The diminished crowd at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philly erupted as fan-favorite 76ers power forward Mike Scott turned a corner and threw down a vicious dunk over Detroit Pistons shooting guard Khyri Thomas. The highlight play got the crowd into the game and swung the momentum in the 76ers favor. The underachieving team went on to play one of its best games of a disappointing season and demolish the lowly Pistons 124-106. There was optimism after a Sixers game for the first time in weeks following a disastrous West Coast trip that saw the team drop a game to the worst club in the league, the Golden State Warriors. Star player Joel Embiid had fully healed from a shoulder injury and had scored 30 points in his return to action. The team seemed like it could use this victory as a springboard and catapult themselves up the eastern conference standings, especially with quite an easy schedule from there on out. But as is often the case with Philadelphia sorts teams; disaster struck.
Not even an hour after the Sixers won their first game in weeks, the National Basketball Association decided to suspend all operations including games indefinitely following a positive COVID-19 test from Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert. All other professional sports leagues in America quickly followed suit, with the NHL, MLB, XFL, MLS, and all NCAA sports suspending operations within the next 2 days. This was bad news for the 76ers who seemed to finally be turning a corner in their season but it was even worse news for almost all the major sports teams in Philadelphia. Here’s where all the teams stood before the shutdown and how they may look coming out of it.
The Phillies were primed to seriously contend in 2020. They had concerns about the consistency of their pitching staff and addressed them by forking over $118 million to sign Zack Wheeler away from the New York Mets. Team president Andy McPhail’s decision to spend big money on another starter may have been influenced by the fact that ace Aaron Nola was actually one of the main reasons the team underachieved in 2019. This year he’s certainly looking to bounce-back after a disappointing end to his 2019 campaign where he went 0-3 with an ERA of 6.51 in the month of September.
The batting side of the team did take a step forward in 2019, and was expected to take another one in 2020 following the return of starting LF Andrew McCutchen to the lineup after a torn ACL kept him out for over 100 games in 2019. In the other corner of the outfield, 300 million dollar man Bryce Harper had an encouraging season in 2019, he lead the team in runs batted in (114) and batting average with runners in scoring position (.357). Harper had a chance to be a genuine contender for the NL MVP award in 2020 before the season was postponed, as did catcher JT Realmuto. Realmuto is considered by many to be the best catcher in baseball, and the stats certainly back it up; he led all other catchers in hits, doubles, triples, runs batted in, and stolen bases. He also won the gold glove award, an award given to the best fielding catcher in the MLB.
All that being said, it would really surprise me if the MLB at all returned in 2020. The owners and the players association are at odds with each other about salaries, formatting, and safety. There have been numerous offers on both sides and yet neither corner can reach an agreement. IF the season ever resumes, the Phillies could be a contender, but that’s a big if considering the relationship between the players and the owners.
As I detailed in the introduction paragraph, the sixers were on a high note before the country went on lockdown, they blew out a back Pistons team and Joel Embiid was back and fully healthy for the first time in weeks. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses however, star PG Ben Simmons was still suffering from a back injury that could have potentially kept him out until the playoffs.
Despite the fact that it may have killed some important momentum for the team, the stoppage wasn’t the worst thing in the world for the 76ers. It gave them an opportunity to get players like Embiid, Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, Josh Richardson, and Al Horford, who had been battling injuries all season, back to full fitness ahead of a condensed return schedule starting in late July. The break also gives players like Horford and Mike Scott a chance to regain the success they were having earlier in the season following poor starts to 2020.
With a tight schedule against good teams and without the energy of the Wells Fargo Center crowd behind them, the 76ers won’t likely make up many places in the standings when the NBA restarts. The roster is still built for the playoffs, and the team matches up favorably with teams like Boston and Milwaukee so a deep playoff run isn’t completely out of the question. There are still doubts about the team however, the offensive spacing and defensive effort both need to improve and it’ll be up to coach Brett Brown to see that they do, and if they don’t, his job is certainly on the ropes.
Without a doubt, the shutdown of the NHL season could not have come at a worse time for the Flyers. They had just had lost just 1 of their last 10 games and trailed the division-leading Washington Capitals by only 1 point. Their recent 9 game winning steak had not only seen them take care of lowly foes, but also manage significant victories over contending teams such as Carolina, Washington, and Winnipeg. Because of their high powered offense lead by breakout star Travis Konecny the Flyers had scored 3 or more goals in every game dating back until late February. That, plus their stout defense lead by talented young goalie Carter Hart and Selke Trophy contender Sean Couturier saw them boast the 4th best goal differential in the entire league.
It’s not all gloom and doom for the Flyer however, the NHL has already announced the format for its to return and plans to come back in August. The break should also give wunderkind Nolan Patrick a chance to fully recover from a migraine disorder that has plagued him all season. The Flyers have seriously flipped a switch this year under head coach Alain Vigneault, and lifting the Stanley Cup this summer isn’t too far fetched.