MATCHDAY: Jack Mac is Back as Union Host Portland Tonight

MATCHDAY: Jack Mac is Back as Union Host Portland Tonight

This is Timber Joey. Yes, he's a real thing. I couldn't make this up.

That guy over there is Timber Joey. He is -- quite literally -- the Portland Timbers' mascot. He stands in front of the supporters section at home games and slices off a piece of that huge log for every Portland goal. Timbers fans then toast him with organic fermented tofu beer made with non-flourinated water.

Seriously though, Portland is a really good team (and they provided the feel-good moment of the sports year so far).

The Timbers make just their second-ever visit to PPL Park tonight (0-0 draw in September, 2011) for a huge game against the Union (7:30 p.m. -- Comcast SportsNet). Philly's should-be-All-Star Jack McInerney returns to action after being released from U.S. National Team duty at the Gold Cup.

Plus, there's post-game fireworks. And Timber Joey won't be there. If I can't bring a bottle of water into PPL, I'm pretty sure he can't bring that chainsaw.

Here's the funny part about tonight's game: Everyone loves to point at the Timbers as one of the top teams in the league -- which they are. But should the Union win tonight, they would have 33 points -- the same as Portland.

With McInerney back in the fold, we should see him start again up top with Conor Casey, pushing Sebastien Le Toux back into more of the wide role he has excelled in this season. With Casey red-hot (five goals in six games), McInerney well-rested yet in shape, and Le Toux rolling along, it's not the offense I'm worried about tonight (not something I ever thought I'd say about the Union), despite Portland's stout defense (0.95 goals allowed per game -- second best in MLS).

The Union defense will have plenty to contend with, however. Until a recent loss to Columbus, Portland had run off 15 straight games without a loss, and have more than a few creative players up front who will challenge the Union backline. If you've never seen Darlington Nagbe play (and unless you stay up late and watch MLS on TV, you haven't), you should be in for a treat. He makes plenty of mistakes, but most are caused when a creative piece of skill doesn't quite go as planned.

Then he scores goals like this one in 2011.

[nbcsports_video src=//www.youtube.com/embed/2naoSiNRQ1w service=youtube width=590 height=332]

In all reality, a home draw against a team like this wouldn't be too devastating. But after recently dropping four points against Dallas and Salt Lake while settling for draws instead of seizing victory, the Union can't afford to give away points at home.

Tonight's Game:

Philadelphia Union (8-6-6, 30 points) vs. Portland Timbers (8-2-9, 33 points) -- 7:30 p.m., Comcast SportsNet

Prediction Sure To Be Way Off:

It's a good weekend and I only have a few days of work left before vacation. I'm optimistic.

Union 2, Timbers 1.

Joel Embiid finally struggles in Sixers' loss to Nuggets

Joel Embiid finally struggles in Sixers' loss to Nuggets

BOX SCORE

Joel Embiid has been making the NBA look easy. Rookie of the Month honors, five double-doubles in 13 games, seven performances of 20 points or more … all having missed the last two years rehabbing from foot injuries.

Embiid, though, still is a player learning the league. Night’s like Monday’s lackluster showing are going to happen, even if it seemed unexpected against the struggling Denver Nuggets. 

“We’ve been used to seeing Jo have superhuman nights,” Brett Brown said after the Sixers’ 106-98 loss (see Instant Replay). “I thought Joel was down tonight.” 

Embiid tallied a total 16 points (5 for 15 from the field, 1 for 3 from three, 5 for 6 from the line) with four rebounds, one assist, a career-high five blocks, three turnovers and three fouls in 25:32. 

He had a quiet first half with six points (2 for 5 from the field) and one rebound in 9:21. The biggest struggle came in the third quarter. Embiid scored a single point off a free throw and shot 0 for 6 from the floor. By the end of three, he was shooting 18.2 percent. 

The big man said he needed to be better at passing out of the double team. He committed two turnovers in the third. 

“I wasn’t getting to my spot and I wasn’t getting what I’m used to getting,” Embiid said of the first three quarters. “I’m going to go back and watch the tape and see what I did wrong.” 

Embiid bounced back for another Embiid-like offensive effort in the fourth. He dropped nine points off an efficient 3 for 4 shooting in 7:31. Still, it wasn’t enough. 

“I made a couple shots,” Embiid said. “It didn’t help us win, so I don’t think it matters.”

Brown noticed Embiid rushing his game. He also thought Embiid’s balance was off, something the big man has been dealing with all season as he continues to find his legs. 

Embiid will not play in Tuesday's game against the Grizzlies. It is part of his work load management in which he does not play both games of a back-to-back. Expect him to hone in on game film until his next matchup, and get back on the roller coaster that can be a first year in the NBA. 

“It's just part of a young man's growth,” Brown said. “It just happens. I don't think we need to read too deeply into it. I think, in many ways, to expect from time to time not as good of a performance as we have been used to is fair enough.”

Best of NHL: Bryan Rust notches hat trick as Pens score 8 in win

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Best of NHL: Bryan Rust notches hat trick as Pens score 8 in win

PITTSBURGH -- Bryan Rust had his first career hat trick, Sidney Crosby added his NHL-leading 17th goal and the Pittsburgh Penguins raced by the Ottawa Senators 8-5 on Monday night.

Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel each had a goal and two assists for Pittsburgh, and Matt Cullen and Justin Schultz also scored. The Penguins poured in six goals over the final 32 minutes after spotting the Senators a 4-2 lead. Matt Murray made 17 saves after coming in for an ineffective Marc-Andre Fleury in the second period.

Pittsburgh has won three straight overall and improved to 7-0-2 in its last nine against the Senators.

Matt Stone had a goal and two assists for Ottawa. Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone and Dion Phaneuf also scored for Ottawa, which lost in regulation for just the second time in its last eight games (see full recap).

Capitals rally late for OT win over Sabres
WASHINGTON -- Marcus Johansson scored the tying goal late in the third period and got the winner midway through overtime to lift the Washington Capitals to a 3-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night.

The goals were Johansson's third and fourth in his last five games. He has 11 for the season.

Jay Beagle added the Capitals' first even-strength goal in three games, as Washington snapped a three-game losing skid. Braden Holtby made 31 saves in the victory, the Capitals second over the Sabres in an 11-day stretch.

Kyle Okposo scored his team-leading eighth goal of the season to give the Sabres the lead in the second period. Zemgus Girgensons also scored early for Buffalo, and Robin Lehner made 30 stops for the visitors (see full recap).

Blue Jackets sweep series from Coyotes
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sam Gagner had two goals and two assists to help the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Arizona Coyotes for the second time in three days, 4-1 on Monday night.

Nick Foligno and Zach Werensky also scored for the Blue Jackets, who won for the fourth straight time and ninth of their last 12. Columbus picked up its 500th win in franchise history in sweeping the two-game season series with the Coyotes.

Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 17 shots for Columbus.

Arizona backup goaltender Louis Domingue had 30 saves, two days after the Blue Jackets hammered starter Mike Smith with a franchise-record 60 shots in a 3-2 shootout victory in Phoenix.

Arizona struck first 9:28 into the game when Alex Goligoski fed a pass on a power play to Tobias Reider, who slammed it past Bobrovsky's glove side from between the circles (see full recap).