The Philadelphia 76ers are on an absolute tear right now. They’ve won eight in a row, after Wednesday’s blowout of the visiting New York Knicks, with the last six coming by double digits. They’re 20-6 since the beginning of February, the fourth-best record in the league in that span, with a top-10 offense and the NBA’s No. 2 defense; only the Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz and Toronto Raptors have outscored opponents by more points per 100 possessions over the last two months than Brett Brown’s club.
They’re good, is the point, and they’re surging. Not only have the Sixers clinched their first playoff berth since 2012, but they’ve risen all the way up to the No. 4 spot in the East, just a half-game behind the third-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers — a team they beat soundly earlier this month, and have the chance to tie in the head-to-head season series, and possibly surpass in the standings, next week. With Joel Embiid firmly established as one of the sport’s most dominant two-way forces — providing he’s OK after suffering a facial contusion in a head-to-head collision with teammate Markelle Fultz on Wednesday — alongside Ben Simmons, the 6-foot-10 matchup nightmare who (with all due respect to the excellent DonovanMitchell) remains the front-runner for Rookie of the Year honors, the group of veteran shooters led by J.J. Redick and buyout acquisitions Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova, and this week’s wild-card reintroduction of No. 1 overall pick Fultz as a reserve playmaker, the Sixers are deep, young, talented, huge and ferocious.
They’re not stupid, though.
During an on-court interview after Wednesday’s win, NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Molly Sullivan asked Sixers forward Dario Saric — who led Philly with 26 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and two steals in 36 minutes, and who has become an absolutely integral piece in the dominant starting lineup fueling the 76ers’ success — about his preferred postseason matchups. The Croatian’s answer was pitch-perfect:
“Brett Brown said that he’s not intimidated by anybody in the Eastern Conference,” Sullivan said. “Are you?”
“He’s not scared?” Saric replied.
“Are you intimidated by anybody?” Sullivan asked.
“No, I … it’s … I don’t want to play against LeBron, you know?” Saric answered. “He is obviously, you know, top-three, top-two, top-three players in the world. In history, maybe. I don’t want to just … everybody else, you know, are welcome to come here.”
A) That is a truly amazing and refreshing answer!
B) It is exceptionally reasonable, when presented with the option of playing a LeBron James team in the Eastern Conference playoffs or not playing one, to say that you are good with the latter, thanks — especially when LeBron is doing what he is doing right now.
C) While the short-sighted among us might view this as an instance of cowardice or a lack of pure competitive fire, the very much woke among us know that such things could never be true of the Homie Dario, and that this is instead an example of a man with exceptional vision looking to quietly smooth any feathers he might have ruffled earlier this month while keeping the Sixers on track to accomplish their ultimate clandestine goal. Dario doesn’t need Instagram or billboards to send messages; he just needs earnestness, respect and the promise of allowing the King to be on the friendly end of some epic celebratory fist pumps. Seems like a pretty enticing recruitment package to me.
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