76ers will go as far in East as Bynum takes them

76ers will go as far in East as Bynum takes them

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Working together for NBC at the Olympics, 76ers coach Doug Collins and Boston coach Doc Rivers caught up over dinner, talking hoops and sizing up the best big men in the NBA.

Little did Rivers know, Collins was keeping a secret - a 7-foot sized one.

``He said, `Who do you struggle with?' I said, `Bynum,''' Rivers said with a smile. ``Doug almost choked on his soup. He knew the next day they were about to get him. It was pretty funny. I didn't appreciate it, but it was pretty funny.''

After a surprising run to the Eastern Conference semifinals allowed Philadelphia to shed a decade of mediocre basketball, the organization took a giant step in the summer, acquiring center Andrew Bynum from the Los Angeles Lakers, easily their most talented man in the middle since Moses Malone - and the best one in the East.

All of those accolades come with one crucial caveat. Bynum, who turns 25 on Saturday, has to avoid further issues with his knees and play at least 70-75 games if the Sixers are going to build off last year's run and compete for the Atlantic Division title.

If Bynum's knees can withstand the rigors of a full season, look out, the Sixers could be every bit as good as advertised. If he's sidelined for extended periods of time, though, the Sixers could return to that 40-win, fight-for-the-eighth-seed malaise of the last several seasons.

Bynum has been held out of all basketball activity this preseason as a precaution after receiving knee treatment in Germany. Bynum hopes to practice for the first time on Wednesday and the Sixers remain optimistic the All-Star will be ready for the Oct. 31 opener against former Sixers guard Andre Iguodala and Denver.

``I know how important the home opener is and I know all that kind of stuff,'' Collins said. ``But we're not going to do anything silly and have another setback to where now it costs you during the season.''

The Sixers got Bynum in a whopper of a four-team deal that sent Iguodala, their All-Star and Olympian, to the Nuggets, and saw Dwight Howard traded to the Lakers. Bynum is a New Jersey native and the Sixers feted him with a lavish homecoming in August that included a public press conference in Philadelphia's historic district. The setting for the bash was fitting because their last NBA title in 1983 seems like ancient history.

Bynum is coming off his best NBA season after averaging career highs with 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds while making his first All-Star team, starting for the West. He was the NBA's third-leading rebounder and 20th-leading scorer, while also ranking sixth in the league with 1.93 blocked shots per game.

``He's feared,'' forward Evan Turner said. ``He's a monster.''

But he won't win postseason games alone. Feeling the roster had maxed out its potential, the Sixers dumped expensive veterans Iguodala, Lou Williams and Elton Brand as part of an overhaul that included the acquisitions of Jason Richardson, Dorell Wright, Nick Young, Maalik Wayns and Kwame Brown.

Without Bynum, the Sixers went 6-1 in the preseason, a meaningless record as of today, though an encouraging sign the new pieces fit together.

Outside of Bynum, the Sixers are counting on fourth-year point guard Jrue Holiday to break though into the small group of game-changing point guards. After sharing ballhandling duties with Iguodala, Collins wants Holiday to push the ball and become the point person the other four play off of.

``I become more of a playmaker,'' Holiday said. ``I really have to set up my team, big men as well as shooters.''

The Sixers hope Turner, who never lived up to the expectations of a No. 2 overall pick, can thrive at small forward. Spencer Hawes may start alongside Bynum. Collins likes power forward Thaddeus Young and center Lavoy Allen in the starting lineup when Bynum can't play.

While he loves the idea of Bynum down low, Turner balked at the suggestion the Sixers tapped out the talent of the 2011-2012 team.

``They never really fully utilized myself, Jrue and Dre,'' Turner said. ``I think we maxed out the post situation. But we never went through me, Jrue and Dre. We did that for a couple of weeks and we scored, what, 115 points a game? We were running, rocking and rolling. I can say that for one part, but I can't say that for the guards. We were high-level guards.''

