Dario Saric the best thing about Sixers' December

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Dario Saric the best thing about Sixers' December

Though it ended on a relative high note — a 3-2 road trip, capped with a well-earned 123-110 win last night vs. the Suns — December was not an overly kind month for the Sixers. 

The team went 5-10 for the month, without winning consecutive games until these last two Ws at month's end, sinking them out of the playoff picture in the standings and raising a number of serious questions about the team's current trajectory. Ben Simmons has struggled, Robert Covington has gone cold, and Joel Embiid, while brilliant (26-10-4 for the month), only played in 10 of the 15 games and may end up missing more time with a sprained hand suffered in the fourth quarter in Phoenix.
However, one unqualified positive did come from the Sixers' cruelest month of the season: the breakout of Dario Saric. It's easy to forget now, but Dario was colder than Times Square at the ball drop to start the season, not even scoring in double figures until his sixth game. Part of that was because Brett Brown had him coming off the bench to start the season, but it was also because his shot looked flat, his chemistry with his new teammates seemed lacking and he just generally felt disconnected from the rest of the team. 

Ancient history now, because The Homie has been scorching of late. In the 12 contests since he missed the Lakers game early in the month with an eye laceration, Dario's averaged an 18-8-4 on 48 percent shooting and 40 percent from three-point land. Those are awesome numbers from a guy who isn't even supposed to be one of the main cogs, and the last one is probably the most important — the shooting and spacing he's provided as a stretch four is truly invaluable to a team like the Sixers, especially in lineups with both Embiid and Simmons. You saw his value in the Lakers game he missed (and the Sixers lost) — without him, there's no forward to play alongside Embiid that doesn't make JoJo's life more difficult. 

And his best numbers have come at month's end. He largely no-showed the Christmas game against New York — just 4 of 15 from the field, and a nearly back-breaking 0-6 from three — but has gone an absurd 12-18 from deep in the three games since, scoring over 20 in each, the longest such streak of his career. He's shooting better from everywhere on the floor than last year (including the free-throw line, where he hasn't missed in five games), he's turning the ball over less frequently, and as Derek Bodner points out, he's especially excelling alongside Joel, after struggling on court with him at season's start. 

You hope he keeps up this efficiency as the Sixers (hopefully) hit more of a stride in the new year, even once Markelle Fultz (hopefully) slots back into the rotation at some point. The Sixers don't need Dario to be a Big Three-type guy, but if he can keep doing what he does and provide wins around the margins of games, that's a huge asset for when the Sixers (HOPEFULLY) are ready to emerge as true contenders. 

Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg get a bit heated in dugout altercation

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Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg get a bit heated in dugout altercation

While the Phillies put up seven early runs Friday in an attempt to overcome a shaky start by Jake Arrieta out of the All-Star break, there was some drama in D.C.

Stephen Strasburg, in his return from the DL, was pulled after allowing six runs in 4⅔ innings to the Braves. As he jogged off the field and down the dugout steps, he was greeted by Nats ace Max Scherzer, who gave him a supportive pat on the back.

Seconds later, Strasburg barked at Scherzer, who snapped his head back and shrugged in exasperation.

Scherzer was clearly ticked off and shouted back at Strasburg with some emphatic gestures. Strasburg jumped up and began to walk down the steps back to the clubhouse with Scherzer following him. It appeared they wanted to finish their heated conversation in private.

It's been a frustrating season for the Nats. They're 48-49 and six games behind both the Braves and Phillies. This was Strasburg's 14th start of the season and it hasn't been Strasburg-like at all. He has a 3.90 ERA and has allowed 12 home runs in 85⅓ innings.

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Mike Muscala wasn't very fond of Joel Embiid as an opponent

Mike Muscala wasn't very fond of Joel Embiid as an opponent

Joel Embiid's new backup wasn't very fond of the Sixers' star center when he wasn't his teammate.

The Sixers will eventually acquire Mike Muscala from the Atlanta Hawks as part of a three-team trade involving Carmelo Anthony (see story). The trade is not official yet.

As is the case these days with social media, players' old takes resurface and Muscala is no different — except this time, it's not old tweets from a teenaged Muscala.

Appearing on the Road Trippin' podcast (h/t Jeff McMenamin and Pro Basketball Talk) on Feb. 13, 2018, Muscala, then with the Hawks, said the following:

I don’t like the Sixers.

I just don’t like them. I just feel like they talk a lot of s—, especially Embiid.

I understand there’s going to be some trash-talking. But I just feel like — I don’t know. Sometimes, I just — I respect players that just let their play do the talking. And I think sometimes, it just gets excessive, especially with Embiid.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing for the league. I think it’s entertaining, and I think people can feed off of that. In a weird way, I respect him for being to do that, because it takes a lot of guts and confidence, at the same time.

One important thing to note here. Muscala and Embiid were not teammates at the time and anyone who has watched Embiid play basketball knows he's a trash-talker. Of course, his opponents are not going to like it.

Embiid played just one game against the Hawks in 2017-18. He scored 21 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in 30 minutes on Nov. 1, 2017. Muscala? Just two points in 22 minutes.

Yeah, it's pretty clear who had the better stat line. And you can bet Embiid was chirping the entire game. Who could blame him?

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