Who Are You and What Have You Done With Damien Wilkins?

Who Are You and What Have You Done With Damien Wilkins?

The reasons for the Sixers' surprisingly improved proved play of
late—four wins in their last seven games, including victories over the
playoff-bound Nets and Pacers and extremely close losses to the
NBA-hottest Heat and Nuggets—are many. The team's frontcourt has been
playing dramatically better: Spencer Hawes has averaged a 16/10 on 56%
shooting over the stretch, and Thaddeus Young, finally healthy again
after missing a couple weeks with a hamstring strain, has matched with a
17/7 on 55% shooting. Dorell Wright has also rediscovered his Golden
State shooting stroke, averaging 12 a game and shooting 19 of 38 from
deep, and with the exception of a dismal two-point performance in Los
Angeles, Jrue Holiday has been Jrue Holiday, averaging about 17 points
and nine assists, shooting 48% from deep and even keeping his turnover
average to under three a game.


But the most surprising reason for the Sixers' hot stretch is
undoubtedly the play of Damien Wilkins. Signed as an emergency-valve
veteran wing player at season's beginning, Wilkins was the source of
much mockery for Sixers fans earlier in the season for Coach Collins'
insistence on playing him big minutes, despite the fact that he was a
33-year-old career bench scrub blocking younger, more skilled players
like Wright and even rookie Arnett Moultrie from getting minutes they
seemed more deserving of. And the numbers justified the scorn—before
March, Damien was averaging just 2.6 points a game on 37% shooting
(including a dismal 13% from deep) in ten minutes of game action, with a
PER in the not-high single digits.


Remarkably, however, all that appears to have changed in March. In
12 games this month—eight of which Wilkins even started—Damien is
averaging a highly respectable 12 points on 54% shooting, including 39%
from deep. He's even proven himself to be a decent secondary playmaker
since moving to the starting lineup, posting three or more assists in
five of his eight starts. For arguably the first time since his days
playing with the Ray Allen-led Sonics in Seattle, Damien Wilkins is a
productive, relevant professional basketball player again.


The thing that really strikes me about Wilkins this last month or so
is the energy and athleticism he brings to the team—neither of which
you would exactly expect a 33-year-old career benchwarmer to provide
your ballclub. (To be fair, Damien is the son of '90s lockdown defender
Gerald Wilkins, and the nephew of Hall-of-Fame scorer and slam dunk
champion Dominique Wilkins, so genetics are obviously on his side.) The
Sixers have been playing at a much faster pace in recent games, and
Wilkins is a big catalyst for that, constantly moving in the half-court,
running to the corners on the secondary break, and attacking the basket
wherever possible. He hasn't been the team's MVP over this
stretch—that'd probably be Thad, or maybe even Spence—but he's been the
guy most representative of the team's new style and improved efficiency.


The one real negative of Wilkins' improvement as of late is that it
reflects kind of negatively on one of his much-higher-upside wingmates:
Evan Turner. While much of the team has hit an individual groove the
last two weeks, Evan's play could most generously be described as
"unexceptional"—under 11 points, four rebounds and four assists a game,
including 42% shooting and 21% from deep. Worse, despite being nearly a
decade older, Damien consistently outworks Evan on the court, cutting
harder, pushing faster on the break, switching and fighting through
screens better on defense. Tellingly, is lineup the Sixers have found
the most success with recently is one with Damien and Dorell on the
wings and Evan on the bench—they've only played about 34 minutes
together as a five-man unit, but 82Games.com lists it as the Sixers' lineup with the highest win percentage.


And of course, the other negative about the Wilkins surge is that
not only is it helping the team win meaningless games in the
short-term—wins hurting their draft position, if you care about such
things—but it means the team might make an effort to re-sign the
33-year-old, costing them precious cap space and sending a message that
being competent is still more important to this franchise than
potentially being great. Still, Damien's played a big part in making an
unwatchable team watchable this season, and for those of us who will
continue to watch the team regardless, that's something to be pretty
thankful for.

NHL Playoffs: Predators down Ducks to reach 1st Stanley Cup Final

NHL Playoffs: Predators down Ducks to reach 1st Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Colton Sissons scored his third goal with 6:00 left, ensuring the Nashville Predators' magical postseason now includes the franchise's first trip to the Stanley Cup Final after eliminating the Anaheim Ducks with a 6-3 win in Game 6 on Monday night.

The Predators, who've never won even a division title in their 19-year history, came in with the fewest points of any team in these playoffs.

Now they've swept the West's No. 1 seed in Chicago, downed St. Louis in six in the second round and then the Pacific Division champ in six games. Peter Laviolette became the fourth coach to take three different teams to the Final, and the first since the playoffs split into conference play in 1994.

"It feels so good," Sissons said. "Listen to this crowd. Our fans are amazing, a great group of guys. We just believe in ourselves. That's all it is."

The Predators will play either defending champion Pittsburgh or Ottawa for the Stanley Cup. Game 1 is Monday.

Anaheim lost in the conference finals for the second time in three years.

