The Lonesome Crappy West: Sixers Face Jazz in Utah

The Lonesome Crappy West: Sixers Face Jazz in Utah

The Sixers made short work of the Phoenix Suns at US Airways on
Wednesday, bringing them back to 1-1 for the season. (By the way, the
Blazers look like they might be more awesome than we expected, winning
each of their first three games—including one last night against the
red-hot Nuggets—so maybe we shouldn't even feel too bad about that close
first loss.) With the Celtics looking a mite flustered at the bottom of
the East standings (even losing to the rebuilding Hornets playing
without Eric Gordon), and the Knicks still very much looking like a
project in their first three games, the Atlantic Division suddenly seems
much more open than expected, and with a couple games coming up against
average to subpar West teams, the Sixers can quickly move to the top of
said division.

Tonight's West team of choice is the Utah Jazz, off to a 0-2 start after
getting thumped by the Lakers in LA and the Nuggets at home. They're
probably not as bad as their first two games suggest, but they're likely
lottery bound in 2012 after having said goodbye to four players in the
last 18 months—Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko and
Mehmet Okur—who had defined the franchise for the last half-decade or
so. Now they're retooling with a lot of veteran guards and highly-touted
but extremely raw big men, including the #3 picks in each of the last
two drafts, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, neither of whom have made
much of an impact in the Jazz's first two games.

Nonetheless, the new-look Jazz have history on their side when it comes
to the Sixers. In the 22 games that the Sixers have played in Utah since
the '88-'89 season, the Jazz have won all but two, including each of
the last six. Even last year after the Deron Williams trade, the Jazz
were able to steal a W from the Sixers after Jodie Meeks missed a key
free throw late and CJ Miles hit a shot to send the game into overtime,
where they eventually won. If the Sixers want to break that trend,
they'll need a strong showing (especially defensively) from their big
men against the sizable Jazz, including the seemingly much-improved
Spencer Hawes, who has grabbed double-digit rebounds in two straight
games—something he only managed to do twice all last year.

9:00 tip from EnergySolutions Arena. It took the Sixers 59 games last
year to peek their heads above .500, to do so in just three games this
year would be a real step in the right direction for the guys. Gotta
keep pace with those world-beating 1-1 Raptors, at least.

Sixers' Ersan Ilyasova excited to see family in adopted hometown of Milwaukee

Sixers' Ersan Ilyasova excited to see family in adopted hometown of Milwaukee

Traveling to Milwaukee means a return to where Ersan Ilyasova began his NBA career.

Twelve years later, it also means a return to his family when the Sixers visit the Bucks on Monday afternoon at the Bradley Center.
 
Ilyasova planted roots in Milwaukee during his seven seasons with the Bucks, who drafted him in the second round of the 2005 NBA draft. Though he has played for four teams since the Bucks traded him to the Pistons in the summer of 2015, Ilyasova has maintained a home base in the city he adopted after coming to the NBA from Europe.

“I kind of grew up there,” he said. “It’s a lot of time spent.”

Ilyasova’s lengthy tenure with his first team - which doesn’t always happen in the NBA - afforded him and his family the time to make Milwaukee their home.

His wife and three young children (daughters ages eight and five years old and son age three years old) have remained there while Ilyasova has moved around the league frequently. He has been a member of the Pistons, Magic, Thunder and Sixers in a matter of two seasons.

“It’s a huge thing,” Ilyasova said. “I haven’t seen the girls for two months now - a lot of Skype and FaceTime. I see my son, he flies back and forth with my wife.”

The Sixers flew to Milwaukee on Sunday from Washington, D.C. after Saturday night's loss to the Wizards at the Verizon Center. Ilyasova planned to stay at his house and catch up on the time he has missed while being away from his family. This includes missed time during the holidays while the team was on a west coast road trip.
 
“It’s always really exciting,” Ilyasova said. “They’re counting the days when I will come. They’re all excited to come to the game.”
 
Another highlight of being back in Milwaukee? A home-cooked meal.
 
“They’re already preparing it,” Ilyasova said. “It’s duck with apples in it.”

