76ers

Dario Saric knows his role will change on a deeper Sixers team

Dario Saric knows his role will change on a deeper Sixers team

Starter or second unit? Dario Saric is ready to embrace whatever role Brett Brown assigns him.

Saric's role is likely to change this season because of new additions and players returning from injury. 

"Everybody wants to start," Saric said at practice Wednesday. "But I don't have a problem coming from the bench."

As a rookie, Saric came off the bench behind Ersan Ilyasova and became the starting power forward following Ilyasova's trade to the Hawks. In total, Saric started 36 of 81 games, including all 25 after the All-Star break.

This season, that starting four-spot will go to Ben Simmons. While the 6-foot-10 Simmons will run the floor, he will be guarding forwards on defense. That would bump Saric into the second unit, where he could thrive as a go-to option in the offensive system. There will be more touches for Saric as a reserve than as a starter with players like Joel Embiid and JJ Redick being offensive focal points.

"Maybe I will have more space for me from the second unit," Saric said. "Now it's looking like that. But I will try to fight 100 percent. That's in my blood."

Of course, Saric would prefer to start — most players would think the same way. On the Sixers, though, head coach Brett Brown actually focuses more on who will end games than start them. If Saric hears his name called with two minutes to go, that would mean more to him than being in the starting lineup.

"That's the more important thing for me. I hope I will be in the group who finishes the game," Saric said. "I hope I will find a way to finish the game, to be in the unit who can win the game."

Sixers eager to learn whether they can deliver final blow to Heat

Sixers eager to learn whether they can deliver final blow to Heat

Now comes the hard part.

Sure, the Sixers return to the Wells Fargo Center for Tuesday night’s Game 5 with a 3-1 series lead over the Miami Heat. But everyone knows the fourth and final victory to eliminate an opponent is the toughest one.

“You’re throwing jabs, you’re feeling each other out. Then later on in the series, you have to deliver a crushing blow,” JJ Redick said at Monday’s practice. “You have to finish them.”

This version of the Sixers has never finished off a playoff series and it’s been quite a while since the organization has advanced in the postseason at all.

The last time was May 10, 2012, when the Sixers knocked off the top-seeded and severely banged-up Chicago Bulls. Andre Iguodala made a pair of free throws with 2.2 seconds left in Game 6 to give the Sixers a 79-78 home win to reach the second round.

Those were the days of the “Show Ya Luv” Sixers. That squad featured varied first-round draft picks, who made the most out of playing with heart and hustle. 

These “Trust the Process” Sixers comprised of topflight lottery picks are finding out that same formula carries weight in the postseason and certainly Philadelphia. It’s the superstar-level talent that sets the 2017-18 team apart from the previous group and has it thinking about more than just a single series victory.

“A lot of people say that we have a bright future, but I think our time is now,” Joel Embiid said (see story). “We have a pretty good chance. We have a special team, a lot of great guys. I don’t think we need anybody else. We’ve just got to work with what we have, and we have a special team. I feel like we have a pretty good chance to go far.”

The latest step in the Sixers’ journey is available to them at 8 p.m. in front of a crowd that will be at full throat once things tip off.

Will they deliver that knockout blow? It won’t be easy either way, but the franchise is eager to see how it handles the next challenge in this real-time maturation process now taking place on the NBA’s grandest stage.

“I look at the playoffs and I look at our team, we have as much room for growth as anybody,” head coach Brett Brown said. “I think we have more room for growth. I look at this as a really exciting opportunity. You sort of go through college and now here we are in grad school, if you will. We have a chance to learn a lot more. A lot more. And we need to.”

Joel Embiid ready for home playoff debut, says Sixers' 'time is now'

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USA Today Images

Joel Embiid ready for home playoff debut, says Sixers' 'time is now'

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid received a text message from across the NBA following the Sixers’ 27-point win over the Heat in Game 1. 

It was from Draymond Green, sending his championship-winning insight. 

“Draymond texted me after the first game when we blew Miami out,” Embiid recalled Monday. “He basically told me that it’s not going to be the same in Game 2. They came back and they won that game.” 

Green was right. Each contest has been a match of adjustments, including Embiid’s return from a 10-game layoff. Wearing a required mask with goggles, Embiid played in the Sixers’ Game 3 and Game 4 victories. 

Now he’s poised to make his postseason home debut Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center, where he’s been eager to compete in a playoff game his entire career. 

“The atmosphere was amazing, it was insane,” Embiid said of the home crowd in Games 1 and 2. “After going to Miami, I felt like nothing compared to it. … We’ve been almost perfect [at home] since the beginning of the year. It just shows you how much we need them. Especially myself, I play better in that type of environment. I need the fans to get into it and push me. That makes me elevate my game.” 

Embiid’s offensive game has been impacted since coming back from a concussion and left orbital fracture suffered on March 28. He scored 23 points (5 for 11 FG) with seven rebounds, four assists, three blocks and three turnovers in Game 3. The following game, he posted 14 points (2 for 11 FG, 0 for 4 from three), 12 rebounds, five blocks and eight turnovers. Embiid is shooting 31.8 percent from the field and 71.4 percent from the line in the series. 

“The main thing, especially when it (the offense) doesn’t go my way, is just be a beast defensively,” he said. 

Embiid cannot play without the protective mask, though, which he has described as “annoying” and “weird.” Markelle Fultz and Amir Johnson tried on the goggles after practice Monday to get a glimpse into his line of vision. 

“They kind of saw my pain when I have to wear them,” Embiid said. “But that can’t be an excuse. I have to get used to it.” 

Embiid’s mindset going into Game 5 is to close out the Heat series and get some extra time before the second round (see story). The Celtics and Bucks series is tied 2-2. He sees the first round as just the starting point for the Sixers’ postseason. 

“A lot of people say that we have a bright future, but I think our time is now,” Embiid said. “We have a pretty good chance. We have a special team, a lot of great guys. I don’t think we need anybody else. We’ve just got to work with what we have, and we have a special team. I feel like we have a pretty good chance to go far. 

"So it’s just about us taking care of the little things, like not turning the ball over, just playing together, like we've been doing, sharing the ball, not be selfish, and everything is going to take care of itself." 

Embiid will take the court for his first postseason game in Philadelphia when the Sixers tip off against the Heat at 8 p.m. Tuesday on NBCSP.

"The playoffs, that’s kind of like you play in front of the whole world," Embiid said. "I feel like I thrive in that type of situation because I feel like I was made for this."