The newspaper headlines had so much potential this morning:
“Ersan Ilyasova scores 26 points as the Sixers win their 15th straight”
“Amir Johnson turns back the clock, wills Sixers to their 51st victory”
“Marco Belinelli stays hot, Sixers down Hawks en route to #3 seed”
None of those things seemed remotely plausible a few months ago, considering that Belinelli and Ilyasova weren’t even on the roster and Amir had only scored 15 or more points once this entire season. He had 15, 8, and 5 last night.
So here we are on April 11th, the regular season finale, and the Sixers are one victory away from closing the campaign on a 16-game winning streak that would secure third place in the east. They’ve won seven in a row without Joel Embiid and four games without Dario Saric, who chipped a tooth on the first play of last night’s game.
The guy can’t catch a break.
More on that in a minute, but first – this is what the standings look like as we head into tonight’s game against Milwaukee:
Here’s tonight’s schedule:
- Bucks at Sixers
- Knicks at Cavs
- Raptors at Heat
- Wizards at Magic
The Cavs have the tiebreakers on the Sixers, so the Sixers need to win to ensure the #3 seed, because Cleveland probably ain’t losing at home to New York.
That would automatically give Milwaukee a loss to bump them down to 44-38.
As for Miami and Washington, they split the season series two games apiece and are currently tied for first place in the Southeast division. If both teams lose or both teams win, Miami would claim the third tiebreaker with a better overall record against the division.
So there are still a lot of moving pieces, and I kind of dig that. I’m interested to see what happens.
For instance, if Milwaukee wins tonight, they basically set up a first round matchup with Cleveland. Do they want that? Or would you sit Giannis, take the L in Philly, and settle for the Sixers or Celtics instead? They also have a draft pick in play, stemming from the Eric Bledsoe trade. It’s protected 1-10 and 17-30, and Milwaukee currently sits right on the edge of the cutoff.
So if the Bucks win, they get the #6 seed and keep their draft pick, but play the Cavs.
If they lose, they avoid the Cavs but might lose their draft pick to the Suns, depending on other results. At least I think that’s how it goes… I haven’t come across anything that parses all of the possible scenarios, but I’ll update if I see it floating around out there.
It’s intriguing stuff. I’m into it.
First, he develops an elbow infection after cutting his arm diving for a ball on a hustle play.
Then he comes back, tries to shake off the rust, and experiences this on the first play of last night’s game:
Dario Saric has exited the court after apparent issue.
Here is a look at the play.
We will update with more info when available. pic.twitter.com/d0yx8R2E1m
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) April 10, 2018
It was a cut lip and chipped tooth and it kept him out of the rest of the game. He had a dentist appointment this morning.
I’d be concerned about his form entering the postseason. It’s one thing to work Joel Embiid back into the lineup, but Dario has been on and off the floor dating back about a week and a half now. On the chart below, the red line is when the elbow became a problem, after the New York game:
He played the first Atlanta game and didn’t shoot well, just 2-10. They took him out of the lineup for three games, then he came back and struggled to shoot against Cleveland and Dallas, just 12 points on 5-19 shooting and 2-11 from three in those matchups.
Last night seemed like a great opportunity to grease the wheels again heading into the playoffs, but now we’re looking at rusty Dario for the weekend. The good thing is that I think that patch will come off his elbow by Saturday. He wore a sleeve in the Cleveland win but took it off against Dallas and was not wearing it last night before having to leave in the 1st quarter.
JJ and the veterans
As good as Ben Simmons and Robert Covington have been in recent weeks, the veteran contributions of JJ Redick, Ersan Ilyasova, and Marco Belinelli have really kept the Sixers afloat during the win streak.
That’s why this is the Bryan Colangelo game, because his signings scored 89 of the Sixers 121 points last night. Ilyasova and Belinelli had 46 off the bench, but again the team-high scorer was Redick.
He’s been stellar down the stretch, playing like a guy who has.. I dunno.. been here plenty of times before. He’s averaging 23 points per game on 52.3% three point shooting in April, numbers that are waaaaaaaaaaaay up from his 17.1 and 42% season averages.
He’s really benefiting from the Sixers’ faster pace in the absence of Embiid, and you see him get a ton of trailing three pointers because teams are simply atrocious at defending the perimeter in transition, especially with Simmons sucking everybody into the paint.
But they’re also throwing a bunch of wrinkles at teams and finding creative ways to get him open, like this sequence here:
The Sixers work off the horns set here, the 2-up/2-down concept you see all the time from Brett Brown. Ilyasova does a great job here of actually faking the downscreen on the low man (Covington), and screens Redick’s man instead, which allows him to peel and take the handoff from Amir Johnson:
You’ve got Redick rubbing off two screens for the easy three-point look.
Same thing here, where Markelle Fultz hands off to Johnson, screens Damion Lee, and then Amir throws the second screen with the same handoff. Atlanta shows absolutely zero awareness in getting to the perimeter, Lee is hung out to dry, Redick knocks it down, and Mike Budenholzer calls a timeout:
Atlanta does a nice job of standing five feet away and staring at Lee while he gets screened out of existence:
Horrendous defense aside, it’s really interesting stuff to watch. They continue to find ways to spring Redick and get him open looks, and he’s a huge reason why this team has been able to stay afloat without Embiid and Saric.