Dario Saric's shooting display could be sign of things to come

Dario Saric's shooting display could be sign of things to come

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — In a four-minute span, forward Dario Saric showed just how valuable he could be to the Sixers this season coming off the bench.

The 6-foot-10 big man sank four three-pointers to start the second quarter of the Sixers' 133-114 cruise past the Nets Wednesday night (see observations), with his assigned defender — $64 million man Timofey Mozgov — oftentimes barely in the same zip code. 

Mozgov outweighs Saric by 52 pounds, and the Sixers’ sophomore was able to use that to his advantage to generate open looks.

“It’s easy, because I can drive, too, and he’s sometimes in a difficult position,” Saric said. “If he goes to step out on me a little bit more, I can drive. If he stays too low down there, I can shoot like I did tonight. I like having guys like that.”

Mozgov committed the error of hanging too far back on Saric time and again. On Saric’s fourth and final three-pointer of his second-quarter shooting spree, Mozgov committed to staying low in the paint and turned his head away from Saric as Robert Covington drove to the rim.

Saric backpedaled to the left corner and by the time Mozgov could even raise his arms above his head to contest the shot, the ball had already left Saric’s fingertips and was well on its way towards giving the Sixers a 44-27 lead.

Coach Brett Brown said before the exhibition contest began that he planned on tightening up the team’s rotation. Saric wound up playing a shade over 24 minutes off the bench and led the team in field goal attempts (14), made field goals (10) and made three-pointers (5).

Though much of the focus on Wednesday’s game surrounded center Joel Embiid’s first action on the court since the meniscus injury that ended his 2016-17 campaign in January and his new $148 million contract extension, Saric’s performance did not go unnoticed. In the postgame media scrum, Brown asked that the second question out of reporters’ mouths touch on Saric.

After a reporter complied with the fifth-year coach’s request, Brown waxed eloquently, eventually touching on Saric’s flexibility. Saric could wind up playing significant minutes spelling different starters in various roles.

“It makes him just a really fantastic sort of teammate and an improving player,” Brown said. “You forget sometimes that he’s only going into his second year.”

The fact that Saric — who was unanimously voted to the NBA All-Rookie First Team last season — will likely spend 2017-18 coming off the bench and rotating into various spots on the Sixers’ lineup demonstrates just how far the team has come in the span of one offseason. Brown is now the beneficiary of roster flexibility and depth he never had in prior campaigns.

If Saric’s three-point shooting form can hold up once the season starts, he may become a weapon beyond what even Brown could have envisioned. Saric shot just 31.1 percent from beyond the arc last year but has hit six of his 13 shots from distance in his two games of preseason action, good for a 46.2 percent clip.

“I think that in the first game I was a little bit slow in the game, but this game I understood how to play,” Saric said. “I remember how it goes in an NBA game and of course, sometimes you need this game before the season.

“I hope I have so many games like this during the season and I hope I find myself and do the right things.”

Western Conference streaks give Sixers a boost

USA Today Images

Western Conference streaks give Sixers a boost

SAN ANTONIO -- LaMarcus Aldridge had 27 points and nine rebounds, and the San Antonio Spurs won their fifth straight, 98-90 over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.

San Antonio remained in sixth place in the Western Conference, one-half game behind fourth-place Oklahoma City. The Spurs close out a six-game homestand on Friday against Utah, which is 1 games behind San Antonio in eighth place.

Bradley Beal and Kelly Oubre Jr. each had 21 points to lead the Wizards, who dropped into sixth in the Eastern Conference.

San Antonio's winning streak follows a 3-11 skid that briefly dropped the Spurs out of playoff position.

Aldridge has been critical to the turnaround, averaging 29.6 points and 9.2 rebounds during the streak.

Against Washington, Aldridge scored nine points during a 23-9 run that gave San Antonio a 17-point lead with four minutes left in the third quarter.

Without injured All-Star John Wall, the Wizards were unable to answer (see full recap).

