You Picked a Fine Time to Get Good, Sixers

You Picked a Fine Time to Get Good, Sixers

It's official—this season is last season in reverse. Instead of starting
out weirdly red hot and gradually cooling off over the course of their
season until they hit super rock bottom, they're gonna start from
super-rock-bottom this time and get weirdly red hot at year's end. Going
in this direction is certainly more perplexing than the way things went
down last season, and possibly even more frustrating, but it's arguably
much less cruel, since at least it's too far late in the year for this
team for trick us into thinking they can win a division or challenge the
Heat or something.


The Sixers beat the Blazers last night at the WFC, thus making it
three wins out of four for the Ballers in their recent homestand, with
the fourth game being a narrow loss against the Heat that really should
count as a win because c'mon. Considering the three wins were all
against decent-to-very-good opponents, and considering the Sixers had
lost 12 of 13 prior, this is a pretty remarkable stretch, and almost
certainly the best that the Sixers have played all season. Of course,
this comes amidst the news that Andrew Bynum will not play a minute for
the Sixers this year, and amidst the obvious realization that the only
thing wins can do for the Sixers at this point is hurt their draft
position. Of course.


Some things about this stretch are explicable, and encouraging. Jrue
Holiday has come back to life, back to reality over the last four
games, averaging nearly 23 a game on 50% shooting over the last four
games, along with nine assists, five boards and just two turnovers per
game–the All-Star numbers he was putting up before going ice-cold on the
Sixers' most recent road trip. Thaddeus Young has also been a monster
over this stretch, averaging 18 and about nine boards, while shooting
over 60% from the field. When the Sixers' two best players play this
well, they're gonna win games, so in that sense this is logical and good
to see.


Other things about this stretch are less explicable, and just kinda
disconcerting. Spencer Hawes, after spending much of the first
three-quarters of this season proving why he is an abysmal player not to
be trusted under any circumstances, has gone absolutely hogwild since
returning to the Wells Fargo Center, averaging 16.5 points, 11 boards,
five assists, and nearly three blocks a game over those four games,
including of course that near-quadruple-double he posted against the
Pacers on Saturday. Sixer fans should just be thankful Spence isn't
heading into free agency this off-season, otherwise they'd be so
effusive over this stretch they'd sign him to a five-year max deal out
of sheer gratitude. They might still try to do it anyway.


Even weirder has been the emergence of Damien Wilkins. 33-year-old
journeymen who haven't played more than 20 minutes a game for a team in
half a decade and were never all that good to begin with aren't supposed
to "emerge"—they're supposed to kill time, suck up minutes without
totally sabotaging the team while the actually good players get some
rest or recover from injury or whatever. But there's no denying
it—Wilkins has been really good these last four games, and really even
longer than that, as he's scored in double figures in six of his last
seven games, after only doing so twice in the entire season prior to
that. Even more stupefying, Wilkins has been a secondary playmaker for
the Sixers, too, racking up five or more assists in three of his last
five games.


And while all this is happening, the guy who the Sixers drafted with
the #2 pick a couple years back, expecting him to lead the franchise
back out of the darkness, has been mildly effective at best. Evan has
averaged just 11 a game over the four-game stretch, shooting 38% and
only averaging four boards and about four assists a game to go with it.
Over hot Sixers stretches past, Evan has often been a primary catalyst,
but this time the Sixers are playing well more in spite of him than
because of him. Just another confounding factor of another ridiculous
subplot to this miserable Sixers season.


So what to take away from all of this? Is there anything good to
come of this? Are we sacrificing precious tanking losses for no real
reason? Well, my gut reaction to those three questions are "not much,"
"not really" and "probably." The Sixers probably weren't quite as bad on
the whole as they looked over that 1-12 stretch, and this is probably
just some overdue course correction, assisted by Thad finally getting
healthy, Dorell Wright finally hitting some shots, and Doug Collins
making some game-planning adjustments that result in the big-man
long-two at long last being phased out of the Sixers' offensive attack a
little. You could argue that proving that the team isn't total garbage
might help us in free agency a little, but if we're really giving Al
Jefferson or Josh Smith that much of a hard sell, we're probably in
pretty bad shape anyway.


Anyway, there is one major caveat to all of this: All four games in
the Sixers' recent resurgence have come at home. Despite that abysmal
home loss to the Magic that seemed to be the lug nuts falling off on the
Sixers' entire season, the team's actually been half-decent at the WFC
all season, now boasting a 20-17 record in their home building. It's the
road that's really proven the undoing of the Liberty Ballers this year,
with a 6-23 record (including 13 straight losses) away from Philly, and
it's the road to which they'll soon return, playing their next four
(and 12 of their last 16) as visitors. If there's any kind of flimsiness
to the Sixers' current hotness—and considering the names of some of the
players involved, you have to believe there is—it'll be exposed on the
road for sure.


Speaking of which, Philly plays the Clippers tomorrow night. Do we
want the Sixers to win, somehow? At this point, I think most of us just
want the season to be over.

Sixers-Warriors 5 things: At home, can Sixers hang with NBA's best again?

Sixers-Warriors 5 things: At home, can Sixers hang with NBA's best again?

