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.

Instant Replay: Knicks 110, Sixers 109

Instant Replay: Knicks 110, Sixers 109

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- A 17-point game came down to the final possessions. 

The Knicks squeaked out a 110-109 victory, holding on to this one after suffering a buzzer-beating loss to the Sixers on Jan. 11. 

The Knicks squandered a double-digit lead in the fourth as the Sixers slowly chipped away at their lead at the line. The Sixers got within one, 106-105, when T.J. McConnell drained a three after a series of Sixers’ free throws. 

Jahlil Okafor scored a go-ahead basket during a hustling Sixers possession with nine seconds remaining to give the Sixers a 109-108 lead. 

In the end, it was Carmelo Anthony, who had been running up the scoreboard all night (37 points), that nailed the game-winning jumper over Robert Covington. Kyle O’Quinn picked off the Sixers' final inbound attempt. 

Inside the box score
• Okafor finished with a season-high 28 points and 10 rebounds. He had eight rebounds in first half, including a coast-to-coast fast break.

• Dario Saric continues his strong Rookie of the Year push. He finished with 19 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. 

• Robert Covington struggled from the field overall (7 of 19, 2 of 11 from three) but filled up the stat sheet with 20 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

• Anthony did what Anthony does. He scored 37 points on 15 of 25 from the field, including the game-winner.

Anderson debuts
Justin Anderson made his Sixers debut in the first quarter. Anderson is a multi-positional player and the lineup reflected that. He first played with Rodriguez, Stauskas, Covington and Holmes. Anderson played 3:47 and went 0 for 1 from three with a rebound and a foul. 

While Anderson said he had learned about the Sixers by watching his first game from the bench, he will get more on-the-court experience on Sunday when he plans to spend time at the training complex on the team’s off day. 

Bigs Convene
Joel Embiid was with the Sixers in New York. After the second quarter ended, he stayed on the court to talk with Kristaps Porzingis and Joakim Noah. Both Knicks big men also were sidelined on Saturday.

Trust It
T.J. McConnell isn’t the only one to #trustthefriendship with Saric. Check out this no-look pass to Robert Covington. 

Up next
The Sixers have a day to bounce back from this loss. The 48-9 Warriors come to town on Monday. 

Villanova pushes past Creighton despite exhaustion before off week

Villanova pushes past Creighton despite exhaustion before off week

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, PA. – Jay Wright finally admitted what we could all see.

The Wildcats are gassed.

No. 2 Villanova beat No. 23 Creighton, 79-63, Saturday at the Pavilion to clinch the Big East Conference regular-season title outright (see Instant Replay).

The Wildcats are 27-3 and 14-3 in the conference, but the last couple weeks their lack of depth has shown.

With Omari Spellman ruled ineligible before the season by the NCAA, Phil Booth out since November with lingering knee pain and Darryl Reynolds out the last five games with a rib injury, Wright has essentially been limited to five starters, freshman Dante DiVincenzo off the bench and a few minutes a night from freshman Dylan Painter.

It's taken a significant toll on the six guys in the rotation. 

Big late leads have dwindled or, in the case of Wednesday’s game against Butler, disappeared. Three-pointers have front-rimmed. Defensive assignments have been missed.

Through it all, Wright refused to admit fatigue was an issue.

Now, with the Wildcats securely the top seed in next month’s conference tournament, Wright is being honest about his team.

They’re exhausted.

“I know you guys have asked a lot, 'Do I think we’re getting worn down with seven guys, 6 1/2 guys,' and I said I don’t think so, I think we can do it,” Wright said Saturday after the Senior Day win over Creighton.

“I gotta answer your question, but it just doesn’t do us any good saying we’re worn out. It’s not an excuse. Other teams have things to deal with. I get we weren’t pretty, we haven’t been pretty, today wasn’t pretty. But I think it just speaks to the leadership of these seniors and I think it speaks to the character of these seniors (that they got through it).

“Are they tired? Yeah. Are they worn down some? Yeah. But it doesn’t matter. Other teams got stuff too. It’s not the reason you lose. It can’t be the reason you lose. Maybe you were tired and you didn’t concentrate or we didn’t defend or we didn’t rebound. That’s what happened and that’s the way we look at it.

“I wasn’t trying to BS you, I was just saying that whether you’re tired or not doesn’t matter, you’ve got to get it done, and we got it done. I’m so proud of them and it’s senior leadership. It’s talented players and senior leadership.”

Villanova now has a week off before an essentially meaningless game next Saturday at Georgetown.

It’ll be the Wildcats’ first extended break since the season began.

“They haven’t had an off week because they played Virginia (two weeks ago in a non-conference game), and now they get it and a chance to get their legs back,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.

“It’s a long season and when you don’t really have a chance to catch your breath, especially because he’s riding six or seven guys pretty hard right now? I’m sure this week off will do them some good.”

Sophomore transfer Eric Paschall had a career day Saturday, with 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting to go with six rebounds. Josh Hart added 16 points and eight boards, Kris Jenkins overcame another off shooting night from three (1 for 7) to record 15 points, four boards and three assists, and Mikal Bridges had 11 points and eight rebounds. DiVincenzo and Jalen Brunson each scored nine points. 

The next meaningful game Villanova plays will be March 9 in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament in New York.

Now it’s time to rest. And heal.

“It’s going to be good for us,” Jenkins said. “We get a couple days off. We’ll still watch film, still learn, still get better, but physically we need a couple days to regroup and get ready for Georgetown and then the Big East tournament.

“Georgetown is first, but we really do need this break.”

On Saturday, Villanova built an 11-point lead, gave it all away, fell behind, traded off seven second-half lead changes, then went on a 16-4 run midway through the second half to finally put away the Bluejays.

With the threes not falling, the Wildcats focused on attacking the rim and scoring in the post in the second half.

Jenkins in particular had an unusual game. He stopped shooting treys and made 5 of 8 shots from inside the arc. That’s the second-most two-pointers he’s ever made and the most he’s ever attempted.

“Just playing off my teammates and adjusting to how teams play me,” said Jenkins, shooting just 30 percent from three the last 10 games.

“They really take away threes and try not to let me get any clean catches so always being aggressive and trying to make the right play.”

For a tired team, backing off the threes was huge.

Villanova outscored Creighton 36-18 over the last 14 minutes after Creighton took its biggest lead – two points at 43-41.

Now comes rest.

“It’s big for these guys,” Wright said. “In my mind, we just had to get to today. We just gotta get through it without getting somebody else hurt and without just being dead.

“Because we’re going to get time off. We’re going to take Sunday off, we’re going to have a light day Monday, and then we’re going to take Tuesday off, because these guys really need the rest. So this is perfect timing for us.”