Two For the Road: Sixers Swipe Another in Sac-Town

Two For the Road: Sixers Swipe Another in Sac-Town

Who's getting excited for a new decade of Sixers basketball? OK, not really: The team we beat last night was a sub-.500 club missing their starting back court, who also happen to be the team's two stars--not exactly a reason to start buying playoff tickets. But two wins in a row is two wins in a row, and the Kings are a good team (especially at home) even without their big guns. And most importantly, like on Monday night, it was a convincing win--not one in which the Sixers barely escaped a late surge, or pushed ahead on a last-minute bucket, but one in which they were control for the entire fourth quarter, and simply looked like the better team on the floor.

It started off inauspiciously enough, with the Sixers making unforced errors early and the Kings getting out to a 14-4 lead that should have actually been much bigger, and then Eddie Jordan compounding issues by  subbing in an entire second unit that proceeded to play even worse (2WJ not exactly killing it this year), minus a few nice layup drives by the Damaja. Things started to click in the second, though, as the Liberty Ballers tied things up for halftime, and officially pulled away in the fourth, scoring 37 points in the quarter. Final Score: Sixers 116, Kings 106--the 116 marking a season-high for the Sixers against a non-D'Antoni-coached opponent.

The offensive heroes last night were numerous, but let's start with an unexpected one--off-season re-acquisition Rodney Carney, who poured in four second-half three-pointers to help the Sixers finally start to achieve a little lift-off. I knew for a fact that Carney was capable of games like this, because he had one of them against us last year as a member of the Timberwolves, but given that his exceptionally shitty shooting (36% from the field, 28% from three) had earned him much-deserved extended bench minutes of late, I was wondering if we were going to get to see any from him this year. Well, you showed up right on time, Rod, and it would be really nice if you could stick around for another game or two.

Credit must also go to Andre Iguodala, who flirted with a triple-double for the second straight game with a 19-7-9 line. Best of all, his scoring came on only ten shots--I had really hoped that the return of Iverson and Williams would help take some of the pressure off 'Dre offensively, and so far, he's really responded, hitting his jumper with a regularity we haven't seen from him all year. Speaking of Sweet Lou and AI, they wasn't too shabby neither, scoring 42 points between the two of them, and grabbing an impressive nine boards as well. A half-dozen Sixers reached double figures last night, a good reflection of how dangerous this team can be when loaded with their full offensive arsenal.

Good as I'm feeling about the last two games, it's important not to overlook something--there's no way this team keeps up their hot shooting. Yes, they're better now with their full roster back, but they're not 59% from the field-type better (as they were on Monday), nor are they 57% from deep-type better (as they were last night). Karma owed them a couple games like this, but it's not going to last--the team will creep back closer to their regular season totals of 45% and 34%, respectively, and when they do, we better hope they're also willing to grind out a couple W's the hard way, too. Those'll be the games that show if this recent stretch is just a pleasant fluke, or the real sign of a team developing some character.

Still, two wins in a row--been a couple of months since we were treated to that, huh? Let's enjoy it while we can, and maybe try to press our luck tomorrow night against the Clips in LA. It is a new year. Hopefully.

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake continues to rack up the accolades.

A couple of weeks after being named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, the rising Philadelphia Union star was named to the MLS Best XI team as one of the league’s top players in 2016.

The rest of the team included:

• Forwards Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), David Villa (New York City FC) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)
• Midfielders Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), Sacha Kljestan (Red Bulls), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas) and Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
• Defenders Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids) and Jelle Van Damme (Galaxy)

Blake’s inclusion on the Best XI is not a surprise considering he already took home top goalkeeper honors. Even though he didn’t have the best numbers in the league, he made the spectacular look ordinary in his first full season as an MLS starter.

But it is unique for the Union, who haven’t had a player make the Best XI since Sebastien Le Toux was included for his 14-goal, 11-assist effort in Philly's 2010 expansion season.

Union winger Chris Pontius, who recently won the 2016 MLS Breakout Player of the Year award, made Best XI while with D.C. United in 2012. Former Union players to be honored on the prestigious list were Bakary Soumare with Chicago in 2008 and Justin Mapp with Chicago in 2006.

Another big honor like this will likely only increase the chatter that Blake could be sold to a big team in Europe soon. But a couple of weeks ago, the Union goalkeeper insisted his only focus for 2017 is on Philadelphia.

“From a personal standpoint, I’m hoping to have an even better season than 2016,” he said at the time. “To be able to go in and be consistent and do everything I can for the Union — and maybe be the goalkeeper to get them their first [MLS] Cup.”

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

There’s a number of reasons why the Flyers have a five-game winning streak, why they’re playing better hockey, and why they own the No. 1 wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
 
Perhaps the biggest reason of all is goaltender Steve Mason, who has won four of those games, compiling a 1.71 goals against average and .945 save percentage during that span.
 
Mason was named the NHL’s first “Star of the Week” on Monday. St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones were second and third stars.
 
“The team is on a roll right now and I’m a benefactor of that,” said Mason, who needs a win Tuesday against Florida to tie his career-high streak of five set Dec. 17-30 in 2013, during his first, full season as a Flyer.
 
“There’s strong play in front of me. The team is playing a little tighter in our defensive zone of late and making the goaltender reads that much more simple. 
 
“Right now, there’s a comfort level with the guys in front of me … Winning five in a row is nice and we’d like to keep making ground in the standings.”
 
His four victories last week were tops in the NHL. Among them, he had a season-high 45 saves in a 3-2 shootout win against Boston. 
 
Like many goalies, Mason prefers action. Games such as the 3-2 overtime win at Ottawa last week when the Senators only fired 21 shots, bother him.
 
“Those games, when you are not getting a lot of shots, the ones you do get will be a high-grade scoring chance,” he said. “And when you’re sitting around a few minutes not seeing the puck and all of a sudden see a chance like that …
 
“It’s more difficult to play [those games] than the games where there is a constant workload and you’re not thinking, but just playing. For myself personally, those are the games I enjoy the most. When I see a lot of pucks.”
 
The Flyers have seen dramatic improvement over the past month in their overall defensive play, from both their defensemen in down-low coverage in the slow and with their forwards on the backcheck.
 
Mason said the team has gone through “growing pains” with trying to integrate some younger bodies to the lineup this season – Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Nick Cousins  come to mind.
 
“You have to familiar with everybody,” he said. “Have a constant lineup where guys go out  shift after shift and night after night, you know what to expect from one another. When you have that kind of confidence in guys, it makes playing easier.” 
 
Mason’s 4-2 victory at Nashville on Sunday saw him go over .500 for the first time this season with a 9-8-3 record. 
 
His GAA is coming down at 2.76 while his save percentage has risen to .904.
 
“I was aware of it obviously, just because of the way the year started,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of work to get it above the .900 level.
 
“We’re obviously going to continue to work at getting it even better. The way the team’s playing right now and the way everybody’s clicking, we’re going at a good pace right now.”