Dario Saric

Joel Embiid reminds just how good he is with dominant debut

Joel Embiid reminds just how good he is with dominant debut

BOX SCORE

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Joel Embiid didn't miss a beat.

After being sidelined since Jan. 27 with a torn meniscus, Embiid made his long-awaited preseason debut on Wednesday. He picked up right where he left off from his standout rookie year.

"It felt great," Embiid said after the Sixers’ 133-114 win over the Nets (see observations). "I’m glad I’m back.”

Embiid had 22 points, seven rebounds, three assists and a block in just under 15 minutes. He shot 4 for 9 from the field and an overwhelming 14 for 18 from the free throw line (see highlights). The center also attempted (and missed) a pair of threes. Even with a monster stat line, Embiid noted he thought his defense should have been stronger. 

"I didn't have a lot of time on the court so I feel like I'm still behind, but with repetition, it's going to come," he said. 

This preseason game was more than just his return from left knee surgery in March. It was his first contest since signing a mega five-year, $148 million contract extension on Tuesday. Embiid showed the Sixers they are getting their money's worth.

"All over the place. Something like tonight will remind us all that's why he was paid what he was paid," Brett Brown said. 

After seeing Embiid's performance, Dario Saric endorsed his teammate's new deal with a smile (more on Saric here)

"I think Bryan (Colangelo) did a good job. He signed him for just $148 million. It's a joke," Saric said. "It's just pure talent. He's got talent to be one of the best to play this game. ... If he stays healthy, I hope I will be on his team ... because of that I can start to celebrate one championship earlier."

Many of the Sixers had not played in a game with Embiid before Wednesday. Ben Simmons got a small taste last training camp but never shared the court in a game. 

Outside of a high-low play in which Embiid fed Simmons for a strong two-handed dunk (see highlights), the pair didn’t connect often throughout the win. Still, Simmons felt the big man’s impact on the game.

"[It's] way easier," Simmons said. "Just having him there, he draws so much attention. It was good for him to get his flow at the start and let him do his thing. As I've said, no one can really stop him. He's a beast down there."  

Embiid didn't show lingering signs in the game from his knee surgery. He said his legs felt heavy at times but he expected that to happen since he hadn't played in so long. 

Embiid was active on all ends of the floor and stayed in the game after taking spills. Brown hopes as Embiid's minutes become more consistent, the center will slow down his pace to avoid those hold-your-breath-as-he-hits-the-floor moments. 

The Sixers have not officially said whether Embiid will play Friday in Kansas City. He would like to not only suit up but also have his minutes increased (he was capped at 12 to 14 against the Nets). Embiid’s goal is to be restriction-free for opening night on Oct. 18.

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.”

Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric available tonight vs. Celtics; 2 starters out

Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric available tonight vs. Celtics; 2 starters out

BOSTON — JJ Redick and Robert Covington (rest) won't play for the Sixers tonight in preseason game No. 3 in Boston, but Brett Brown will get two key players back. 

Markelle Fultz is available for the Sixers tonight after missing Friday's home game against the Celtics with a shoulder injury. Dario Saric is also available after missing each of the first two preseason games to rest. 

The Sixers' starting lineup tonight will be Ben Simmons, Jerryd Bayless, Nik Stauskas, Saric and Jahlil Okafor. Fultz will come off the bench. Brown is using this preseason game as another opportunity to experiment with lineups. He will distribute minutes to get an extended look at different players. 

Brown's plan is to play Saric limited minutes tonight and then ramp him up in the Sixers' final two preseason games (Wednesday at Brooklyn, Friday vs. Miami).

"I'm feeling free," Saric said of being cleared to play. "Now I'm fresh." 

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (right knee) and James Michael McAdoo (left hamstring) will also be available tonight. 

Joel Embiid remains out but is back in Philadelphia training and will rejoin the Sixers on Monday night.

The Sixers will be without center Richaun Holmes for at least three weeks as he recovers from a broken left wrist suffered in Friday's loss to Boston.

The regular season begins for the Sixers on Wednesday, Oct. 18 at Washington.

George Dempsey dies
The Sixers on Sunday announced the passing of George Dempsey, who played for the Philadelphia Warriors and Syracuse Nationals from 1954-59. 

A native of South Jersey who was born in Philadelphia, Dempsey was part of the Warriors' NBA title team in 1956. 

Dempsey was 88 years old.