Game Preview | Additions Providing Timely Bench Boost
As the All-Star break approached, the 76ers had already put themselves in position for serious playoff contention, which was no small feat, given the circumstances.
Throughout the opening stages of the season, there was plenty of youth and untested talent for to be harnessed, plus injuries and strenuous schedule demands to overcome.
Nonetheless, as the calendar flipped from January to February, the Sixers were right in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference. Thanks to a strong post-Christmas spurt, their record hovered steadily over .500 by a few games, and a breakout seven-game winning streak that vaulted the squad towards to the top of the standings would soon be put into motion.
Despite all the signs at the time indicating the Sixers were headed in an encouraging direction, President of Basketball Operations Bryan Colangelo still felt that by adding more, more could be achieved.
Hindsight, coupled with the Sixers compiling the NBA’s second-best record since February 6th (21-5), has demonstrated this hunch was spot on.
By first landing Marco Belinelli, and then, shortly thereafter, Ersan Ilyasova, Colangelo managed to acquire a pair of proven, productive veterans at a critical juncture of the season. The opportunistic signings have gone on to create resoundingly positive ripple effects on the Sixers’ post-season push, as recent results have shown.
Take this past weekend’s two-game road trip, for instance.
Both Belinelli and Ilyasova assumed key roles in helping stretch the Sixers’ late-season winning streak to 10 consecutive games. The impact that the pair had was that much more noteworthy - and needed - when taking into account that the Sixers were short-handed.
In Sunday’s 119-102 victory at Charlotte, Belinelli, the 32-year old swingman whose season began with Atlanta, went for 22 points, his highest total in 22 games with the Sixers. The Italian’s 9 for 10 shooting display (3-4 3fg) was especially timely with the typically-potent Dario Saric on the shelf with right elbow soreness.
Two days earlier, in Atlanta, it was Ilyasova who rose to the occasion. With the Sixers forging ahead in their first full game without Joel Embiid, who sustained a concussion and fractured orbital bone March 28th against New York, Ilyasova pumped out 21 points and 16 rebounds.
The effort made a major difference in the Sixers’ 101-91 win over the Hawks. Ilaysova’s scoring output was his best this year as a Sixer, while his rebounding total established a new season high.
By no means have the individual and collective contributions of Belinelli and Ilyasova been limited to an isolated outing here and there, either. Belinelli has averaged a career-best 12.4 points per game since joining the Sixers, while shooting 50.5 percent from the field, another career-high mark.
“I’m just trying to be aggressive all the time,” Belinelli said following Sunday’s stop in Charlotte. “I just love playing with these guys.”
Ilyasova, who, like Belinelli, opened the season with the Hawks, has been his professional, steady self, too, with the Sixers. He’s accounted for 9.9 points and 5.6 rebounds in his second go-round in town.
Of great importance is that with Belinelli and Ilyasova in the fold, the Sixers’ bench unit has gotten a helpful shot in the arm, its scoring increasing by 9.1 points per game during the month of March. Ranked 26th in the league in points at the end of February, the Sixers’ reserve contingent was 14th in scoring in March.
In addition to on-court performance, the veteran duo of Belinelli and Ilyasova has also provided the Sixers’ young core with valuable mentorship. The two have done their part to turn the Sixers in to a better, more well-rounded group, fulfilling Colangelo’s hopes.
“We have a good team,” Belinelli said this weekend. “We got a couple more games in the season, and we’re going to try to be better and be ready for the playoffs. We just need to work and try to play hard every game.”
It’s a tone that Belinelli and Ilyasova have lately had a undeniable part in setting.
With just over a week remaining in the regular season, the Brooklyn Nets could ultimately be destined for a third straight sub-30 win campaign. Brooklyn, however, actually enjoyed a solid finish to March, all things being equal. The Nets will take the floor Tuesday at The Center having split their last eight games. Noteworthy in respect to Brooklyn is that the club has this season connected on 952 3-pointers, the second-highest total in the NBA. The Nets also rely heavily on their bench, which ranks second in the league with an average of 43.9 points per game. The Sixers have beaten Brooklyn twice in a row after dropping the first meeting of the year between the Atlantic Division foes.
• Video: NBC Sports Philadelphia / NBC Sports app
• Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network