Now This is Fun: Three-Game Sixer "Test" Stretch Begins Against Nuggets

Now This is Fun: Three-Game Sixer "Test" Stretch Begins Against Nuggets

You'll all be happy to know that the Sixers remain on top of ESPN hoop guru John Hollinger's Power Rankings
for a second week this week, which is at least two more than we
would've expected from the Liberty Ballers going into '11-'12. But
looking amidst the many stats that Holly uses to calculate said
rankings, there's that one number that continues to make them stick out
from all the other top ten teams: .372, their "Strength of Schedule"
number that averages the record of the opponents the team has played.
For contrast, no other team in the top ten has an SOS lower than .460,
and the Heat (currently ranked at #2) are way up at .506.

All of this is to say that basically, the Sixers' opponents this season
have been creampuffs. Their "signature win" was against a banged-up
Pacers team at home, and the other three best teams they've played—the
Blazers, Jazz and Knicks—were all losses. (Close losses on the road, but
Ls just the same). Many, especially those incredulous at the Sixers' #1
ranking on ESPN (and even Marc Stein has 'em #3 now), say the Sixers
can't be counted among the East elite until they get some big Ws, even
if their chances at such big Ws have been few and far between in their
first 13 games.

Well, all that changes in the next three games. The Sixers play three
legitimate, proven teams now, with a chance to either show the league
that this team means business, or to demonstrate that we're still not
ready for prime time just yet. It starts tonight with a home game
against the 9-5 Nuggets, continues on Friday with a visit from the 10-4
Hawks, and concludes Saturday against the 9-4 Heat in Miami. Going 1-2
in this stretch would be borderline-acceptable, going 2-1 would be a
triumph, going 3-0 would be a downright statement. Going 0-3 would be
very, very tough to swallow.

Unfortunately, as will be the case for much of this strenuous,
strike-shortened season, the Sixers enter this pivotal stretch of the
season a little bit banged up. Coach Collins had even the boys doing
yoga to get their bodies right yesterday, but Spencer Hawes is still
gimpy with a sore back, and Evan Turner (who missed the Sixers' win over
the Bucks on MLK Day) is questionable with a thigh contusion. With
depth the Sixers' primary calling card, it's fairly crucial that these
guys be willing and able to play over the next three games—though at
least with the Sixers, unlike with some other teams, the loss of any one
guy isn't going to be exactly crippling.

As with the Bucks win, pivotal to success against the Nuggets will be
winning the point-guard battle. Jrue Holiday had his best game of the
season on Monday, with 24 points (on 11-17 FG), five dimes and five
steals, while helping keep Bucks PG Brandon Jennings to 7 points on 3-11
shooting. He'll need to perform similarly against Ty Lawson, the
lightning-quick point who the Sixers passed up to draft The Damaja,
currently in the midst of a near-All-Star season with the Nugs,
averaging 16 and 7 with nearly 50% shooting and a PER over 20.

7:00 tip from the WFC. "I'm down to win all of 'em—all the home games,
away games," Jrue boldly proclaimed after the Sixers' latest win. "We
could go undefeated from here on out. I'm cool with that.” Us too,
natch, though we might hit a hitch or two in that gameplan over the next
four days. If not, then we'll really have earned that #1 spot after all.

Sixers-Wizards 5 things: Refresh and reset after trade deadline

Sixers-Wizards 5 things: Refresh and reset after trade deadline

The Sixers (21-35) return from the All-Star break against the Washington Wizards (34-21) at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday (7 p.m./CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports app).

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Refresh and reset
The dust from the NBA trade deadline has settled and, as expected, the Sixers look a bit different. Perhaps what wasn’t expected: the pieces of the Sixers that changed.

Out are Ersan Ilyasova and Nerlens Noel. In are Justin Anderson, Tiago Splitter (injured all season, so not really), Andrew Bogut (buyout coming in …) and an array of draft picks.

You can argue for days about the long-term implications of the Sixers’ trades, but let’s focus on the here and now. The team lost a scoring punch in Ilyasova (14.8 points per game). However, Ilyasova’s offense has dipped drastically in recent games, which coincided with a strong push on that end by rookie Dario Saric (see story).

