State of the Union: Looking at the Sixers' 2012 Season At the All-Star Break

State of the Union: Looking at the Sixers' 2012 Season At the All-Star Break

This is probably going to come off as insincere—because I guess in
reality, it sort of is—but I'm half-glad that the Sixers dropped their
last five games. Or, perhaps to be more accurate, I'm glad that they
dropped their last five games when they did. More specifically,
I'm glad that they did it on this side of the All-Star Break—not only so
that the team can have a chance to recuperate and hopefully return with
a new sense of purpose, but so that the front office can have a chance
to take a good, hard look at this team and properly size up exactly what
they have.

Because, in the spirit of honesty I've already cultivated, let's say
it straight: This is not a championship team. I think we all knew that,
even at the team's high-water mark of beating four playoff teams in
five games, but some of us (myself included) had allowed all the winning
to get us playing the ol' What If game. What if the Magic or Pacers
knocked off the Heat? What if Derrick Rose never got healthy? What if
the Celtics and Knicks never got their act together? Could the Sixers,
41-41 last year and not expected to be notably better this year,
actually be the team to come out of the Eastern Conference?

The answer now to all of that would appear to pretty clearly be
"no."

Not that the Sixers are exactly in free-fall after their five-game
losing streak—they were all tough games against good teams, four of
them were on the road, the Ballers were at least competitive in all of
them, and they all came without starting center Spencer Hawes (and two
of them without starting power forward Elton Brand). But what this
streak has exposed for the Sixers are the team's very real flaws—they
don't have a real paint presence, either to intimidate on defense or get
easy buckets on offense, they don't have a true go-to scorer to bail
out a stagnant offensive set and make plays late in games, and they
don't have the experience to stay composed when things start to go bad.

Moreover, the advantages they had at the beginning of this
lockout-compressed season are starting to dissipate. When the season
kicked off, the Sixers were able to jump out on teams by virtue of
having personnel that stayed consistent from last season, and having
young legs that didn't take as long to play themselves into shape as
some of the older teams. As other teams that experienced player turnover
in the off-season finally start to gel, and the veterans get their legs
back under them, the Sixers can't really do that anymore. And this is
true all across the league, where the experienced, veteran teams
(Mavericks, Spurs, Heat, Lakers to an extent) are really starting to
thrive, while the younger, deeper teams (Sixers, Blazers, Pacers,
Nuggets) are crashing hard back down to earth.

But like I say, this might not be such a terrible thing. If we had
gone into the All-Star Break just a little hotter, say at 23-11 instead
of 20-14, the Sixers' front office might have been so enchanted with the
idea of getting a top seed that they might think a couple cosmetic
trades—trading a young guy and a draft pick for a pricey veteran backup
big man, for instance—could be enough to help put the team over the top,
when in reality it would probably just make the difference between a
second-round loss in five games and a second-round loss in six games, in
all likelihood. The team is still too far away from the ultimate goal
to make such potentially future-mortgaging deals a good bargain, so it's
good that we know that for sure now, rather than after it's too late.

In my opinion, it's better that we continue to let it ride with this
group, and just take whatever post-season success comes or doesn't
come, without reacting too strongly to whatever the results are. That's
not to say that I don't think Rod Thorn should pick up his phone the
next few weeks—if there's a big deal out there, one that could net the
Sixers a superstar or near-superstar player still in his prime, of
course Thorn should at least listen. But opportunities for such deals
are few and far between, and in the meantime, I'd rather see the Sixers
play out the season with the horses they've got then trade for anything
less than a true impact player. (And despite how well he's been playing
this season and despite his first All-Star selection, I'd still be in
favor of the team trading Andre Iguodala, though I acknowledge now that
this is not likely to happen.)

In the meantime, though...man, I hope that Coach Collins starts to
give a little more responsibility to Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner.
Neither of them have necessarily deserved it recently, but that's at
least partly a consequence of the fact that Collins doesn't seem to
trust his young guys at all, cutting Evan's minutes and taking the ball
out of Jrue's hands. There are games where it seems like Dougie would
run every single play through Iguodala, Elton Brand and Lou Williams,
and while those guys might currently be able to shoulder the load a
little better than Evan and Jrue, is it worth failing to develop these
guys to their full potential, and risking alienating them altogether?

It would be a shame of near-catastrophic proportions if we had to
trade one or both of these guys because they just couldn't get along
with Collins, and it would be nearly as bad if we had to get rid of
Collins to placate the young guys. I really hope some sort of compromise
between playing for the present and playing for the future can be
reached here, where Collins can look to increase the duo's role with the
team without sacrificing their chances in too many (if any) actual
games. It's important, dammit.

Meanwhile, there should be another priority for the team
post-All-Star Break that has little to do with their final record:
Getting Spencer Hawes back 100% healthy. I've wondered if the minor
silver lining to Spencer's extended injury woes since starting the
season like an MIP candidate is that he might have hurt his contract
value to the point where the Sixers can sign him in the off-season
without totally blowing their cap space, but that just presents another
problem—we still don't know just how good this guy is.

