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Sixers ready for breakout season?

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Sixers ready for breakout season?

After reaching the second round of the playoffs last season, the Philadelphia 76ers have had a very busy off-season, letting key contributors go and bringing on new players who they hope can take the 76ers farther in the post-season in 2012-13. That might bea stretch for Philadelphia because as an 8th seed last season, the Sixers beat top seed Chicago without the Bulls best best player Derrick Rose. Then, in a seven-game series, Philadelphia lost to Boston in the next round.

Without question, it was a season to build on with young players like point guard Jrue Holliday and shooting guard Evan Turner getting their first taste of playoff basketball. A lot will be expected from Philadelphias projected starting back court next season.Holliday had another solid season, averaging 13 points and 4 assists a game while Turner, the former 2 overall pick in 2010, put up 9 points and 6 boards a game in his second year as a pro. Both will have to continue to improve for the Sixers to be a threatin the eastern conference.

Andre Iguodala -- who will get key experience as part of the U.S. men's Olympic team -- returns as arguably the team's best player. Iguodala averaged 12 points and 5 rebounds last season. The freakishly athletic Igoudala is capable of being a top-tier smallforward in this league but his scoring has decreased over the last two seasons, down from an average of 17 points a game in 2009-10.

Another player the Sixers have high hopes for is Thaddeus Young. The 6'-8" power forward scored 13 points and grabbed 5 boards last season, but his production dipped drastically in the playoffs as he averaged only 7 points in two series.

Faced with his 18-million salary next season, Philadelphia amnestied forward Elton Brand. The burly forward averaged 11 points and 7 rebounds last season but the Sixers had to clear salary space to re-sign center Spencer Hawes and add shooting guard Nick Youngthrough free-agency.

The 7-footer Hawes averaged nearly 10 points and 7 rebounds in 29 starts for the Sixers last season. If he can stay healthy, Hawes has a chance to be one of the better centers in the watered down eastern conference.

Young, meanwhile, got a one-year deal with Philadelphia as the now 6th year pro still has a lot to prove. Plagued by inconsistency, Young would likely come off the bench to provide a spark offensively shooting the ball. Young averaged 14 points a game withboth Washington and the Clippers last season.

Young replaces Lou Williams who left via free-agency to Atlanta. Williams was coming off a career year, in which he averaged 14.8 points off the bench for the Sixers.

In a surprise reunion, Doug Collins gets to coach Kwame Brown again. Collins was the Wizards head man when the team took Brown with the 1 overall pick in 2001 and Brown notoriously struggled. Brown has kept his career going because he is a mobile 7-footerand can bang the boards. Brown's past season was cut short in Golden State where he averaged 6 points and 6 rebounds in only 9 games.

The Sixers selected small forward Mo Harkless in the NBA draft. The 6'-7" Harkless left St. John's after one season, having averaged 15 points and 8 rebounds with the Red Storm where he was named Big East Rookie of the Year.

Just two years ago the Sixers were a dreadful 27-55 but, in a short amount of time under Doug Collins, they have turned it around to make the playoffs the last two seasons. Realistically, they should make the post-season again in 2012-13 but it will be toughto go far in the playoffs with the incredibly stacked eastern conference.

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A special night for Barry Trotz on his return to Washington

A special night for Barry Trotz on his return to Washington

WASHINGTON — Barry Trotz stood on an the unfamiliar visitors’ bench and scanned the rafters at Capital One Arena as the national anthem played. 

It had to be around here somewhere. He looked to one side of the scoreboard and then the other. Finally his eyes locked on the 2018 Stanley Cup banner hanging in the south end of the arena, a testament to a season he will remember the rest of his life. 

"I was just focused on the game. Until the national anthem, I didn’t even know where it was,” Trotz said. “I was looking on the other side, around the clock, and then I turn around and there it is. That’s a proud moment for everybody involved: ownership, Ted Leonsis, and [Brian MacLellan] in management, and the players and everybody, the fans. That’s the one you want.” 

Trotz could afford a reflective mood as he spoke after a 2-0 win against the Capitals in his first game back in Washington since leading the franchise to its first Stanley Cup last June. The Islanders broke a scoreless tie with two goals in the third period just 2:26 apart. They are the surprise of the NHL after losing star center John Tavares to free agency last summer. They are all alone in first place in the Metropolitan Division now well past the halfway point of the season. 

