The stakes were high and the talent was low in The Great Conveyance War between the Sixers and Lakers at the Staples Center on Sunday night. It was a no-defense Rising Starsy affair, and thanks to some Dario Saric heroics, a best-you’re-gonna-get good Jahlil Okafor game, and just an all-around team game, the Sixers came out on the wrong end of a decent victory.
I’ve resigned myself to the Lakers pick having a 44% or 53% chance of conveying this year, so I wasn’t as invested in this Must-Loss as I have been in recent years. I think I’m mostly just bored with non-Sacramento scoreboard watching. As much as I can objectively acknowledge that having a better chance at #4 or #5 in this draft is a good thing, the fact that we already have Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Picky Swapsborough makes those 9 percentage points feel less urgent. That, and an unprotected -- FINALLY, UNPROTECTED -- 2018 Lakers first when the Sixers will be sitting at the playoffs lunch table is tempting as well. Delayed gratification is the new instant gratification.
So anyway the Sixers won their 24th game of the season and that’s just fine. I want to talk about Dario Saric.
He’s such a gifted offensive player, yet I have almost no idea what his gifts are. His jumper (which was pretty on this night, 3-7 from deep and a few step-ins) is not special. His handle is good for a big, but sloppy. He is not quick. He is not athletic. He has no explosion. He’s probably strong? But I might be applying an Eastern European stereotype there, so maybe he’s regular. He has permanent sweaty hair, that might help deter defenders. Really the one thing I am confident in saying is that he can, obviously, pass the sam young hell out of the ball.
But that doesn’t explain a 29-7-5-2-1 line on 20 shots with the team 21 points better when he’s on the court. He’s the guy who gets the ball in crunch time. We’re running clear-outs for Dario Saric, and despite the fact that he’s never gonna come over, it’s been working.
And though he’s under the shadow of the most charismatic young big man since Shaq, Dario himself is magnificently charming in all of his Dario-ness. I’ve never seen a player take a post-game interview so seriously. It’s all incredibly endearing, and I’m so glad we have him. And although I heavily disagree with it — listen to this week’s Rights To Ricky Sanchez podcast for the full sandwich-metaphor-laden rant -- Embiid himself publicly declared Saric the Rookie Of The Year after the game.
This is why, despite my frothing disdain for how the Sixers organization has handled itself the past 15 months, I can’t hate this team, or be remotely unhappy when they win. They’re our guys.
TO THE BULLETS:
- Robert Covington was sitting with a This Knee’s About To Get Paid, I’m Gonna Chill, so Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot got the start. TLC, he of the handsome features, had his best game as a pro. 18 points on 7-11 shooting, 2-4 from deep, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and two clutch free throws to seal the game. He’s the slashiest player the Sixers have had since... he’s already so much better than Rodney Carney... Larry Hughes? Jerry Stackhouse? He’s been improving at a rapid rate, and a full offseason to work on his body will be huge for him. I had him ranked (uh holy shit) 4th on my final Sixers big board of the 2016 NBA Draft, so this is not an unbiased take, but I love him and want him to be the happiest person in the world.
- This was one of the best games of Jahlil’s career, and I’m not going to say anything bad about him, because you already know about that stuff. He played a great Jahlil game. He adjusted to Ivica Zubac’s rim presence early in the game and took it to his chest with much greater success. 23 points on 8-12 shooting, 7-8 from the line. This game was a Magic Johnson audition, and he spinny-poundied into a callback. I hate this metaphor.
- Nik Stauskas -- who has cooled of late — played aggressive but sloppy. Best personified by the play where he angrydunked all over Zubac but didn’t actually have the ball.
- Trying not to make everything into a Nerlens thing, but I have been on Earth for about 14,400,000 minutes, yet a mere 8 of those were spent watching Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid on a court together. Richaun Holmes and Okafor played together a few minutes tonight. Shawn Long even got into a couple 2-big lineups. If you think I’ll get over it eventually, please get out of my 8th grade memories of being dumped by ***** ********** at lunch.
- Jordan Clarkson did some impressive work tonight. He had many an Englishman’s spin around the basket on his way to 30 points on 16 shots. When he settles for jumpers, he’s bad. But when he attacks the rim and gets to the line (10-11 tonight) or kicks to shooters (8 assists), he’s something. The stats hate him overall, but I’m more optimistic than I should be about him becoming a useful 6th man on a good team.
- I hate D’Angelo Russell far more than a healthy person should hate a basketball player. I become Body Language Guy when I watch him. I’m not proud of this. This play is pudding. Also pudding: his late-game lack of awareness coming out of a timeout that there were only 5 seconds left on the shot clock and hoisting up a panic 30 footer. I do not think he is a bad basketball player. I just greatly enjoy watching him fail.
- TJ McConnell not only held D’Angelo to 5-17 shooting for 11 points, he also offensively had perhaps the most TJ game of his life. With Dario and Jahlil cooking, the offense only necessitated him taking 2 shots. He got seemingly every loose ball and then played downhill on the break to make the defense scramble -- including one beautiful give and go for a Dario layup. My favorite TJ plays were two minutes apart, when he made almost exactly the same 70-foot outlet pass twice for two Luwawu layups. And then he hit his first and only field goal with under a minute left in the game fading across the lane for a 10-footer. He’s just the guy who does the stuff. Sign him forever.
Updated Tankathon standings with that lovely shade of Sacramento green:
Sixers head up to Golden State to get that W on Tuesday. As much as I want to fast-forward to the Lottery, there are only 16 games left in this half-amazing/half-AHHHHHH of a season. Cherish them. Might be the last time our season ends in April for a while.