Flyers-Pens: Where Backlund At?!

Flyers-Pens: Where Backlund At?!

We've already bitterly admitted overall ownership at the hands of the Penguins in recent years. The Flyers owned them for decades, but for this stretch, we've on the losing end. 

A win today won't undo that, it won't clinch the Flyers a playoffs spot (the Pens can clinch, however), nor will it really instill any lasting confidence—at least not on its own. The best we can hope for is a win that will remind the Flyers of the team they were expected to be this season. That, and beating the Pens is always a great thing no matter what the circumstances. If I remember correctly, that is.It's probably safe to say that the Flyers are at the lowest point of their season right now. Four straight losses against teams that aren't among the league's elite, including Thursday's lose-from-ahead debacle against the Wild. They finally looked good to start a game, going up 2-0. Then they took their foot off the gas offensively, lapsed defensively, and got pathetic goaltending at the worst possible time. 

Play like that today and they may leave the building with a 7-1 loss and somehow even less confidence than they took to Pittsburgh, even if the Penguins aren't at their best either. 

The Pens are likely to be without Evgeni Malkin, a major break in favor of the Flyers, and Sergei Gonchar could be out too. They've also lost three straight heading into today's action, and six of their last eight. There's no doubt Pittsburgh will make the playoffs, and be a true contender when they do. But at least for the moment, heading into a huge game for the Flyers, the Pens are struggling somewhat. They did battle hard in their last one though, a 4-3 loss to the best team in the league. The Capitals may have reaffirmed their dominance, but it took a shootout to dispatch the Penguins. 

While two rivals on losing streaks will faceoff today, one is still playing at a higher level than the other. 

Among the myriad concerns of the Flyers, they currently have no answer at goaltending. Pick yourself up off the floor

Perhaps this isn't the ideal opponent or setting to toss Johan Backlund out there for his NHL debut, but does anyone really want to see Brian Boucher face the Pens today?

Backlund isn't your ordinary NHL rookie. The Swedish import is 28 years old, and he won't be wide-eyed when he sees #87 skating during warmups, having played for his country nationally and for years in the Elite league. I won't bother throwing his stats with the Phantoms at you. They mean nothing today, and they're not particularly stunning in one direction or the other anyway, although the team has been impressed enough with him. Left with no real choice in the matter, we're looking at Backlund's start as a positive for the Flyers, who need any change they can get right now. 

We've already seen them initially step up their game in front of the likes of a cast-aside in Ray Emery, as well another in Michael Leighton this season. Leighton played well in his own right, but his successes were about as surprising to me as Brad Lidge's 2008 run was. With those guys though, we had some book on them. I got nothing on Backlund, and I don't have a clue what to expect. 

Paul Holmgren wants to see him play, and so do I, for two reasons—curiosity and desperation. Whether we'll know much about him after today remains to be seen. Pittsburgh can light any goalie up, and in order to give Backlund a fair grade, we'd have to see the guys in front of him play at least a pretty good game for 60 minutes. Their lapses lately have certainly exposed the inadequacies of Boucher.   

So in yet another gamethread, we'll say the same thing again, because the Flyers haven't bucked the trend yet: If they can't take the ice ready for 60 or more minutes of battle-oriented hockey today, they simply can't do it at all. Their backs have been against the wall for weeks, yet the results haven't improved. They need to play physical hockey, if nothing else, and they need to find a way to get better shots on goal. 

Crosby will likely get his points—he always does against our guys. Say what you will about The Kid. The guy is highly visible when it matters most, as much as it pains a hater to say that. The Flyers need to answer that with some step-up of their own. From the sounds of it, even they don't know if they can. 

We'll see today at 1 PM. 

Photos By Dave Sandford, Len Redkoles for Getty Images. 

NBA Notes: Grizzlies hire Heat assistant David Fizdale as head coach

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NBA Notes: Grizzlies hire Heat assistant David Fizdale as head coach

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The Grizzlies have hired David Fizdale as their new coach and will introduce him in Memphis at a news conference Tuesday.