Maybe, but Iguodala has since acknowledged his discontent his last two years in Philadelphia and it was clear both sides needed a clean break. Now, the Sixers have a problem solver in the middle. In the past, if a player slashed his way past the guards, it was an automatic bucket in the paint.

This season, he has to get by Bynum.

Bynum will be worth the wait.

``He knows what's on his shoulders,'' Collins said. ``He wants to be out there.''

In a coincidental twist, Iguodala will return to Philadelphia for the season opener. He was in London playing for the star-studded U.S. men's basketball team when rumors of a deal broke. Iguodala texted Turner with the message, ``It's been a pleasure playing with you.''

Turner asked him what he meant and Iguodala told him he was about to be traded for Bynum. Bummed to lose his friend, Turner also knew it was worth the gamble.

``It's rare to get the best big in the league,'' Turner said. ``It's great for our organization.''

And it could spell trouble for the rest of the East.

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Caps recall goalie Pheonix Copley after Braden Holtby 'tweaked something' in Dallas game


Caps recall goalie Pheonix Copley after Braden Holtby 'tweaked something' in Dallas game

You thought the Caps had a goalie rotation before, but now they have added a third netminder in the mix.

Pheonix Copley has been recalled from the Hershey Bears and will backup Philipp Grubauer for Washington's game in Detroit, the team announced Thursday.

The move comes in response to an injury concern for Braden Holtby.


Dallas Stars forward Remi Elie collided with Holtby midway through the third period on Tuesday as Holtby was extending to make a save. Holtby reacted awkwardly to the collision and could be seen skating and flexing his leg during the next stoppage.

With only nine games remaining in the regular season, Holtby's injury is a major concern. Given his recent struggles, the final few weeks of the season offered a chance for Holtby to get his game back to form. Just where his game will be when he is 100-percent healthy again is certainly a storyline to watch.


The good news for Washington, however, is that Grubauer is perhaps more ready this season to lead the team than he ever has been and confidence in him around the team should be high.

Since Thanksgiving, Grubauer has played in 22 games with a 17-11-4 record, a .939 save percentage, 1.85 GAA and two shutouts. No goalie who has played in 20 games or more has registered a better save percentage or GAA. He will certainly be looked upon to carry the load until Holtby returns. Whether this means he now has the inside track on starting in the playoffs, however, remains to be seen. That will depend largely on just when Holtby is ready to return and how Grubauer plays down the stretch.

Copley, 26, has gone 14-16-6 with two shutouts, a .898 save percentage and 2.86 GAA in 38 games in Hershey this season. He was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by Washington in 2014. He was traded to the St. Louis Blues in the package that netted the Caps T.J. Oshie, but was reacquired by Washington in Feb. 2017 in a trade deadline deal that included Kevin Shattenkirk.

At the time, it was believed Copley would be the team's backup for the 2017-18 season with Grubauer likely headed to Vegas in the expansion draft. Vegas, however, took Nate Schmidt instead which led to Copley spending the season in Hershey. The Caps now will be happy for the extra goalie depth for as long as Holtby's health remains a concern.

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Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

This weekend was already going to be special for Washington Wizards fans. Now they will get souvenirs to remember it.

As part of their celebration of Phil Chenier's legendary career and the 40th anniversary of their 1978 NBA championship, the Wizards are handing out emoji signs on Friday night and commemorative t-shirts on Sunday. All fans in attendance will receive a giveaway.


The emoji sign has Chenier's face on it and will be handed out for the March 23 game against the Nuggets. Chenier will have his jersey retired at halftime during the game. 

The emoji sign is presented by NBC Sports Washington. You're welcome, Authentic Fans.


The shirts will be given out on Sunday when the Wizards host the New York Knicks. 

Here's the front...

And the back...

Let's take a closer look at that back...

As a reporter who has received many giveaways over the years at pro sports stadiums, these are uniquely awesome. Should be a great weekend for Wizards fans. See you at the arena.


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