Collins wants Holiday to enjoy All-Star experience

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Collins wants Holiday to enjoy All-Star experience

Sometimes it’s easy to forget to stop to smell the roses.

That’s why when Jrue Holiday heads to Houston after the Sixers’ game in Milwaukee on Wednesday night, head coach Doug Collins wants his All-Star point guard to soak it all in.

You know, stop and enjoy the golf course.

Wait … the golf course?

“Sometimes I can be out on the most beautiful golf course in the world and be playing horrible golf and forget that I’m playing on the most beautiful course in the world,” Collins said. “Enjoy the golf course.”

So when Holiday shows up in Houston for his first All-Star Game, Collins wants him to enjoy the course. Holiday should take a look around, says Collins. He should watch what some of the veterans do and pick their brains a little bit.

You know, enjoy the golf course.

“I hope it will be an experience that he remembers forever,” Collins said. “Mine was doubly important to me because it was in Philadelphia. It was 1976 for the Bicentennial game. What I would like him to do is walk in the locker room and just take a look around.

“Look in that locker room. Look who you’re sitting with. You’re 22 years old. Look around. Look at the men in that room. Look at your coach and look at the championships they have won, look at the gold medals they have won. Watch how they prepare themselves.”

Besides, Holiday might have to copy some of those preparation rites for next Sunday’s All-Star Game because there is a decent chance he could be called on to start the game. With Rajon Rondo out for the rest of the season with an ACL injury, the Eastern Conference has two point guards remaining on the roster. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has to decide on either Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving or Holiday to take Rondo’s spot in the starting lineup.

Holiday, of course, has had a terrific season. In 46 games he leads the Sixers with 19.1 points and 8.8 assists per game. He also is averaging a career-best 38.3 minutes per game, along with a 45.4 shooting percentage.

Holiday is seventh in the NBA in minutes per game, 13th in points per game and fourth in assists per game.

However, in his second NBA season, Irving is becoming a star among stars. He’s averaging 23.9 points per game, while shooting 47.3 percent from the field with 5.5 assists and 1.7 steals per game. Irving’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER), the most important metric for the analytic types in the NBA, is a robust 22.8. The 12 players with a higher PER than Irving are all All-Stars.

Nevertheless, Irving will also be playing in the Rising Stars game on Saturday night. If that effort proves to be too taxing for him, maybe Holiday will get the starting nod.

Regardless of whether he starts the game or comes off the bench for a few minutes, Holiday says he’s going to take Collins’ advice to heart.

“I’m going to take it all in,” Holiday said. “God willing I get back there again, but sometimes it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Take it all in and have fun.”

Who knows, maybe Holiday can pick up a few things from soaking in the atmosphere at the All-Star Game. After all, Holiday spent last summer playing for the U.S. Select team, which spent a week scrimmaging against the U.S. Olympic team in its training camp in Las Vegas. Based on the reports, the U.S. Select team gave the U.S. Olympic team some of its best competition last summer.

So following a stint with the U.S. team, Holiday has enjoyed a breakout season with the Sixers this year. Collins is hoping his point guard picks up some more nuances to add to his game whether through watching or osmosis.

If anything, Collins hopes Holiday sees how the other All-Stars prepare themselves to play and copies it.

“I used to say that Michael Jordan had an internal body clock. It was like a certain time would come and (clap!), it was time to get ready to play,” Collins said. “How do you get yourself in that moment every single night? The biggest part about laying this game is getting yourself ready to play. So watch, pick it up, talk to people. Talk to LeBron (James), talk to these guys you admire. Enjoy the game and enjoy the experience. I just want him to take it all in.”

But most of all, enjoy the golf course.

“Your first [All-Star Game], there is no other like it,” Collins said. “Enjoy the golf course, man. You’re on Pebble Beach. If you hit No. 8 in the water, the hell with it.”

Dario Saric hitting his stride, altering games on Sixers' second unit

Dario Saric hitting his stride, altering games on Sixers' second unit

There was skepticism as to whether or not Dario Saric would ever play for the Sixers. He spent two years overseas after the team acquired him on draft night 2014, and as each month passed, more and more uncertainty grew around his future in the NBA.

Saric told the Sixers all along that he would come to Philadelphia. He urged them, I will play for your team.

The 22-year-old rookie (and that term should be used loosely given his lengthy professional career) is proving the wait was worth it.

“They said he was never coming back,” Joel Embiid said. “But Dario’s here and he’s making big plays for us.”