In Noel, the Sixers parted with a defensive presence and finisher at the rim. They’ll regain the defense in a different form with Anderson’s ability to lock down on swingmen (see story).

We’ve got 26 games to see how it plays out, starting with tonight against the Wizards.

2. Just kidding, Jah
It’s been an eventful few weeks for Jahlil Okafor to say the least.

The big man went from multiple DNP-CDs to back in the starting lineup to a reserve role and even sent home amid trade rumors. Okafor eventually rejoined the team as potential deals fizzled, but was still expected to be shipped at the deadline.

Then the deadline came and went with Okafor still on the roster.

With Noel traded and Joel Embiid still sidelined because of an injured knee (see story), Okafor should be in the starting lineup. That will give the second-year center the opportunity to improve on his 11.4 points and 4.8 rebounds averages and perhaps improve on that once-high trade stock.

3. Can you Beal it?
John Wall gets the attention when it comes to the Wizards and rightfully so. The guard is a four-time All-Star and one of the best floor generals in the entire league.

However, the reason the Wiz have been able to rise to No. 3 in the Eastern Conference at this point is the play of Bradley Beal.

Beal has been on an absolute tear this season. The two-guard is averaging a career-high 22.2 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting from the field and 40.2 percent from three-point range. He’s also putting up 3.7 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.0 steal per game.

Any hope the Sixers have of knocking off the Wizards will have to start with an attempt to at least slow down Beal and Wall.

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

The Wizards have no players listed on the injury report.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost seven of the their last eight games against the Wizards.

• The Sixers weren’t the only team to pull off a deadline trade. The Wizards acquired Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough from the Brooklyn Nets.

• Okafor scored a season-high 26 points with nine rebounds in the Sixers’ last meeting with the Wizards, a 109-93 loss on Jan. 14.

• Wall has averaged 19.3 points, 9.0 assists and 5.2 rebounds agains the Sixers during his career.

Mike Budenholzer: Hawks 'feel really good' about addition of Ersan Ilyasova

Mike Budenholzer: Hawks 'feel really good' about addition of Ersan Ilyasova

ATLANTA -- Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer says newly acquired power forward Ersan Ilyasova was targeted as a player he saw as a good fit on Atlanta's front line.

The 6-foot-10 Ilyasova gives Atlanta a "stretch forward" who can make 3-pointers while playing behind All-Star Paul Millsap.

"To get somebody that we really targeted and wanted, we feel really good about that," Budenholzer said Thursday.

Budenholzer said matching center Dwight Howard's inside game with Ilyasova "who can stretch and hit the 3s, that is a good pairing."

Ilyasova is expected to join the team before the team plays Miami on Friday night.

Ilyasova was acquired from the Sixers on Wednesday night. The Sixers obtained injured center Tiago Splitter and a protected second-round draft pick from Atlanta, and have the right to swap another 2017 second-round pick with the Hawks.

Ilyasova, from Eskisehir, Turkey, has averaged 14.8 points while starting in 40 of 53 games this season.

"He's somebody that for some time all of us in the front office ... we all kind of watched and wanted him to be a part of the team," Budenholzer said. "I think he's a smart player, a competitive guy. He does a lot of little things. He has an edge to him. Obviously he can shoot."

The Hawks hope Ilyasova, 29, adds scoring punch as they attempt to improve their playoff position. They are fifth in the Eastern Conference, a half-game behind Toronto.

"He can help our team a lot," Millsap said. "We can help ourselves a lot too. With both of those, I think we can move up to 2. I think we've got a chance. We've got enough games to do it."

Hawks guard Kent Bazemore said Ilyasova is "one of the best shooters in the game, I think, as far as playing the stretch 4 position."

"If there's one thing this team needs, I think, is a little more shooting and he can bring just that," Bazemore said.

The Hawks cleared a roster spot before Thursday's trade deadline by sending forward Mike Scott, the rights to Turkish guard Cenk Akyol and cash considerations to the Phoenix Suns for a top-55 protected 2017 second-round pick.

Scott averaged 7.1 points over five seasons with Atlanta but had seen a diminished role this season. He was averaging a career-low 2.5 points in only 18 games this season and was sent to the NBA Development League on three assignments.