Trotz stayed focused before the game. He arrived hours before game time and holed up in his office trying to figure a way the Islanders could win the second of a back-to-back against the rested Capitals.

At the first television timeout of the first period, Trotz steadied himself for the video tribute the Capitals put together. There, on the giant scoreboard, the indelible images flashed: Trotz at his opening press conference in 2014, promising his new team had what it took to win a championship, winning the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year, laughing with his players, skating the hot laps during last year’s playoffs, lifting the Stanley Cup. The Capital One Arena crowd stood and roared for the entire break in the action.  

“My heart got full of all the good memories,” Trotz said. “I was looking up there. I was trying not to look too much because I was getting pretty close to that sensitive side of myself. But it was extremely well done and it was just great memories. Everybody was a part of something special.”

Afterward they had another mini reunion outside the Washington locker room, his home for four years. Trotz and Lane Lambert, his assistant for all four years with the Caps, chatted with players as they came out. It wasn’t as emotional as the championship ring ceremony when the two teams first met on Nov. 26 in Brooklyn. Trotz’s voice wavered as he addressed his former players before that game. This time was all laughs. 

Capitals assistant Blaine Forsythe was there and head coach Todd Reirden briefly stopped by. Tom Wilson and Matt Niskanen and Devante Smith-Pelly came over to say hello. Brooks Orpik, who had a memorable night of his own with a ceremony for playing in his 1,000th NHL game earlier in the week, leaned against a wall and chatted with Trotz and Lambert, who jabbed Caps goalie coach Scott Murray and said he better have a “hotter suit” the next time they meet, which will be in New York on March 1.

Maybe then the Islanders will have come down to earth or maybe Trotz is in the midst of another magical season. Maybe these two teams, with so much shared history, are destined to meet again in the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

“They’ve got the same team. They’re a good hockey team. There’s no question,” Trotz said. “They’ve got lots of mettle and it starts with their leadership and [Nicklas Backstrom] and [Alex Ovechkin] and that core group….That whole group, Johnny Carlson, all the guys that have here for a long time, they’ve got lots of mettle. I’m fortunate to have another great group to work with on the Island. As I said to them, I hope we can have the same experience down the road. It’s special doing that.”

 

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Barry Trotz returns to DC and hands the Capitals a fourth straight loss

Barry Trotz returns to DC and hands the Capitals a fourth straight loss

The New York Islanders outlasted the Capitals in a defensive battle Friday with two third period goals to hand Washington a 2-0 loss in Barry Trotz's return to Capital One Arena. The loss is now the Caps' fourth straight and knocks them down to third place in the Metropolitan Division.

Here are three reasons Washington lost.

Defense

You could definitely see the effect Barry Trotz has had on this Islanders team in this one. Last year, the Islanders were laughably terrible on defense. On Friday, they frustrated the Caps offense all night long.

New York was positionally sound all game long, forcing the Caps to the outside and limiting all of their offensive opportunities. Every time it looked like Washington had a rush developing, the Islanders got back and got in front of the puck. Every time the Caps tried to set up their offense, New York forced them to the perimeter and kept them from the high-danger areas. Thomas Greiss was there to clean up the rest as he recorded his second shutout of the season.

Washington was limited to just 19 shots on goal on the night, 15 through the first two periods.

A third period breakthrough

Braden Holtby looked very sharp for the Caps all night long in his first game since he suffered an eye injury on Jan. 12. He was finally beaten in the third period thanks to a great deflection by Josh Bailey.

Mathew Barzal showed some great puck control as he entered the offensive zone, wheeled around away from the initial defensive pressure, carried it to the high slot and fired a shot. By wheeling around, that allowed Bailey the chance to park himself in front of Holtby for the deflection.

In such a tight defensive game, you knew it was going to be an ugly goal like Bailey’s that would finally break through.

A third-period 2-on-0

John Carlson pinched into the offensive zone. When that happens, that means it’s Michal Kempny’s job to hightail it back on defense if the puck gets past Carlson.

Instead, Kempny tried to step up and to try to keep the puck in at the blue line. Cal Clutterbuck got the puck past him, and it was off to the races with him and Matt Martin on a 2-on-0. Clutterbuck called his own number and finished off the play with the goal to put the Islanders up 2-0.

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