Villanova's Donte DiVincenzo the next Josh Hart? Jay Wright believes so

Villanova's Donte DiVincenzo the next Josh Hart? Jay Wright believes so

NEW YORK — It’s hard to imagine higher praise from Jay Wright.

“I think he can be a Josh Hart,” Wright said. “I really do.”

Donte DiVincenzo is only two months into his redshirt freshman season at Villanova, and his coach is already comparing him to one of the heroes of last year’s NCAA championship team and a 2017 National Player of the Year candidate.

That’s pretty wild stuff, but it’s hard to argue with Wright.

The last two games have been a coming out for DiVincenzo, a Wilmington, Delaware native who played high school ball at Salesianum.

After scoring 20 points and shooting 5 for 17 in Villanova’s first four Big East games, DiVincenzo was 4 for 6 for 10 points with four rebounds and three assists Tuesday in a win over No. 15 Xavier at The Pavilion. On Saturday at Madison Square Garden — with his teammates all struggling from the field — he shot 7 for 10 from the field and 3 for 5 from three-point range for a career-high 19 points to go with three rebounds and two assists in the Wildcats’ win over St. John’s (see game recap).

Hart as a freshman? 7.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 0.9 assists in 21 minutes per game.

DiVincenzo so far as a freshman? 7.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 23 minutes per game.

DiVincenzo has been so good in these last two wins that, even coming off the bench, he’s played the third most minutes on the team – 31 ½ per game.

Josh Hart-esque.

“I talked to him about that before,” Wright said. “Just what impresses us so much about Josh is that he’s just complete. He does everything. There’s nothing on the basketball court he doesn’t do, and I think Donte can be that kind of player, too.”

On Saturday at the Garden, Villanova got off to another slow start. Ten minutes into the game, the Wildcats were shooting 2 for 12 from the field and 1 for 7 from three-point range and trailed by six.

It sure seemed DiVincenzo sensed how badly the Wildcats needed an offensive lift, because he proceeded to make four baskets in a five-minute stretch, including two confident looks from 3.

Those 10 points keyed a 16-6 run that gave ‘Nova the lead for good.

But DiVincenzo, echoing dozens of Villanova players from years past, said he never thinks offensively.

“No, not at all,” he said. “I don’t feel pressure offensively at all. Just focus on defending and rebounding. If the shots are falling for me, great. But if they’re not, just get back and focus on those two things.”

DiVincenzo is a freshman but did play in eight games last year before breaking his foot and sitting out the rest of the year. He did travel with the Wildcats and was on the bench during the NCAA title run.

Now, he’s the biggest surprise on the No. 3 team in the country. Villanova takes a 17-1 record and 4-1 Big East mark into a game Monday night at The Pavilion against Seton Hall, their first meeting since the Pirates beat the Wildcats in last year’s Big East title game.

Think about it.

‘Nova is down two players who Wright expected to be huge parts of this year’s team — title game hero Phil Booth, who's hurt and not expected back this year, and Amari Spellman, whom the NCAA ruled ineligible.

“We’re trying to get to a certain level of play,” Wright said. “We’re trying to figure ourselves out here. We thought we were going to be one kind of team earlier in the season and we lost a couple guys. We like our team, but we’re still trying to figure it out. We’re not a finished product yet.”

In six Big East games, DiVincenzo is averaging 8.2 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists.

No Villanova freshman has averaged 8.0 points, 2.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists in conference play since Lance Miller in 1990.

Overall, DiVincenzo is eighth among Big East freshmen in scoring, seventh in minutes, rebounding, assists and three-point shooting.

And trending upward.

“We’re really excited about him,” Wright said. “He’s doing everything for us. He’s playing point, he’s playing two-guard, he’s playing the three, he’s rebounding, defending, and that’s the kind of players you like to have.

“He’s only a freshman, and he works hard at it. Those two (DiVincenzo and Hart) compete against each other at practice, and he’s got the same competitiveness, so it’s exciting for us. We’re really fired up.

“And you’ve got to do it in games. We all know it’s going to come sometimes, but you’ve got to do it in games. Do it in the Garden? Against a tough aggressive team? Did it in the Xavier game? That’s big-time.”