Davis, Pelicans outlast Pacers for 3rd straight win
NEW ORLEANS -- Anthony Davis capped a 28-point, 13-rebound, five-block performance with a 15-foot baseline fade, a gritty put-back and two free throws in the final minute, and the New Orleans Pelicans outlasted the Indiana Pacers 96-92 on Wednesday night.

E'Twaun Moore scored 23 for New Orleans, which had to overcome a scrappy defensive effort by Indiana to win its third straight.

The Pelicans, who average nearly 112 points per game, were limited to 43 percent (34 of 79) accuracy by the Pacers, who also turned 20 New Orleans turnovers into 15 points.

The Pacers shot only 36.6 percent (34 of 93), but kept the game close with 15 offensive rebounds and 17 second-chance points.

Neither team led by more than six, and the game was tied at 87 with 1:49 left, after Victor Oladipo's block of Jrue Holiday sent Darren Collison away for a fast-break layup as he was fouled by Moore.

Moore put back his own miss with 1:24 to play to put the Pelicans back in front, and after Oladipo was called for a travel with 1:12 to go, Davis hit his clutch fade in front of the Pacers' bench, holding his right arm up triumphantly as the shot went down (see full recap).

Howard has historic night in Hornets’ comeback
NEW YORK -- Dwight Howard had 32 points and 30 rebounds, becoming the first player with a 30-30 game against the Nets since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1978, and the Charlotte Hornets stormed back to beat Brooklyn 111-105 on Wednesday night.

Kemba Walker scored 10 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter for the Hornets, who trailed by as many 23 points in the second half to win in front of an announced crowd of 10,231 at Barclay Center while a heavy snowfall outside blanketed the New York City area.

Trailing 105-102 with 2:14 left in regulation, the Hornets went on a 9-0 run to pull off the impressive comeback.

Jeremy Lamb, who had 17 points to help end Charlotte's two-game losing streak, made a layup to cut the deficit to 105-104. The Hornets then called a timeout after a miss by Caris LeVert with 23 seconds left. On the ensuing possession, Walker spun around Quincy Acy and capped a three-point play to put Charlotte up 107-105, the Hornets' first lead of the night since a 16-15 advantage with 5:46 in the opening quarter.

LeVert missed a chance to tie it when he was met by Howard under the basket. Howard then hit a pair of free throws to make it 109-105.

D'Angelo Russell scored 19 points and LeVert added 11 for the Nets, whose two-game winning streak was cut short. They have yet to have won three consecutive this season (see full recap).

Robert Covington shoveled snow before Sixers' win

Robert Covington shoveled snow before Sixers' win

Did you hire someone to shovel out your driveway in Winter Storm Toby?

Robert Covington didn’t. 

“I shoveled my driveway and the sidewalk and my walkway,” Covington said following the Sixers' 119-105 win over the Grizzlies on Wednesday (see observations). “[It took me] about 20 minutes. It wasn’t that bad because the snow wasn’t really heavy and it wasn’t sticking, so I just kind of, in and out.” 

The thing is, Covington actually likes to shovel snow. It’s a task he grew up doing during the winters in Illinois and one that taught him the value of hard work. He shoveled to help his family and elderly neighbors who needed a hand. 

“The responsibility that my parents instilled in me was, when you’re told to do something, you’ve got to make sure you handle your business and you have to do it at a certain level,” Covington said. 

Covington, who signed a $60 million contract this season, easily could have hired a snow removal service to help him get to the game on time. But there was something he liked about taking care of it.  

“I’ve always done it myself,” Covington said. “It kind of gives you a sense of still working and still doing the simple things. Everybody tells me I could have paid someone to do it, one of the kids in the neighborhood, but it wasn’t about that. It was just something quick. I chose to go out there and do it, knock it out.”

The snow didn't slow down Covington at all. He scored 15 points in less than 23 minutes, shooting an efficient 6 for 9 from the field and 3 for 4 from three. 

So given how well he played following the shoveling, did he stumble upon a new pregame routine?

“No,” Covington said with a laugh. “I won’t continue to do that because I kind of got a little sniffles while I was out there. No, I won’t be out doing that too much because I don’t want to get sick.”