The Sixers (22-36) host the NBA-best Golden State Warriors (49-9) at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m./CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports app).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Bummer at the buzzer
Apparently one good last-second shot deserves another.

The Sixers stormed back from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter against the New York Knicks on Saturday. Jahlil Okafor capped off his monster night with what appeared to be the game-winner at the time when he scored in the lane with nine seconds remaining.

That was until Carmelo Anthony drained a clutch jumper over Robert Covington with 0.3 ticks left on the clock to give the Knicks a 110-109 victory. Call it payback for T.J. McConnell's buzzer-beater against New York last month.

While the Sixers didn't get the win, they had to be pleased with some of the efforts they received on the second night of a back-to-back set. 

Okafor finished with 28 points and 10 rebounds. Covington had 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Dario Saric added 19 points and 15 boards.

2. So much splashing
The Sixers will need those type of performances and then some if they hope to keep up with this potent Warriors team.

In case you've been lost at sea since the summer, former league MVP Kevin Durant bolted Oklahoma City for Golden State in free agency to turn the "Splash Brothers" of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson into an entire splash family.

Already dominant offensively, the Warriors have been even better this season with Durant. They rank No. 1 in a slew of offensive categories, including points per game (118.2), field goal percentage (50.0), assists per game (31.0), fastbreak points per game (23.5), offensive rating (114.1) and true shooting percentage (60.4).

If that weren't enough, Durant's length has also impacted the Warriors' defense too. They are first in the league in steals (9.6), blocks (6.7) and points off turnovers (19.2) per game.

Simply put, the Warriors are scary good. 

3. The wild card
Every family has that one person that you're just not sure about at times. They can make gatherings the best night ever or a downright miserable experience.

Enter Draymond Green. 

Green has been on the miserable side of the Warriors' gatherings lately. He shot 1 of 10 for five points and was benched for long stretches in Golden State's win over Brooklyn on Saturday. In the game prior to that against the L.A. Clippers, he picked up a technical foul, trash talked Paul Pierce and went to his preferred kick move on Blake Griffin.

Overall, Green has been his usual solid self on the court. He's averaging 10.0 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists a night while providing lockdown defense.

The Sixers are fully aware of Green's versatility. The veteran forward averaged a triple-double against them in the two meetings last season with 11.5 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists.

It will be interesting to see Green lock horns all game with the surging Saric.

4. Injuries
Joel Embiid (knee), Tiago Splitter (calf), Ben Simmons (foot) Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

The Warriors have no players listed on the injury report.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost six straight games to the Warriors.

• With their 112-95 win over the Nets on Saturday, the Warriors became the first team to clinch a playoff berth. It marked the earliest a team has clinched a postseason spot since the 1985-86 Boston Celtics.

• Covington is averaging 17.0 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in February.

• Thompson averaged 36.0 points on 54.7 percent shooting from the field and 45.8 percent from three-point range against the Sixers last season.

Brandon Manning suspended 2 games for hit on Penguins' Jake Guentzel

Brandon Manning suspended 2 games for hit on Penguins' Jake Guentzel

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning was suspended two games for his illegal hit to Pittsburgh's Jake Guentzel during Saturday's 4-2 loss in the Stadium Series game at Heinz Field.
 
Manning's shoulder made contact with Guentzel's head.
 
Manning wasn't surprised and even admitted to reporters that he fully expected "one or two" games because he hit a player who didn't have control of the puck yet.
 
Strangely, there was no penalty on the play for interference, yet the NHL's explanation on Monday afternoon specifically cited "interference" as the reason for the suspension.
 
This is Manning's first NHL suspension.
 
The hearing was conducted on the phone Monday with Stephane Quintal, senior vice-president of NHL Player Safety. Manning will forfeit $10,833.34 in salary.
 
"It was late," Manning said of the hit. "He didn't touch the puck after it hit his skate, which I thought he was going to do. They do their whole breakdown by time frame."
 
Manning said he caught Guentzel's shoulder first, then his head "on the follow through" because Guentzel is shorter than him. The 6-foot-1 Manning has two inches on Guentzel.
 
Guentzel, who had two assists in the game, was not injured.
 
"Looking at it, [the hit] is a little late," Manning admitted. "I thought he was going to touch the puck. Usually, when a puck hits your skate, you pick it up, and he kinda left it. ... The hard part is, there was no penalty called on it."
 
Manning said he had to make a hit or face an odd-man rush.
 
"There were two players there and if I don't play my guy there, it’s a 3-on-1 the other way," he said. "You're giving up scoring chances. Fortunately, he wasn't hurt. He finished the game and that's always the good thing."
 
Mark Streit, sitting on the bench at the time, said he saw the hit and was shocked at the suspension.
 
"It was a great hit," Streit said. "You look at the replay and everything looks different. You can slow down every hit and talk about it. I guess it was a little late ..."
 
Manning's suspension likely means Michael Del Zotto will play against Colorado on Tuesday.
 
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said Manning has been a "solid piece" for the club this season.
 
"He brings that physical edge, he's been reliable, and he's been a staple for our lineup," Hakstol said. "That's a hole we'll have to fill over next couple of games here."
 
Manning will also miss Thursday's game against Florida.