Cam Fowler tied it up at 3-3 at 8:52 of the third for Anaheim as the Ducks tried to rally for the fifth time this season when trailing by multiple goals.

But Sissons, who scored on the third shot of the game, scored twice in a wild third period to give the Predators a 3-2 lead at 3:00 and then 4-3 three minutes later.

Austin Watson scored on Nashville's first shot and had an empty-netter with 1:34 to go. Filip Forsberg also had an empty-net goal.

Pekka Rinne made 38 saves to improve to 12-4.

Ondrej Kase scored his second career goal -- both in this series -- giving Anaheim a chance to tie the NHL record with a fifth rally when trailing by multiple goals. Chris Wagner banked the puck off Rinne's head for a goal at 5:00 of the third to keep the Ducks close.

But this has been the best postseason ever for Rinne, a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist, a stretch ranking among the NHL's best. And the 6-foot-5 Finn used his big body to turn away shot after shot even with the Ducks trying to crash the net every opportunity. He helped the Predators improve to 7-3 in one-goal games.

Music City buzzed all day leading up to the puck drop waiting for one of the biggest sports parties this town has ever seen.

Superstar Garth Brooks spoiled the usual mystery of who would sing the national anthem with Twitter hints hours before the game. Sure enough, his wife Trisha Yearwood became the latest to handle the honors. Former Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George waved the rally towel to crank up the fans.

That didn't even include the throngs packing the plaza outside the arena's front doors and the park across the street.

The Ducks, who came in 2-1 when facing elimination this postseason, outshot Nashville 6-2 to start the game trying to force this series back to Anaheim.

But they had goalie Jonathan Bernier making his first career playoff start with John Gibson scratched with a lower-body injury. Gibson, who went out after the first period of Game 5, skated Monday morning only to be scratched with Jhonas Enroth dressed as Bernier's backup.

Watson's third this postseason deflected off the left skate of Anaheim defenseman Brandon Montour just 81 seconds into the game. Sissons skated on the top line with Ryan Johansen out after needing season-ending surgery on his left thigh and captain Mike Fisher scratched for a second straight game with an upper-body injury.

Notes
Laviolette won the Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006 and coached Philadelphia to the Final in 2010. ... The Predators now have clinched five of the six series won in franchise history on home ice. This was their third this postseason.

Best of MLB: Twins pound out 21 hits, storm back to beat Orioles

Best of MLB: Twins pound out 21 hits, storm back to beat Orioles

BALTIMORE -- Max Kepler homered and drove in four runs, Miguel Sano and Jorge Polanco each had a career-high four hits and the Minnesota Twins roared back to beat the Baltimore Orioles 14-7 Monday night.

Minnesota trailed 5-0 in the second inning and 6-2 entering the fifth before cranking up the offense against Ubaldo Jimenez and an ineffective Baltimore bullpen.

A two-run double by Kepler helped the Twins knot the score in the fifth, Minnesota sent 11 batters to the plate in a six-run sixth and Sano added a two-run homer in the ninth.

Joe Mauer had three hits, two RBIs and scored twice for the Twins, who reached season highs in runs and hits (21).

Adam Jones hit a three-run drive in the second inning off Kyle Gibson (1-4) for Baltimore (see full recap).

Peacock, Astros 1-hit Tigers
HOUSTON -- Brad Peacock and three relievers combined for a one-hitter and Jose Altuve provided the offense with an RBI double to lead the Houston Astros to 1-0 win over the Detroit Tigers on Monday night.

Peacock was solid moving out of the bullpen to make a spot start for injured ace Dallas Keuchel. In his first start since September, Peacock allowed the lone hit and struck out eight in 4 1/3 innings. He was lifted after walking Tyler Collins with one out in the fifth inning.

Chris Devenski (3-2) took over and pitched 2 2/3 innings for the win before Will Harris pitched a scoreless eighth. Ken Giles struck out two in the ninth for his 12th save to allow the Astros to bounce back after being swept by the Indians over the weekend.

Detroit's only hit was a single by Mikie Mahtook with one out in the third on a night the Tigers tied a season high by striking out 14 times. The team's only baserunner after Collins was Victor Martinez, who was plunked with one out in the seventh. But Houston still faced the minimum in that inning when J.D. Martinez grounded into a double play to end the seventh.

The Astros struck early against Michael Fulmer (5-2) when George Springer drew a leadoff walk before scoring on the double by Altuve to make it 1-0 with one out in the first (see full recap).

Homers help Yankees top Royals
NEW YORK -- Didi Gregorius, Brett Gardner and Chris Carter homered, and the New York Yankees once again downed Jason Vargas by beating the Kansas City Royals 4-2 Monday night.

A reversed umpire's call in the seventh inning kept the Yankees ahead and enabled Michael Pineda (5-2) to top Vargas for the second time in a week. The Royals, with the worst record in the AL, have lost five of seven.

Vargas (5-3) began the day with a 2.03 ERA, tied for second-best in the majors. But the lefty fell to 0-7 lifetime against the Yankees when he was tagged by Gardner and Gregorius, the only left-handed hitters in the New York lineup (see full recap).