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Sixers-Pistons Game Preview: Saric continues Rookie of the Year push against Detroit

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The Sixers’ captivating forward looks for continued success with Andre Drummond’s Pistons coming to Philadelphia.

NBA: New York Knicks at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Amidst the anguish, from season-ending injuries to both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers forward Dario Saric has been a source of promise. He’s survived an early stretch of being miscast in the rotation, and his post-All-Star break breakout is a needed positive. As the season dwindles and the Sixers continue to feature the versatile forward, Saric’s productivity and moxie cannot be understated.

Averaging 18.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game since the extended break, Saric has reined in Brett Brown’s offense, serving as the playmaker people envisioned he’d be in the NBA. Opting for positive looks instead of pull-up jumpers, which he’s been porous on, Saric’s basketball IQ naturally has grown with extensive minutes. While he struggled earlier this season to attempt shots, Saric, now, slithers in the half court to get off high-efficient looks. It’s been enjoyable to witness Saric’s evolution offensively.

New Orleans’ frontcourt demolished Detroit’s big rotation Wednesday, and Saric might be able to exploit Marcus Morris’ and Jon Leuer’s underwhelming defense. However, there’s a glaring matchup problem at center for the Sixers.

Jahlil Okafor’s sporadic performances since entering the starting rotation full-time makes it difficult to predict his effectiveness with a long defender in Andre Drummond (14.7 PPG, 13.9 RPG). The former All-Star center is averaging just 1.2 BPG but boasts an impressive 98 DRtg. With line drives and post-up moves, Okafor will have another challenge defensively against a young, athletic center. With no Piston assuming the star role offensively this season, Stan Van Gundy could look to exploit that mismatch in the post.

Drummond’s an almost unparalleled board cleaner in the association. Maybe Justin Anderson surprises and continues to attack the glass for putbacks.

Anderson really has impressed over the past week, with his high-energy style of play and efficiency. Shooting 66.7 percent since his arrival (14-21), Anderson has bypassed threes for slashes and regular appearances near the basket. Paired with Richaun Holmes, Anderson gives Brown another poised, athletic type off the bench.

Against one of the more statistically poor bench units tonight, Anderson could continue his scintillating start in Philadelphia. One familiar addition this season in Detroit also has impressed.

Ish Smith (8.3 PPG, 5.0 APG) has pushed Reggie Jackson substantially, after signing in the offseason, and has been utilized as a starter sporadically. With Jackson’s high-volume tendencies, Smith’s facilitating and push pacing methods complements Detroit’s coalition of competent wings. Smith can be a blur in transition, and Sergio Rodriguez will have to be spry to contain him.

Van Gundy has experimented with Tobias Harris (16.2 PPG, 5.0 RPG) in the second unit, which hasn’t produced ideal results as Leuer isn’t a legitimate starting 4, but the fresh figure might take advantage of a tired Robert Covington in certain situations. Covington has been a consistent contributor this season and while he has a tendency to fade defensively, RoCo always has an impact. He finished just 3-of-9 from the field against New York last night, but came away with five rejections and a steal.

With Detroit among the worst shooting teams from deep, Covington can pick when to engage and sag off defensively. Naturally, the frontcourt has to control the paint defensively and limit easy looks near the basket and in the paint. Averaging 2.4 BPG off the bench over his last five games, Richaun Holmes might be the remedy to handle a gargantuan Drummond.

With regular attempts from close range, including a bevy of alley-oop finishes, Holmes puts pressure on defenses while serving as safety valve when oppenents attack the rim. Holmes, Saric, and Covington need to sustain their production and stymie the Pistons frontcourt. The T.J. McConnell-Reggie Jackson matchup isn’t as daunting, with McConnell flashing NBA ability and clutch moments in 2017.

The Sixers (23-38) look for back-to-back wins and to clinch the season series against the Pistons (29-32) at 6:00 p.m. EST.