DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 30: Dario Saric #9 of the Philadelphia 76ers handles the ball against the Denver Nuggets on December 30, 2017 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado.
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Seltzer's Notebook | Saric Closes 2017 Strong, Simmons Gets Aggressive

by Brian Seltzer Reporter

Saric Enjoying Strong Spurt

There was arguably no member of the 76ers more steady, especially on the offensive end, to close out the calendar year than Dario Saric.

The versatile forward finished 2017 with three straight 20-point outings: 25 at Portland, 20 at Denver, and a season-high tying 27 in Phoenix. The streak represents a career long.

During this stretch, Saric has converted 25 of 40 field goal attempts. He’s had even more success from beyond the arc, where he’s gone 12 for his last 18.

Following Saric’s year-ending effort against the Suns, Brett Brown wasn’t trying to put much thought into the Croatian’s torrid run. He’s just been happy to see him step up.

“Whatever it is, let’s bottle it up, market it, and we’ll all be rich,” Brown said Sunday at Talking Stick Resort Arena. “He’s a team favorite, you hear me say that often. With his broken English, and his big heart, there’s a fondness we all have for Dario, and a respect that we all have.”

Saric himself was also a bit reluctant to over-analyze his current surge.

“I don’t know, it’s hard to say,” Saric told reporters. “I always say sometimes open, sometimes closed with things in your life. I’ve been working hard in my first year, I’ve been working hard in my second year, and I need to stay focused and believing in myself, believing in what I am doing on the court.

“The last couple games, I’ve had some good games, but it’s hard to explain.”

Generally speaking, several aspects of Saric’s performances of late have stood out to Brown. The head coach likes how Saric has paired with fellow frontcourt starter Joel Embiid (the two combined for a stellar 11.4 net rating in December). He also feels Saric has played well off Ben Simmons, especially when Simmons posts up.

“He’s a great player, he knows how to play the game the right way,” Simmons said Sunday. “He can hit shots, and I think he knows what shots to take. I think that’s why he’s playing so well.”

Saric’s consistency from 3-point territory has been encouraging to Brown as well, and has helped the Sixers space the floor, too.

“He sure is lately playing good basketball,” said Brown.

Simmons Steps Up

The final seven minutes of regulation Sunday, Ben Simmons took over. First came this after-timeout right-handed throwdown that gave the Sixers some needed insurance.

Then, a few minutes later, the rookie point man unfurled a spectacular and-1 reverse lay-up in tight quarters, delivering a timely response to a 3-pointer that had cut Phoenix’s deficit to one.

Notably, Simmons accounted for 11 of the Sixers’ final 20 points of regulation. Five of those points came from the free throw line.

In all, the 21-year old racked up 21 points on 7 for 11 shooting. He hit 7 of 11 foul shots, and added 9 rebounds, 6 dimes, 3 steals, and 3 blocks.

“I think he was confident going to the line, I think he jumped back in this,” said Brett Brown.

The head coach was comparing Simmons’ outing against the Suns to his one from the night before, in Denver, where the Aussie’s scoring was kept in check. He was limited to 6 points (3-9 fg).

“I just know [Brown] needs me to be more aggressive, so I just try to take it into my own hands,” Simmons said Sunday. “I know when I put my mind to it, I can get to whatever shot I want to on the floor.”

It was an attitude that most definitely worked to the Sixers’ benefit.

Seeking a Strong Start to New Year

In the aftermath of the Sixers sweeping a back-to-back on the last two days of 2017, it was hard not to think back to this time a year ago, when the club closed out 2016 with a steely victory in Denver. The two-point win at Pepsi Center seemed to propel the Sixers into a breakout January, during which they went 10-5.

Does Brett Brown believe a similar springboard is currently in the making, now that the calendar has flipped, and the Sixers have won three of their last four tilts?

With a dose of “appropriate fear” constantly in mind, he and his group aren’t taking anything for granted.

“I think the goal of trying to grow our program and make the playoffs is always there, and we understand what really has to be done to achieve that,” Brown said. “I think that the locker room has the spirit and the work ethic; their ability to understand the development going forward and putting in good days, and they do add up; all that stuff you’ve heard me say for all my days in Philadelphia, it resonates. I think it’s part of our culture, and they feel like they are getting better.”