Memphis announced the move Sunday. The hiring was first reported Thursday by The Associated Press and others. The Grizzlies did not disclose terms, but Yahoo! Sports reported Fizdale agreed to a four-year contract.

General manager Chris Wallace said in a statement that the Grizzlies are confident Fizdale is the right person to help Memphis build on its success.

Fizdale has spent the past eight years with the Miami Heat, the past two as assistant head coach to Erik Spoelstra.

The new Grizzlies coach says he feels fortunate to have worked with some of the NBA's greatest coaches and players and believes he's ready for the challenge of being a head coach (see full story).

Antetokounmpo brothers combine for 133 points in charity game vs. Porzingis
ATHENS, Greece -- NBA stars Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks and Kristaps Porzingis of the New York Knicks battled it out in Athens in a game of streetball Sunday, watched by a crowd of 5,000.

Played in an open court in Greece's largest public high school, the "Antetokounbros Streetball Event" ended 123-123. No overtime was played.

Porzingis scored 21 points but was overshadowed by team member Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Giannis' older brother, who scored 69. The two had played for a few games together last season, when Thanasis was signed by the Knicks on a 10-day contract. Giannis Antetokounmpo led the other team with 64 points. The other players were a mixture of veteran pros and amateurs.

On Saturday, Porzingis and the Antetonkoumpo brothers were given a private tour of the Acropolis Museum (see full story).  

Watch Ben Simmons rainbow kick his way into your hearts

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Watch Ben Simmons rainbow kick his way into your hearts

Lately, you've heard and read a lot about potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and how he could be a Sixer soon. And you're going to hear and read a ton more about potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and how he could be a Sixer soon for the next three weeks and change.

But who cares about hearing and reading about him when we can actually watch him do some cool stuff instead?

Simmons posted the following video to his Twitter and Instagram accounts earlier on Sunday.

A lovely little strike on the pitch right past the keeper, something, something, Wayne Rooney, Leo Messi, Ronaldo's abs. That's the extent of my soccer knowledge. Though a guy who told me he knows some about soccer (I'll take his word for it) said that move is called a "rainbow kick." That sounds good. Let's go with that.

Simmons even tagged Messi in the Instagram vid. No response yet, though.

I like to think I know a little more about basketball than I do about soccer, so that swish after the rainbow kick was pretty nice.

I'm not sure how foot-eye coordination translates to NBA success. But seeing as how traveling doesn't really exist in the NBA anyway, maybe Simmonds can get away with it.

Oh, wait, I've got an idea: Imagine he and Jo-Jo, who likes himself some futbol, kicking it up the court then finishing it off with the rainbow-kick alley oop.

Yeah, that's the good stuff.

Sixers to host 6 more prospects for pre-draft workouts Monday

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Sixers to host 6 more prospects for pre-draft workouts Monday

After attending private, agency-run pre-draft workouts, the Sixers will host six players Monday at their practice facility for more workouts.

Joel Bolomboy, James Webb III, Tim Quarterman, Brannen Greene, Danuel House and Isaiah Taylor are all members of the third group of prospects to participate in team-run workouts in Philadelphia.

Bolomboy, a power forward, averaged 17.1 points, 12.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks his senior season at Weber State.

Quarterman entered the draft following his junior year at LSU, where he played with Ben Simmons. The point guard averaged 11.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game last year in Baton Rouge.

Webb, a forward, left Boise State following his sophomore year. He averaged 15.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals last season.

Greene declared for the draft after his junior year at Kansas. The guard averaged 5.4 points and 2.1 rebounds while shooting 49.2 percent from three last season for the Jayhawks.

House, a guard, transferred from the University of Houston to play his junior and senior seasons at Texas A&M. He posted 15.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists last season.

After three seasons at Texas, Taylor, a point guard, declared for the draft. He averaged 15.1 points, 2.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists this past season while helping the Longhorns reach the NCAA Tournament.

The Sixers hold the first, 24th and 26th picks in the draft, which takes place on June 23 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.