Sixers stay undefeated in 2014, clinch not having worst record of all-time with 10th W

Sixers stay undefeated in 2014, clinch not having worst record of all-time with 10th W

Once upon a time, there were knowledgeable basketball folk who predicted the 2013-14 Philadelphia 76ers would present a legitimate challenge to the Sixer team of four decades earlier and their record for all-time futility in an 82-win season, when the squad went 9-73 back in '73. As one of his Bold Predictions for the '13-'14 season, Grantland's Zach Lowe went out on a limb to predict that the Sixers would in fact reach double-digit Ws this year, and even then he seemed to do so with great trepidation. It didn't seem like it was totally off the table, at least.

The team's unexpected 3-0 start quashed a lot of that talk, but when the team went on to lose 19 of their next 23, it seemed the Sixers might at least cut it a little closer than we'd be comfortable with. However, we can now officially put that idea to bed, as the Sixers closed out the Denver Nuggets on the road last night for their second win in a row and tenth win on the season, officially eliminating them from contention of matching the '72-'73 bunch's crappiness. (Pop those Natty Light cans, Fred Carter and Kevin Loughery.)

The Denver win is notable for a couple other reasons as well. For one, it's the first time the team's won back-to-back games since that previously mentioned 3-0 start, nearly going two whole months without getting consecutive wins. It's also just their third road victory of the season, with the second coming just one game earlier in Los Angeles. (Math majors may also be able to connect the dots and conclude that this is also the team's first time all season of winning two straight on the road.)

And it was a damn impressive win, too. A lot of it was probably the luck of catching the Nuggets at the exact right time, with Denver reeling from a season-high seven-game losing streak and quickly dropping dangerously underwater in the stacked Western Conference, but it was still one of the best team-wide performances we've seen from the boys all season. Seven players scored in double figures, four registered at least three assists, and everyone rebounded, with all eight players who played at least ten minutes grabbing at least four boards on the night.

More encouraging was the defense. It wasn't exactly an '08 Celtics-type performance, as the Nuggets still scored in triple digits, though a lot of that was inflated by the game's occasional breakneck pace, as well as the refs' impossibly tight calling of the game in terms of fouls. But the Sixers did a much better job rotating and closing out on shooters--the Nuggets went just 5-25 from deep, which was partly due to their own sustained shooting struggles, but also largely because the Sixers weren't giving up open looks on 20 of those 25 attempts. They scrambled, they helped, they occasionally broke down but didn't stop trying. It's some long-overdue but very necessary improvement for the Sixers if they want to take a step back to respectability.

Of course, any such steps the Sixers take comes with an accompanying dread that they'll get too competent and end up winning themselves out of the high lottery. Fair, though Sixer fans can at least take solace in the knowledge that they're far from the only tankers on a recent run of competent ball--Milwaukee has won two of their last five after starting the season 5-21, Utah has actually gone 4-3 in their last seven to reach double-digit wins themselves, and Sacramento has also hit its stride post-Rudy Gay trade, winning three of their last five (including Ws over the contending Heat and Rockets). The Sixers will actually head to Sactown tomorrow night to see which of the two teams have dug themselves further out of their early-season rut, and my money is on the Kings emerging victorious.

In any event, it is good to see that Michael Carter-Williams--who struggled a bit from the field tonight, going 5-15, but got to the line eight times and still managed a triple-double-flirting final line of 15 points, nine boards and six assists--really does have a huge impact on this team's ability to win games, as the Sixers are now 9-11 with MCW in the starting lineup and just 1-10 with him out of it. As the Sixers' one clear bedrock player for the future already on their active roster, it's pretty nice to see him have such a profound effect on the team's fortunes, and we can only hope he gets more impactful from here. (Don't be surprised if the Sixers start sitting him random games with earaches, sore throats and other bogus-seeming ailments just to ensure his impact on the Ballers isn't too considerable just yet.

In any event, the Sixers are officially fun as hell to watch again. Happy New Year to them and to us, and may all our Evan Turners come true in 2014.

Best of NHL: Senators beat Blues, jump Flyers to take over 2nd wild card

Best of NHL: Senators beat Blues, jump Flyers to take over 2nd wild card

ST. LOUIS -- Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone each scored twice to lead the Ottawa Senators over the St. Louis Blues 6-4 on Tuesday night.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Bobby Ryan also scored for the Senators, who won their fourth straight at Scottrade Center for the first time in team history. Mike Condon made 19 saves.

Paul Stastny, Kevin Shattenkirk, Alexander Steen and Patrik Berglund scored for the Blues, who had their two-game winning streak snapped. Carter Hutton made 18 saves.

Stone's third goal in four games at the 2:35 mark of the third period was the winner. Exactly a minute after Steen tied it, Stone stole Jaden Schwartz's pass to score his 14th goal of the season, giving the Senators a 4-3 lead.

With the win, Ottawa is currently in possession of the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot, leapfrogging the Flyers, who are idle this week (see full recap).

Stars hold on for 7-6 win over Rangers
NEW YORK -- The Dallas Stars gave up an early goal for the third straight game. However, this time they quickly bounced back, took two big leads and held on for a win.

Patrick Sharp scored twice, Jamie Benn and Patrick Eaves had a goal and two assists each and the Stars got a wild 7-6 victory over the New York Rangers on Tuesday night.

