Seltzer's Notebook | Saric Has Health & Team Goals in Mind, Road Run Ends, Casey's Praise

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Saric Discusses Heel, 30 Wins

Leaving Toronto Sunday, Dario Saric had just put the wraps on his 155th appearance in an organized basketball game of some kind in the last 17 months.

For those keeping track at home, here’s a breakdown of how all of these games, dating back to a stretch that began in October of 2015, stack up…

• Anadolu Efes (Turkish Basketball Super League): 61 games (10/2015 – 6/2016)

• Team Croatia (Olympic Qualifying Tournament): 4 games (7/2016)

• Team Croatia (Olympic Tournament:) 6 games (8/2016)

• Philadelphia 76ers (NBA): 6 pre-season games (10/2016)

1 Rising Stars Challenge game (2/2017)

77 reg. season games (10/2016 – present)

TOTAL: 155 games (10/2015 – present)

In terms of total time logged on the court during this period, Saric sits just shy of the 4,000 minute mark. He’ll likely exceed that figure by next Wednesday, when the Sixers conclude their season at Madison Square Garden versus the Knicks.

Based on the intensive workload outlined above, the possibility of the 22-year old dealing with some aches and pains at this late juncture of the season wouldn’t be entirely unthinkable, especially when taking into account how hard he plays. So, when the Sixers announced Sunday that Saric was being placed on a 24-minute guideline for that evening’s match-up with the Raptors, the news didn’t come as a total shock.

The issue prompting the guideline, according to the team, was soreness in Saric’s left heel.

“You’re always mindful of trying to not grind him down,” Brett Brown said. “I say that more from a responsibility standpoint than I do there’s this long lasting ripple effect with injury. We don’t see it like that. It’s just at this stage of the year, that’s the guideline we’ve been given.”

An approach that becomes that much more understandable given the growth and improvements Saric has shown, specifically since being promoted to the starting line-up on a full-time basis five weeks ago. As of Monday, he topped all active rookies (and Sixers, for that matter) in scoring (12.9 ppg) and in double-doubles (10). Saric ranks second among active first-year peers in rebounding (6.3 rpg), too.

Echoing Brown’s tone Sunday, Saric didn’t sound too alarmed about his heel. After going 0 for 6 from the field and scoring two points in the first half versus the Raptors, he ultimately found his stride. The Croatian converted 5 of his final 7 field goal attempts, including this impressive length-of-the-floor fourth quarter lay-up that resulted in an and-1.

“I’m good,” Saric said before Sunday’s tip-off. “Philadelphia 76ers medical staff, they want to protect me.”

Saric’s night came to an end midway through Sunday’s final frame. He had used up the full allotment of his prescribed 24 minutes to finish with 16 points and three rebounds. The Sixers outscored Toronto by two during the time that Saric was on the court.

True to form, Saric was his typical aggressive, physical, determined self. Going into Sunday’s game, Brown didn’t expect much different, regardless of whether there was a playing limit in place.

“It’s how he’s wired, it’s how he’s raised,” said Brown, citing Saric’s pedigree as the son of two basketball players, and an involvement in professional hoops traceable to his teenage years. “If you studied Dario Saric’s calendar from the past two and a half years, there’s no breaks, because you got the pride of the nation with Croatia trying to get his homeland into an Olympic games, and you’ve got the relentless duration of the Euroleague, and you combine sort of Euroleague and national league commitments, then going to Rio, then coming immediately into his first NBA season, and it is just relentless.”

“He’s fine,” Brown continued. “He’s just wired like that. He’s a soldier.”

Saric, who takes pride in his durability, acknowledged Sunday that not being available on a full-fledged scope for his teammates and coaches was “hard and tough.”

“You want to play, you want to help the team,” he said.

And, as much as he aspires to fulfill a full 82-game regular season commitment to the Sixers, he is most focused on a group-central goal, with only five tilts remaining on the club’s schedule. If scaling back a bit is necessary to achieve this objective, Saric sounded as if he were at peace with the matter.

“My target is to try to take 30 wins this year,” Saric said. “If you are out some game, you have less chance to take that 30 wins, but I think healthy is most important thing.”

Road Run Ends

Not only were the Sixers able to come home and sleep in their own beds following Sunday’s game at Toronto, they should essentially be able to do so for pretty much the rest of the season.

After completing a marathon grind that required them play 11 of 14 games on the road, the Sixers are set to start a homestand Tuesday spanning four contests over the next eight days. The team will then make a quick trek to New York, where it wraps up the campaign against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, April 12th.

Brett Brown thought the Sixers handled themselves well during a particularly rigorous patch of the schedule that also happened to fall during the home stretch of the season.

“I think they’re great,” said the fourth-year head coach. “They’ve a very close team.”

Since a March 9th stop at Moda Center in Portland, the Sixers have traversed through all but one of the United States’ four time zones (Mountain, and they flew over it on their Western Conference trip). Their itinerary has taken them to 10 different cities, all the way from the Pacific coast to central Florida, and from the Bible Belt to the Big Apple.

Along the way, the Sixers turned in some inspired performances that fell short (i.e. vs. Trail Blazers, Clippers, Warriors, and Magic), and stashed away a few more wins (i.e. vs. Lakers, Bulls, and Nets, in addition to sweeping the Mavericks and Celtics on a two-game homestand.

Over the past three-plus weeks, the Sixers have also had to cope with mounting roster change resulting from injuries. Joel Embiid’s surgery was announced, and Robert Covington and Jahlil Okafor were both ruled out for the season. Gerald Henderson and Sergio Rodriguez have been dealing with injuries as well.

A byproduct of the Sixers’ health has been roster additions. Shawn Long, Tiago Splitter, and, most recently, Alex Poythress, have all either joined the team, or been further integrated into the club while it was primarily away from South Philadelphia.

Even in the absence of formal practice opportunities, Brown felt the road-heavy stretch offered teaching moments.

“During this time, you’ve been able to even go further into the importance of sports science, and educating them on recovery,” Brown said, referring to his players. “You can do it in more real time than with sort of almost an appropriate fear type of angle, because we don’t have players. When you start rolling out seven players, the need to have those sven healthy is quite dramatic.

“I go to that place first in trying to have real time examples to educate our players even further of what rehab is, prehab is, how do you back it up in the NBA.”

The Sixers’ final four outings of the season at The Center will come against the Nets (Tuesday), Bulls (Thursday), Bucks (Saturday), and Pacers (Monday).

Casey Compliments Sixers

With veteran head coach Dwane Casey at the helm, Toronto has evolved into one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, winning back-to-back-to-back Atlantic Division crowns each of the past three seasons. And even though the Raptors’ run atop the division could end within the next 10 days – Boston holds a three-game lead with five games to play – Toronto has already assured itself home court advantage for at least the opening round of the playoffs.

What factors have triggered Toronto’s ascent in recent years? With a nucleus formed primarily out of players acquired while Bryan Colangelo was running the Raptors, Casey has turned the team into a squad that boasts balance and toughness.

Looking into the future, however, Casey said he sees the Sixers, thanks to the efforts of his counterpart, Brett Brown, as a division rival that could soon be on the rise.

“His culture is kicking in,” said Casey. “They have established an identity of hard play, fundamental play, execution offensively. You know you play against Philadelphia, your work is cut out for you.”

Provided full health going forward, Casey believes the Sixers could be “very dangerous.”

“They’ve got a good wealth of young talent,” Casey said. “They’ve established a style of play that is hard to play against on a night-to-night basis in the NBA. With [Joel] Embiid, [Ben] Simmons, all the young guys they have coming in…they’re well on their way to building something special with the type of talent they’ve accumulated there.”

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