Uh-oh, Sixers host Raptors in game they should probably actually win

Uh-oh, Sixers host Raptors in game they should probably actually win

Update: The Sixers have announced the signings of guards Elliot Williams and Lorenzo Brown to fill up the roster spots vacated by Darius and Kwame. Also, Daniel Orton is starting tonight in place of Thaddeus Young, who is away from the team for personal reasons. This team, obviously.

Well, this is a new one. The Sixers have played all kinds of games this year--close ones, blowouts, back-and-forths, come-from-way-behind-at-the-very-ends, fun ones, miserable ones, ones that felt more like a fever dream than anything else--but they've played every single one of them, fairly or not, as some degree of underdog. Not a single one of them--except for maaaayyybe the Pelicans game, which they ended up losing by 37--would you have gone into saying "well, they should probably get this one," and none of them were particularly disappointing when they didn't.

Tonight, the Sixers face a different beast altogether. The Toronto Raptors are probably about on the Sixers' level at the moment--3-7, with a tough strength-of-schedule start to the season and a loss or two that probably could've gone the other way. They may or may not be worse than the Sixers, but even with their mostly superior talent level (or at least their considerably higher payroll), they're certainly not all that much better than the Sixers at the moment. Bovada sports still has the Raps as 3.5-point favorites, but really, this is a very winnable game for the 76ers.

Still, you have to wonder how much of the early-season magic the team has left after going 0-3 on their recent roadtrip, with a couple bad losses in Atlanta and New Orleans and one in Dallas that probably should have been worse than it was. At the very least, they should be getting Michael Carter-Williams back from his foot problems tonight, the ailing phenom PG having missed the last four games. Tony Wroten didn't look half bad taking over the PG role, but MCW is easily the more complete PG at this point--neither can shoot a lick from outside--and it'll help having Wroten to bring off the bench again.

That bench will be a little lighter tonight, however, as Adrian Wojnarowski reports in his typical out-of-nowhere style that the team has waived the corpse of Kwame Brown and the somewhat livelier body of Darius Morris, who'd been averaging 16 minutes a game as the Sixers' backup point. The timing of the move is a little perplexing, as Morris had actually been playing better the last week or so, hitting nine of his last 18 attempts from three, playing solid perimeter defense, and even going off for a season-high 20 (albeit mostly in garbage time) against the Pelicans the other night.

Obviously the return of MCW makes this possible, with Wroten assuming the backup point duties, though the Sixers have such minimal depth behind those two (or really anywhere else on the roster) that the waiving of anyone makes little sense--unless, of course, there are more moves to follow, a possibility which never should be ruled out with Sam Hinkie involved. (Could a long-rumored signing of disgraced ex-Suns point guard and one-time lottery pick Kendall Marshall be in the works? "We have people we've been looking at," says Coach Brown.)

Anyway, 7:00 tip off from WFC, with anyone still currently on the Sixers' roster welcome to join in the fun against the Sixers' Atlantic rivals to the north. Do it for Kwame.

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane scored three goals for his third career hat trick to lead the surging Chicago Blackhawks past the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 on Thursday night for their third straight win and eighth in nine games.

Kane has 23 goals to lead Chicago, which closed within three points behind first-place Minnesota in the Central Division and Western Conference.

Rookies Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman each had a goal and assist. Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival scored his first goal of the season in his first game since Jan. 15.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews added two assists to extend his points scoring streak to five games and increase his output to 22 points in his past 13.

Jakob Chychrun, Ryan White and Radim Vrbata scored for the Coyotes. Chychrun and Vrbata each scored for the second straight game (see full recap).

Rangers outlast Maple Leafs in shootout
TORONTO -- Mika Zibanejad scored the shootout winner and the New York Rangers continued a strong February with a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves and J.T. Miller scored the game-tying goal in the third period for the Rangers, who improved to 8-1-1 this month.

New York moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division with 80 points.

Connor Brown scored for Toronto, which fell to 1-7 in shootouts this season. Frederik Andersen had a stellar performance in defeat with 37 saves.

The Leafs hold the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division (68 points), two points back of Ottawa (70) and four back of Montreal (see full recap).

Islanders shut out Canadiens
MONTREAL -- Rookie Anthony Beauvillier scored in the first period, Thomas Greiss made 24 saves, and the New York Islanders beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 Thursday night.

Anders Lee scored in the second period and John Tavares added an empty-netter in the final minute to seal the Islanders' third straight win. New York has won the first two games on a crucial nine-game road swing and improved to 12-4-2 since interim coach Doug Weight replaced the fired Jack Capuano.

Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson each had two assists, and Greiss got his third shutout of the season.

Carey Price finished with 21 saves as the Canadiens lost coach Claude Julien's 1,000th NHL game. Montreal is 1-2-0 since Julien replaced Michel Therrien last week and has totaled just 14 goals while going 2-7-1 in the last 10 games, including four shutouts (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

NEW ORLEANS -- The Boogie-and-Brow era in New Orleans is off to a highly inauspicious start.

The Pelicans' tandem of newly acquired All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and All-Star Game MVP Anthony Davis was no match for the surging Houston Rockets on Thursday night.

Reserve Lou Williams hit seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points in his Rockets debut, and Houston crushed New Orleans, 129-99.

Davis had 29 points, and Cousins finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds. But New Orleans turned the ball over 20 times couldn't keep pace with the firepower of the Rockets, who hit 20 3-pointers.

Eric Gordon scored 19 points and Ryan Anderson added 17 in both players' first game in New Orleans since leaving the Pelicans. James Harden had 13 points and 14 assists (see full recap).

LeBron triple-double powers Cavs past Knicks
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James recorded his 48th career triple-double and Kyrie Irving scored 23 points, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 119-104 victory over the New York Knicks, who hung on to superstar Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose at Thursday's trade deadline.

James scored 18 points and had 13 rebounds with 15 assists for his sixth triple-double of the season.

Anthony, the subject of trade rumors because of a strained relationship with Knicks President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson, scored 20 points, going 9 of 25 from the field.

Kyle Korver scored 20 points for Cleveland, which is 8-1 in February and has beaten New York 10 straight times.

Courtney Lee had 25 points for New York, which has lost six of seven and is 12th in the Eastern Conference playoff race (see full recap).

Pistons rally from 18 down to beat Hornets in OT
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 33 points, including three 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter during a pulsating Detroit rally, and the Pistons outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 114-108 in overtime Thursday night.

Caldwell-Pope scored Detroit's last 11 points of regulation, and his 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds to play tied the game at 100. Kemba Walker scored Charlotte's final nine points of the fourth, but the Pistons forced him to give up the ball on the last possession, and Marco Belinelli missed a 3-pointer that could have won it.

Detroit, which was behind by 18 in the third quarter, never trailed in the overtime. Caldwell-Pope's 3-pointer with 55 seconds remaining put the Pistons up 110-102.

Charlotte led 85-70 at the start of the fourth but missed 14 of its first 15 shots in the period, enabling Detroit to cut into the lead.

Walker scored 34 points. Tobias Harris had 25 for the Pistons (see full recap).