Flyers-Capitals: On the Eastern Conference Ones and Twos edition

Flyers-Capitals: On the Eastern Conference Ones and Twos edition

With first place in the conference, home ice advantage, and positive momentum heading into the playoffs on the line, no March game is meaningless. Two potential points loom large regardless of whether they're coming out of the pockets of Eastern Conference playoff teams, bubble hunters, or Western Conference southern staters. But I'll be damned if games like tonight's tilt between the East-leading Flyers and the second-seeded Caps don't feel about 10 times bigger than any of the games the Orange & Black just played below the Carolinas.

With only two points separating the top two seeds in the East and four separating the top three, these points are huge.

Over the next three days, the Flyers (96) will face both the white-hot Capitals (94) and the Penguins (92). Who's got the measuring stick?

For fans and franchise alike, the Flyers will enter the playoffs with championship expectations. Anything less is entirely unacceptable, and losing a best-of-seven series to either of this week's opponents would be worse monumentally disappointing. Knowing those two fanbases as we have come to, there would be plenty of insult to heap on our injury. 

So although the biggest prize tonight is two points in a close standings race, it's impossible not to watch the game wondering how these teams stack up in the playoffs. Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green will be out for the Caps, Chris Pronger for the Flyers, so we're not seeing either side's arsenal fully loaded (not by a long shot for Washington). But there's been a decent rivalry building between these clubs, particularly in the period since the Flyers bounced the Caps in the 2008 playoffs. I'll always remember the pizza box on Joffrey Lupul's back when the Caps fans started throwing things on the ice.

The Caps have have lost just once in the month of March. The Flyers are undoubtedly playing with something to prove as they try to pull out of a down month. Both sides should be pretty fired up when they take the ice for tonight's nationally televised (Versus) 7:30 start. 

Coming off a masterful performance in Dallas, Sergei Bobrovsky is starting again tonight. With 11 games left, are we seeing the beginning of his being ramped up to be the playoff starter? Or will Lavvy keep us guessing until the final night of the regular season?

Phillies sign OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts

Phillies sign OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts

The Phillies made a couple quiet additions as the winter meetings ended, signing veteran outfielder Daniel Nava and lefty reliever Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts.

Nava, 34 in February, is a left-handed hitter who can play the outfield corners and first base. He came up with the Red Sox and became a fan favorite in Boston in 2010 as a 27-year-old rookie. Some Phillies fans will remember him for hitting a grand slam off Joe Blanton in his first major-league plate appearance.

Nava had a few decent years in Boston, the best of which was 2013, when he had 536 plate appearances and hit .303/.385/.445 with 29 doubles, 12 homers and 66 RBIs. 

Nava's numbers and opportunities have dropped every year since. He was designated for assignment by Boston in 2015, latched on with the Rays, signed the next year with the Angels and was traded late in the season to the Royals.

Over the last two seasons, Nava has hit just .208, albeit with an on-base percentage 99 points higher because of his 30 walks and 10 hit by pitches.

Burnett, 34, has spent five of the last seven seasons in the Nationals' bullpen. He had a 2.85 ERA in 283 appearances from 2009-12 and parlayed that success into a two-year, $7.25 million contract with the Angels. However, he barely pitched in 2013 and 2014 for the Halos because of an elbow tear. He returned to the Nats last season and allowed two runs in 5⅔ innings.

Burnett, perhaps more so than Nava, has a chance to fill a role with the Phillies if he can stay healthy. He's shown he can get outs at the highest level, posting a 2.38 ERA in 2012 with 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings and a 2.14 ERA with 8.9 K/9 in 2010. That was a long time ago now, and Burnett's fastball has dipped from averaging 90-91 mph to 88.

According to Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith, Burnett will receive a $1.25 million salary if he makes the team and can earn another $1.75 million in incentives based on his number of appearances.

Burnett has an opt-out date of March 26, meaning he can become a free agent a week before the regular season begins if it looks to him like he isn't in the Phils' plans.

Nava's chances at cracking the opening-day roster seem longer because the Phillies are expected to make more depth signings between now and the start of camp. They've prioritized finding some offense in the corner outfield and that could come in the form of more minor-league deals, a guaranteed contract or trade. One potential fit I examined last week was Mariners outfielder Seth Smith, a hitter more proven than Nava (see story).

These minor-league deals were commonplace for Phillies general manager Matt Klentak last offseason, when the only free agent he signed to a major-league deal was reliever David Hernandez. 

Last season, three players who were signed to minor-league deals with invites to spring training made the team on opening day: outfielder Cedric Hunter, utilityman Emmanuel Burriss and reliever James Russell.

Others, such as former closers Edward Mujica, Ernesto Frieri and Andrew Bailey, failed to make the team out of camp. Bailey eventually earned a call-up; the other two didn't.

Former Sixer Lou Williams lighting it up with Lakers off the bench

Former Sixer Lou Williams lighting it up with Lakers off the bench

Former Sixers point guard and Meek Mill collaborator Lou Williams is enjoying quite the run off the bench for the Lakers recently.

Over Los Angeles' last four games, Williams has posted totals of 40, 38, 24, and 35 points. 

The six-man is averaging 34.5 points per game over the stretch, and his 137 points are the most off the bench in a four-game span by any player since 1970-71, when stats were first recorded, per Elias Sports Bureau, via ESPN. Williams is now averaging 19.3 points this season, which is 4.4 more than his highest average with the Sixers.

Williams isn’t the only player who used to play for the Sixers that is playing well for the Lakers this year. Nick “Swaggy P” Young, who also comes off the bench, is averaging 13.3 points per game. Just a few weeks ago, Swaggy P stole a pass intended for Lou Williams, and then proceeded to hit a game winner against the Thunder. Swaggy P, however, is currently sidelined with a right calf strain, but is getting closer to a return.

"Lou Will" was also talked about last April during Kobe Bryant’s final NBA game, when he was beefing on Twitter with another former Philadelphia athlete, LeSean McCoy.