Dario Saric

Robert Covington, Dario Saric show what Sixers lost off the court

Robert Covington, Dario Saric show what Sixers lost off the court

You have to give something to get something.

In the Sixers’ case, they had to part with two players that made up two-fifths of the best starting lineup in the NBA last season. Two players that helped them win 52 games and a playoff series. Two human beings that were adored and respected by their teammates.

Robert Covington and Dario Saric returned to Philadelphia Tuesday night as members of the Minnesota Timberwolves after being part of a package to acquire four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler.

Though it wasn’t on full display with Covington out of the lineup and the Sixers crushing the Timberwolves, you could see what the Sixers are missing without the pair. Both players forged a relationship with the city and left an indelible mark on the organization.

“It’s more for me a respect thing, a friendship thing, an appreciation thing that they truly had a significant thumbprint on helping us grow this,” Brett Brown said. “Both of those two guys I’m very fond of. I’m grateful for their efforts here in helping us build our new program.”

Brown reminisced about taking the trip to Spain with Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams to see Saric play with Croatia. He also took pride in seeing Covington in the D-League — now G-League — playing like a “street baller jacking up threes,” but becoming a true two-way wing.

Saric was beloved by the fans, but Covington’s relationship was a little more complicated. What’s not in question was the impact RoCo made on everyone in the building. He hugged former teammates, coaches, Wells Fargo Center staff and even media members.

Though he was ultimately traded, there’s nothing the player that went from undrafted to NBA player to NBA starter to an All-Defensive team pick would change.

“Everyone knows it’s been up and down,” Covington said of his relationship with Sixers fans. “They’re one of the craziest fan bases here, but die-hard fans. They love their sports teams. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. I’ve enjoyed the fans, good and bad. Embrace it all. But overall, this is my true first home. I always love here. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Covington and Saric represented two large pieces of “The Process.” They were two of the biggest fruits of former GM Sam Hinkie’s labor. Covington was able to develop into a legitimate player while playing for a tanking team. Saric was acquired by a result of shrewd dealings by Hinkie.

One player still on the Sixers’ roster that also best represents “The Process” era is T.J. McConnell. Like Covington, McConnell was undrafted and has just continued to capitalize on every opportunity. It’s a group of players that’s truly bonded over the experience.

There was a fun on-court exchange between Saric and McConnell. Saric was guarding his good friend McConnell on a switch. McConnell proceeded to cross up Saric and hit a mid-range jumper. After the shot went down, McConnell gave Saric a pat on the behind.

#TrustTheFriendship

“I think that's a friend-to-friend [thing],” Saric said. “He didn’t want to disrespect me or something like that. We’re two good friends and we try to respect each other and that’s it.”

Butler is a phenomenal player, but it was a bold move by current GM Elton Brand to make the trade for the star wing.

Tuesday night was a reminder of the price the team paid off the court, not on it.

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Sixers 149, Timberwolves 107: Sixers dominate in Jimmy Butler's first game vs. his old team

Sixers 149, Timberwolves 107: Sixers dominate in Jimmy Butler's first game vs. his old team

BOX SCORE 

There’s little question Jimmy Butler’s new team is better than his old one.

Butler and the Sixers (29-16) resoundingly beat the Timberwolves on Tuesday night, 149-107, in the first game between the two teams since their trade in November. 

The Sixers now face a challenging stretch before the All-Star Break that includes games against six of the current top-eight teams in the Western Conference, beginning Thursday night at the Pacers. 

• Butler was deferential early, despite the Sixers running plenty of plays for him. He didn’t attempt his first field goal until over nine minutes into the game and didn’t score his first points until early in the second quarter, on a three-point shot from the left wing off some nice two-man action with Joel Embiid. 

He looked like himself after that, finishing with 19 points on 8 for 10 shooting.

• The team prepared a video tribute for the returning Dario Saric, Robert Covington and Jerryd Bayless that played in the middle of the first quarter.

Saric and Covington got a loud, sustained ovation for their time in Philadelphia, while Bayless heard a few boos.

