It could've been a perfect Sunday for the Philadelphia 76ers: The Cavs, Bucks and Pistons had all lost earlier in the day, and a win in Washington on ESPN could've catapulted them all the way to the fifth seed -- and just a game and a half behind Cleveland in third. No such luck in DC: The Wizards rode a hot-shooting second quarter to a stunning 17-point halftime margin, which ballooned to 23 in the third. The Sixers cut it back to single digits late, but Wiz guard Bradley Beal made every shot he needed to stave Philly off, and the game ended 109-94 Washington.
All in all, can't get too mad about this one. The Sixers had won seven in a row, and were playing Washington on the second night of a back to back -- once the Wizards started making everything in the second quarter, it seemed time for Philly to finally take a fall. Though Embiid and Simmons still played well -- a couple too many turnovers for Embiid, but a 25-10-4 is still nothing to take for granted -- the disparity in shooting was too much to overcome, as Washington hit 54% of their shots and Philly just 36%. Frankly, it was impressive that the Sixers still managed to make the Wizards sweat this one at all.
And news broke pre-game that the Sixers will be getting further reinforcements shortly, in the form of our old friend Ersan Ilyasova. Shams Charnia of Yahoo reported that Ilyasova planned to sign with Philly following his buyout from the Atlanta Hawks, joining Brett Brown's squad for the second time in as many years. It feels like at least a full election term since Ilyasova was a Liberty Baller, but during his 53 games with the Sixers last season, he played fairly well, fitting nicely alongside Embiid and sort of providing the model for the player Saric would have to become to slot in seamlessly to the starting lineup this season. He'll be another veteran shooter off the bench, and that should be of no small value to the Sixers' first Process-era playoff push.
The eventual addition of Ilyasova, along with the previous signing of Marco Belinelli, further validates the Colangelos' decision to essentially sit out this year's trade deadline. Neither Belinelli or Ilyasova will likely be part of the Sixers' long-term plans, but they'll plug holes in the team's roster nicely for the remainder of this season -- and since their acquisition essentially costs Philly nothing, there's no reason to expect anything more from them. They're perfect low-leverage pickups, and while grabbing a couple castoffs from the Hawks probably won't result in the Sixers bringing home their first title in 35 years, they round out the team's bench nicely going into this postseason, and they bring no obvious downside along with them. It won't get our new decision-makers confused with Our Once and Always Dark Lord Sam Hinkie, but it's solid margins-playing.
The only real drawback of Ilyasova's signing is that the team will have to open up a roster spot to make room for him. That likely means cutting one of the team's more fungible players -- perhaps veteran power forward Trevor Booker, currently getting about 15 minutes a night of scrapping alongside Joel Embiid, but ultimately too offensively and defensively limited to really offer much in long stretches against elite competition. Ilyasova would likely be getting Booker's backup power forward minutes anyway, and the latter's contract is up in the summer, making him an easier waive than the similarly expendable Jerryd Bayless, who has another costly year on his deal after this.
However, as Sixers fans remember, Booker didn't come for free for the Colangelos -- he was the return from Brooklyn in a deal that saw the Sixers send out former lottery picks Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas, as well as a future second-round pick. The trade was hardly a blockbuster, but it was evidently important enough for Jerry and Bryan to be able to say they got something for their fallen prospects that they attached a pick to the deal to make it happen. WIll the bad PR look lead to them cutting one of their young wings -- the bench-ridden Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, or the injured Furkan Korkmaz -- rather than Booker? Regardless, Ilyasova's presence as a floor-stretching four will almost certainly leave Booker buried in the Sixers' rotation, further reinforcing how misguided the trade for him was in the first place.
This minor silliness and last night's loss aside, the 76ers are still in a good place -- two games up on eighth-place Miami and four and a half on ninth-place Detroit, with just two and a half games between them third-place Cleveland. The Sixers would do well to win at least one of their next two -- in Miami tomorrow and Cleveland on Thursday -- but again, this road swing is the last really tough part of their '17-'18 schedule, and even if the Ballers have to drop a couple more over the next week, they should be able to make up for it in the season's final month. With Belinelli and Ilyasova in tow, they're hardly unstoppable, but they're at least fully loaded -- guaranteed, no one in the East will be looking forward to seeing them at the WFC in April.