltender has been outstanding over this past stretch for them,” Hakstol said. “Their team is playing well.
 
“We have to worry more about our team. We’re not going to control what their side is going to do. We can control what we do.”