Game Preview | Ilyasova Joins Team in Cleveland for Road Trip Finale

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Scene Setter:

The Professional will be part of the playoff push.

Having deservedly earned the moniker last season for boasting a shooting touch as dependable as his leadership while in Philadelphia, Ersan Ilyasova rejoined the 76ers in a deal finalized late Wednesday night.

The 30-year old power forward was waived by the Atlanta Hawks earlier this week, and the Sixers - aiming to bolster a bid not only for their first post-season berth since 2012, but also a shot at home court advantage - swooped in to sign him.

It was just last February that the Sixers sent Ilyasova to Atlanta at the trade deadline in a swap that ultimately netted a 2017 second-round pick (promising big man Mathias Lessort). The veteran Turk then inked a one-year contract with the Hawks over the summer.  

This time last year, though, the Sixers were in a far different spot than they are now. With Joel Embiid on the shelf with a knee injury, and Ben Simmons in the midst of rehabbing his right foot, the Sixers weren’t at full strength, and subsequently sellers, not buyers.

Trailing Thursday’s opponent Cleveland by just 3.5 games for third place in the Eastern Conference standings, the Sixers, currently the six seed, have decided to beef up their roster for the final month and a half of the regular season. Ilyasova, who in 2016-2017 had one of the most productive stretches of his career with the Sixers, was viewed as an ideal fit. 

By coming to terms with Ilyasova prior to the playoff eligibility waiver deadline, the Sixers ensured their newest piece will be available for post-season play, should the club qualify.

“You just get excited to have him back,” Brett Brown said Thursday in Cleveland. “It’s not like there’s a mystery to what we’re getting in Ersan, and on the other side of it, there’s no mystery in what he’s getting from us. The experience we all had together was fantastic. I feel that we got better.”

As far back as last April, the Sixers publicly expressed a desire to add a proven stretch four to the mix this season. In Ilyasova, the team has certainly reacquired such a weapon.

During his 53 games with the Sixers a year ago, Ilyasova thrived, posting a career-high 14.8 points per game (also a career-best 19.6 points per 36 minutes), to go along with averages of 5.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists. The 6-foot-10, 235-pounder shot 44.0 percent from the field, and, for the first time as a pro, surpassed the century mark for 3-pointers made. He ended the campaign with 142 triples, which he converted at a rate of 35.3 percent.

Most notable about Ilyasova’s run with the Sixers was that he proved to be a productive complement to the team’s young, blossoming core. When he was at his best, so too were the Sixers, or vice versa. Amidst the squad’s 11-5 surge that began in late December, Ilyasova manufactured a pair of double-doubles and five 20-point games, including a season-best 31-point outburst in a game against Portland.

He was an undeniable part of the Sixers’ uptick in success.

“Me coming here in the middle of the season, it’s exciting,” Ilyasova told reporters Thursday morning at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. “I will know what to expect. Obviously Coach Brown, we talked a lot while all this transition going on.”

Ilyasova enjoyed his time with the Sixers last year, and called getting a second chance with the team as a “great opportunity.” He said he was particularly looking forward to reconnecting with Brown.

“I think something really great is going to happen here. It’s all up to us the way we play. There’s a lot of guys who are capable.”

In 46 outings with Atlanta this season, Ilyasova assumed a full-time starting role. He accounted for 10.9 points and 5.5 rebounds in 25.5 minutes per game, while shooting 45.9 percent, one of his top marks.

Ilyasova participated in Thursday’s shootaround in Cleveland, and is expected to be available off the bench for a significant conference match-up later in the evening against the Cavaliers. This go-round, he’ll wear no. 23 for the Sixers, after sporting no. 7 last year.

Opponent Outlook:

In terms of looks alone, the Cleveland Cavaliers team the Sixers will confront in Thursday’s nationally televised tilt (8:00 PM EST; TNT, 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network) will be vastly different from the one they faced twice in the span of two weeks earlier on in the season. Gone are Isaiah Thomas (whom the Sixers never played against in a Cavs uniform this year) and Channing Frye, both shipped, along with a 2018 first-round pick, to the Los Angeles Lakers at the trade deadline in exchange for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. The same day, further ushering in a youth movement, Cleveland also picked up veteran guard George Hill, and shooting guard Rodney Hood.

In Tuesday’s come-from-behind victory versus Brooklyn, 129-123, LeBron James became the first player ever to reach the career 30,000-point; 8,000-rebound; and 8,000-assist marks. He has a chance to surpass Michael Jordan Thursday for 4th-place on the NBA’s all-time 20-point game chart.

Kevin Love, James’ fellow All-Star, remains out with a left hand fracture for the Cavs, which are in the midst of a season-high five-game homestand.

Follow Along:

• Video: NBA on TNT / TNT Overtime app

• Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network