Dallas fell behind just 27 seconds in as Derek Stepan scored on the Rangers' first shot. On Monday, the Stars gave up a goal 19 seconds into a 4-1 loss at Buffalo, and Minnesota scored 1:19 into a 5-4 win at Dallas on Saturday night.

In this one, the Stars rallied and led 4-1 and 7-3 before pulling out their third win in nine games (3-5-1) (see full recap).

Dubinsky scores twice as Jackets beat 'Canes
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Brandon Dubinsky hadn't scored a goal since Dec. 9 at Detroit, a 17-game stretch during which he had chances but couldn't find the back of the net. The drought ended Tuesday night, maybe helping Columbus end a team-wide lull in the process.

Dubinsky scored in the second and third periods, Boone Jenner had a goal and an assist and the Blue Jackets beat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1.

The Blue Jackets got their third win in seven games since ending a 16-game winning streak and pulled even with Washington atop the unforgiving Metropolitan Division.

"We wanted to reset for sure," Dubinsky said. "We haven't played that well, obviously, in the last six or so games. We wanted to get back to the way we play,” (see full recap).

Matthews caps 3-goal burst, Leafs top Sabres
TORONTO -- Auston Matthews, Leo Komarov and Matt Martin each scored in a nine-minute span in the second period and the Toronto Maple Leafs rallied to beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 on Tuesday night for their 10th win in 13 games.

Toronto came back after trailing 2-0 through 20 minutes, getting its first victory this season when behind after one period (1-8-1).

It wasn't all rosy for the Leafs, though. Top defenseman Morgan Rielly left after the first period with a lower-body injury.

Frederik Andersen made 24 saves for Toronto, and James van Riemsdyk also scored.

Kyle Okposo, Evander Kane and William Carrier each scored for Buffalo. Robin Lehner and Anders Nilsson allowed four goals combined on 32 shots (see full recap).

Best of NBA: DeRozan scores 36 as Raptors down Nets, 119-109

Best of NBA: DeRozan scores 36 as Raptors down Nets, 119-109

NEW YORK -- DeMar DeRozan had 36 points and 11 rebounds, Cory Joseph scored a career-high 33 and the Toronto Raptors beat the free-falling Brooklyn Nets 119-109 on Tuesday night.

Toronto won its fourth straight game and extended Brooklyn's losing streak to 11 in a row. The Nets have not won since Dec. 26.

Terrence Ross added 15 points for the Raptors, who opened the game with an 11-0 run but fell behind after the first quarter.

Brook Lopez had 28 points for the Nets. Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson scored 14 apiece.

Toronto took a 92-85 lead into the fourth quarter and never looked back. DeRozan led the way with 10 points in the third period, equaling LeVert's total in the quarter.

Lopez and Joseph each scored 14 in the second (see full story).

Mavericks edge Bulls, 99-98, for 3rd straight win on late Matthews' 3
CHICAGO -- Wesley Matthews made a go-ahead 3-pointer from the wing with 12 seconds left, and the Dallas Mavericks beat the Chicago Bulls 99-98 on Tuesday night for their first three-game winning streak of the season.

Six players scored in double figures for the Mavericks, including all five starters. Harrison Barnes had 20 points, Seth Curry added 18 and Dirk Nowitzki finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Dallas trailed 98-96 after Jimmy Butler made a long jumper over Matthews with 23 seconds left, but Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle decided against a timeout and Deron Williams drove into the lane before kicking out to Matthews for the 3.

Chicago had one last chance, but Dwyane Wade missed a potential game-winning jumper from the corner on his 35th birthday as time expired (see full story).

Dragic scores 21 and Heat stun Rockets, 109-103, despite Harden's triple-double
MIAMI -- Goran Dragic had 21 points and eight assists, Wayne Ellington scored 18 off the bench and the Miami Heat overcame another triple-double from James Harden to beat the Houston Rockets 109-103 on Tuesday night.

Dion Waiters scored 17, Tyler Johnson had 16 and James Johnson added 15 for the Heat. Hassan Whiteside finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds.

Harden had 40 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists for the Rockets (32-12), his 13th triple-double of the season. He shot 12 for 30 from the field and got his triple-double with an assist to Montrezl Harrell with 12.6 seconds left, an uncontested dunk with the Heat simply waiting for the clock to run out.

Harrell had 13 points for the Rockets, who got 12 from Patrick Beverley.

There were 19 ties and 15 lead changes in a game that was back-and-forth for 42 minutes, before the Heat finally took control (see full story).

Leonard's 34 points rally Spurs past Timberwolves, 122-114
SAN ANTONIO -- Kawhi Leonard had 34 points and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a strong start by the Minnesota Timberwolves for a 122-114 victory Tuesday night.

Leonard's fourth straight 30-point game helped him become the first San Antonio player to score 950 points in the season's first half since Tim Duncan in 2003.

Coming off a career-high 38 on Saturday against Phoenix in Mexico City, Leonard was 12 for 17 from the field.

LaMarcus Aldridge added 29 points on 12-for-20 shooting, spoiling Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau's 59th birthday.

San Antonio had difficulty with Minnesota's explosive starting lineup. Karl-Anthony Towns had 27 points and 16 rebounds, and Ricky Rubio added 21 points and 14 assists. Zach LaVine scored 18, Gorgui Dieng had 17 and Andrew Wiggins 10 (see full story).