Covington, who is sidelined with a right ankle injury, did travel with the Timberwolves. He was spotted about two hours before the game giving hugs to members of the Sixers Dunk Squad. 

Saric had 11 points and five rebounds in 22 minutes.

The crowd’s favorite play of the night came in the third quarter, when T.J. McConnell crossed over Saric, drained a mid-range jumper, then gave his good friend a pat on the behind. 

• Embiid decisively won his matchup against Karl-Anthony Towns, posting 31 points and 13 rebounds.

Towns had 13 points and three rebounds and was a game-worst minus-42.

The Timberwolves’ big man is a skilled, versatile offensive player, but he’s not in Embiid’s league defensively. In general, Minnesota is just a bad defensive team without Covington. 

• When Ben Simmons builds up a head of steam in the open floor, it’s typically going to end poorly for opposing teams. 

He predictably had a ton of success in transition against the Timberwolves. The Sixers also used Simmons as a screener on a few pick-and-rolls with Butler, an action which netted Simmons a dunk on one occasion.

In fact, just about everything the Sixers tried on offense was effective. The Embiid-JJ Redick two-man game, Butler pick-and-rolls with Simmons and Embiid, Simmons finding shooters on the break — it was all working.

The Sixers easily surpassed their previous season high of 133 points.

• Wilson Chandler looked as good as he has as a Sixer, breaking out of his shooting slump with 14 points on 5 for 7 shooting, five rebounds and four assists.

Since Christmas, Chandler had been shooting 31.6 percent from the floor, 23.5 percent from three-point territory.

Perhaps most encouraging for the Sixers is that Chandler stepped into his shot without any hesitation. Chandler is very much the fifth wheel of the starting lineup, but he shouldn’t have the lowest usage rate (11 percent) of any Sixer.

• More often than not, Jonah Bolden has made positive contributions off the bench for the Sixers over the past few weeks.

Those positives have usually been, in part, offset by major negatives — he’s good for a couple bad fouls or a head-scratching turnover most nights. 

But Bolden moves his feet on the perimeter and protects the rim well, and he adds a little bit of athleticism that the Sixers’ bench has been lacking. 

We saw all those qualities on Tuesday, and Bolden, a 16 percent three-point shooter entering the game, also made four long-range shots.

You wonder how Bolden’s emergence might affect the Sixers’ priorities as the Feb. 7 trade deadline approaches. The rookie is raw, an inconsistent shooter (to put it kindly) and has no track record in the NBA, so it still wouldn’t be surprising if the Sixers wanted to acquire a backup center. 

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Sixers vs. Timberwolves: 3 storylines to watch and how to live stream the game

Sixers vs. Timberwolves: 3 storylines to watch and how to live stream the game

There are an abundance of storylines to look out for as the Sixers (28-16) play the Timberwolves (21-22) at Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night.

Here are the essentials for the game. 

• When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.
• Where: Wells Fargo Center Center
• Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
• Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are our three storylines to watch.

The return

All eyes will be on Jimmy Butler as he matches up against his former team for the first time tonight. Since Butler made it clear he wanted out of Minnesota, there will be a lot of attention surrounding the current Sixers shooting guard. Butler has not made any recent comments about tonight’s matchup.

The return 2.0

It will also be Robert Covington and Dario Saric’s return to Wells Fargo Center, but Covington is sidelined with a right ankle injury. T.J. McConnell said it will be weird to see Covington and Saric in different uniforms, and Joel Embiid said there is a humorous locker room void without Saric. I think the fans of Philadelphia will also have a special place in their hearts for both of these two guys, and I’m excited to see what the fans do when Saric checks into the game for the first time.

Marc Zumoff’s 25 years!

The Sixers are celebrating Marc Zumoff’s 25 years as the Sixers' play-by-play announcer, which means we’ve got a lot of surprises in store on our broadcast tonight! Zumoff will be calling his 1,883rd regular season game tonight and will ring the ceremonial Liberty Bell just before tip. Stay glued to the broadcast, because we have so many fun things to share with you!

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