Were the numbers Spencer put up the first few weeks of the season
what we can expect from him year-round, or was it just the result of a
small sample size and some poor scouting reports? And even if he is for
real, will his persistent back and knee issues make it a moot point? We
need to at least get some kind of read on this before season's end, so
we have an idea of just how much Spence is worth spending for when he
becomes a free agent in the off-season. Otherwise, we might end up
letting him walk and having him burn us elsewhere, or over-committing to
him and paying a limping stiff eight digits a year for the next
half-decade. I'm not sure which is worse, and obviously I'd prefer to
avoid either.

Even with the recent losing streak, it's been a fun season so
far—and should be a fun All-Star weekend, with Turner playing in the
Rising Stars game (Go Team Chuck!) and Iguodala of course repping the
East in the Game proper. But when the season kicks off again next
Tuesday against the Pistons, it'll be critical that the team stays the
course, playing for the present but keeping one eye towards the future,
and not letting their emotions get the better of them in one direction
or the other. We still have the chance to make this season a real
success for the 76ers, whether it be through a playoff series win,
another year of solid player development, or a legitimately team
re-shaping new acquisition. And hey—we could still get that new mascot
by year end. You never know.

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Chris Kunitz beat Craig Anderson 5:09 into the second overtime to give the defending champions a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.

Kunitz scored twice, his first two of the playoffs. Justin Schultz added the other in his return from an upper-body injury, and Matt Murray stopped 28 shots on his 23rd birthday.

The Penguins are trying to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998 to win back-to-back titles. They will host Western Conference champion Nashville in Game 1 on Monday night.

Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel scored for Ottawa. The Senators rallied twice to tie it, with Dzingel making it 2-2 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Craig Anderson made 39 saves, but couldn't get a handle on Kunitz's shot from just outside the left circle. The Senators are 0-6 in Game 7s in franchise history.

The Senators forced a return trip to Pittsburgh -- where they lost 7-0 loss in Game 5 on Sunday -- by leaning heavily on Anderson in a 2-1 Game 6 victory, putting both teams at odds with history.

Ottawa came in 0-for-25 years in winner-take-all games, while the Penguins were 0-7 in Game 7s at home in series in which they also dropped Game 6.

Ottawa coach Guy Boucher told his resilient team to not get caught up in the big picture but instead focus on the small ones, a recipe that carried the Senators throughout a bumpy transition under their first-year head coach to the brink of the franchise's second Cup appearance.

The Penguins, trying to become the first defending champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009, came in confident they would advance if they could replicate their dominant Game 6, when they were undone only by Anderson's brilliance.

Pittsburgh has been nearly unflappable in the face of adversity under Mike Sullivan, going 12-2 in playoff games following a loss over the last two springs. He encouraged his team to "just play," code for fighting through Ottawa's neutral zone-clogging style and the bumping, grabbing and pulling that comes along with it.

A chance to play for their sport's ultimate prize on the line, the sheets of open ice the Penguins found so easily in Games 4-6 closed up. For most of the first 30 minutes, loose pucks hopped over sticks to spoil some scoring opportunities while Anderson and Murray gobbled up the rest.

Kunitz, relegated to the fourth line since returning from injury in the second round, picked up his first postseason goal in a calendar year when he completed a two-on-one with Conor Sheary -- a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 -- by slipping the puck by Anderson 9:55 into the second period.

The momentum lasted all of 20 seconds. Ottawa responded immediately with Stone -- who stretched his left skate to stay onside -- fired a wrist shot that handcuffed Murray.

Pittsburgh kept coming. Schultz, returning after missing four games with an upper-body injury, zipped a shot from the point through Kunitz's screen and into the net with 8:16 left in the third.

Once again, the Penguins could not hold the lead. Dzingel set up at the right post and banged home a rebound off Erik Karlsson's shot that hit the left post and caromed off Murray's back right to Dzingel's stick.

Notes
The home team is 21-20 in overtime Game 7s in NHL playoff history. ... Pittsburgh F Patric Hornqvist skated during warmups, but was held out of the lineup for a sixth straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Karlsson had 16 assists in the playoffs to set a team record. ... The Penguins are 10-7 in Game 7s. ... It was the fifth one-goal game of the series.

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick experienced a painful rehab start on Thursday night.

Rehabbing with Triple A Lehigh Valley, Kendrick was hit by a pitch twice before being removed after the sixth inning of the IronPigs' 8-4 loss to Indianapolis at Coca-Cola Park.

Both times Kendrick was plunked in the upper left arm, according to Tom Housenick of the Morning Call.

There was no update on if Kendrick was injured or taken out for precautionary reasons. Thursday marked Kendrick's second rehab start as he recovers from an oblique strain that has sidelined him since April 15.

The Phillies' leftfielder started at third base Thursday. At the beginning of his rehab assignment, Kendrick was expected to play four games and see time at third and first base, as well as in left field.

Kendrick made a throwing error at third on Thursday and finished 0 for 1 with a run scored. In his two games, he's 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.

Kendrick hit .333 with four doubles, a triple and five RBIs in 10 games with the Phillies prior to landing on the DL.

When he returns, he could see time at third base instead of left field if Maikel Franco continues to struggle (see story).