76ers

Dario Saric 'absolutely' would be better NBA player if he didn't play for Croatia

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Dario Saric 'absolutely' would be better NBA player if he didn't play for Croatia

CAMDEN, N.J. — There’s no hiding the fact that Dario Saric is off to a rough start this season. 

In the first five games of the campaign, Saric is shooting 37 percent from the field. Last year, knocking down threes became the most notable improvement in his game, but he’s been ice cold from downtown (27 percent). The third-year forward’s struggles have only been magnified because of the Sixers’ 2-3 start.

Of course, this isn’t new for Saric. During the first eight games of the season last year, he shot just 32 percent from the field. The first 10 games of his rookie season saw him at just 39 percent.

Unfortunately, there is one tricky culprit that can be pointed to: Saric’s long summers playing with the Croatian national team. Whether it’s the FIBA World Cup, the Olympics or this summer’s Olympic qualifiers, Saric is playing basketball all year round.

The 24-year-old forward has always been fairly honest with the media. After practice Friday, he was pretty candid about how international play has affected his NBA career.

It means so much to me (to play for Croatia) but you know it’s going through your mind maybe if you skip some summer you will be a better player. Maybe you have more time to spend in the States to work on your game. Absolutely, I think I would be a better player if I didn’t play [the last] five, six years on the international team every night. I think I would be a better player but at the end of the day, everything is about winning and you want to win with your national team, too … 

It’s just so hard to talk about it. It really matters for me. This way I choose is maybe wrong, maybe right, but I really enjoy being there and playing with those guys and to represent my country. 

Saric’s poor shooting could certainly be chalked up to tired legs. His shot, which never really had much arc, to begin with, looks even flatter than usual. 

To his credit, Saric was the last player to leave the floor after practice. He was putting up shots from all over the court, trying to get his feel back and hoping to get his game on track.

“I hope I catch a rhythm,” Saric said. “It’s not something that’s going to last all season. Every game I think I’ve improved a step going forward. There shouldn’t be some big question about it. I don’t think I’m playing bad like you can’t recognize me or things like that. 

“How I finished last year I know everybody maybe kind of expected the same game at the beginning of the season but I think it’s hard. I need a little bit of time.”

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Joel Embiid's injury a blow, but lofty goals remain when he returns

Joel Embiid's injury a blow, but lofty goals remain when he returns

The news of a Joel Embiid injury is not what Sixers fans wanted coming out of the All-Star break.

While the All-Star center’s left knee soreness may seem alarming, his head coach downplayed it at the team’s practice facility Wednesday, referring to it as tendonitis (see story).

Brett Brown mentioned that Embiid had been dealing with a knee issue “for a few weeks” and that his playing in the All-Star game did not affect the injury.

“It’s a natural dot connector and it shouldn’t be to think that had anything to do with it,” Brown said at the team’s practice facility. “The bottom line is nobody needs to read into anything here. This is an NBA athlete that has some soreness in a knee, he’s had an MRI and we all should move on. 

“We’ll miss him obviously, playing wise, but it’s not anything that isn’t completely pointed toward keeping him ready and especially ready when it matters most at the end of the year.”

But with Embiid being out for at least a week, Brown and company have to move on without him.

What that initially means is more minutes for fan favorite Boban Marjanovic. Marjanovic certainly brings something to the table with his massive frame, efficient play around the basket and his abilities to screen and roll. Defense will be the issue when he’s asked to cover more fleet-footed fives.

That’s where rookie Jonah Bolden could come in. Bolden lost the backup center role through no fault of his own. He’d been playing well, providing rim protection with quick feet on defense and also hitting the occasional three. 

“You’d think Jonah’s got a chance to reclaim some of his court time that he had prior to the trade,” Brown said. “That is in my mindset, I had him on my second team today. It’ll be good to see him again.”

Other than missing a MVP-caliber player, the biggest disappointment is that the Sixers won’t get to further develop the chemistry of their new starting five. With the playoffs looming, getting that unit to play at its peak is more important than wins and losses.

There are loftier goals that lie ahead of the next last 24 regular season games.

“I’ve been on different teams where the goal is to get into the playoffs,” Tobias Harris said. “Here the goal is to win in the playoffs and to win big. I think we’d be doing ourselves a disservice if we just said, 'Let’s get out of the first round.' We’re trying to go for a championship here.”

It’ll be up to Harris and the other starters to carry more of that scoring load in Embiid’s absence. The player that may bear more of that burden is Jimmy Butler.

Butler can score on all three levels and create his own shot better than any player on the Sixers with Embiid out. Butler put up back-to-back 38-point performances back in early December. One of those games was with Embiid struggling mightily in Toronto and the other was with Embiid sidelined in Detroit.

While he won’t alter his approach with Embiid out, he knows what’s at stake in general.

“I’m going about it the same way,” Butler said. “It’s time to pick it up a little bit. This is the final stretch. I’m ready, man. My mind, my body. I’m relaxed, calm and collected, ready to win some games.”

Once Embiid's body is ready, the Sixers will look to take another step toward their championship goals.

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Joel Embiid out at least a week

Joel Embiid out at least a week

Updated: 3:24 p.m.

The Sixers’ new, much-hyped starting five will be down a key member coming out of the All-Star break. 

Joel Embiid will be out at least a week with left knee soreness, the team announced Wednesday.

He had an MRI that revealed no structural damage and will undergo treatment involving load management and physical therapy before being re-evaluated. Brett Brown described the injury as tendonitis to reporters after practice and said Embiid has been dealing with the injury for a couple weeks.

Embiid, who started his second straight All-Star game, is averaging 27.3 points, 13.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Head coach Brett Brown still considers him the Sixers' "crown jewel."

With the playoffs in mind, you can understand the team's caution with Embiid.

The Sixers’ first game after the All-Star break is Thursday vs. the Heat, with four games scheduled over the next eight days.

There were two other notable inclusions on the Sixers’ medical report:

Furkan Korkmaz suffered a tear of the meniscus in his right knee during the Sixers’ game against the Celtics on Feb. 12. He is currently being assessed and there is no timetable for his return yet.

Rookie Zhaire Smith was a partial participant in the Sixers’ practice Wednesday. He’ll return Thursday to practice with the Blue Coats as he continues to rehab following a Jones fracture in his left foot in August and subsequent medical complications stemming from an allergic reaction. General manager Elton Brand has said he expects Smith to return to play this season. 

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