Saric is averaging 9.7 points and 5.9 rebounds in 24.1 minutes this season. That includes a transitional period wherein Saric was moved in and out of the starting lineup and shifted from power forward and small forward as the Sixers experimented with different rotations. Saric looked out of sorts and frustrated with himself at times. The newness of the league, team and system took its toll on the player who is his own toughest critic. 

Saric's numbers are up since Brett Brown locked him in to the second unit. He is averaging 11.0 points and 6.7 boards during the Sixers' 7-2 stretch. 

“If Joel Embiid weren’t in the league, you’d have to talk about him in consideration for Rookie of the Year,” Brown said. “There is an appeal that he has developed, I feel, from our fans. They respect him. How can you not? He is so blue collar. I think the plays he makes, the effort-based plays, the physical plays just count for everything. ... I hope that he recognizes we appreciate his passion and we appreciate how he plays.”

Saric put on a show in the fourth quarter of the Sixers' statement win over the Raptors Wednesday. He had a pair of blocks in under a minute, including one against Jared Sullinger which sent Embiid into a frenzy on the bench (video here)

“Dario never blocks shots and he had two in a row,” Embiid said. “Especially at the rim like that, blocking Sullinger, that’s the type of play we need. The crowd obviously got into it. I’m just glad he’s here with us like he promised he was going to be after two years.”

Saric followed up the blocks with an offensive rebound and layup that pushed the Sixers' lead back up to six points. He topped off his fourth-quarter spurt with a three-pointer from T.J. McConnell to put his team up seven. 

“Every guy has their own job,” Saric said. “Sometimes you can do it better but always you need effort. You've to give 100 percent, try to fight, try to win. Give everything that you have in that moment. Your whole body, just move it. ... I had a good game. Sometimes the game gives you open shots. Sometimes it gives you a situation where you cannot do nothing. I tried to come and bring some energy. I tried to change the game in that way.”

Saric finished with eight points, nine rebounds and two blocks in 24 minutes off the bench. He hadn’t recorded two blocks since Nov. 9 against the Pacers. 

“I think Dario is the key to helping us secure that win, big-time,” Nerlens Noel said. “I think he really took that game more toward our favor.”

There were bound to be growing pains for Saric with all the massive challenges involved in playing in the new league. His basketball world has been flipped upside down in less than a year, not to mention his adjusting to life outside of Europe. It took some time but Saric is hitting his stride, and it is led by his disciplined mindset.

“Sometimes when you're doing bad and you don't have an opportunity to do something, (you have to) give the team its energy," Saric said. "I tried to bring some kind of energy and I did that good. I don't know. Maybe it's because I want to win the game. That's the easy answer."

With something to cheer about, Sixers fans providing energy

With something to cheer about, Sixers fans providing energy

Toronto Raptors forward Norman Powell was ready to throw down a ferocious dunk with 8:48 left in the game with his team trailing the Sixers by six. That dunk could've silenced the crowd and gotten the Raptors right back in the game.

Instead, he was met at the rim and left feeling rejected. Not by Joel Embiid. Not by Nerlens Noel. But by rookie Dario Saric.

Saric wasn't done there. Jared Sullinger, in his first game with Toronto this season, was in the same position as Powell, with an opportunity to finish a big dunk less than a minute later. Like Powell, Sullinger was turned away by Saric.

In that moment, 17,000-plus went crazy at the Wells Fargo Center. The cheers were deafening for the 22-year-old Croatian.

"I try to give effort for every game," Saric said. "And I had an opportunity. I had an opportunity to get blocks. I did it and then it started to get crazy. Of course as a player, you like that. When you do a good move and the whole gym try to support you."

The Sixers rode that wave of energy to a 94-89 win over the Raptors on Wednesday.

Sure, some on hand were there to see Villanova product Kyle Lowry and the Eastern Conference's second-best team, but when the waning moments arrived, the crowd was in the Sixers' corner.

"Obviously it’s something new, something different, something I’m not used to but easily getting used to," Nerlens Noel said of the crowd support. "It’s the sixth man. They come in there and they give us a whole new spark of energy, especially that Dario sequence. The fans, every block, they were on their feet, they were giving him extra motivation to go get another one. They come up big for us."

That wasn't the crowd's only moment to shine. "The Process" gave them plenty to cheer about all night.

Earlier in the fourth, Embiid had a sequence where he was at the elbow while Sergio Rodriguez had the ball up top. Sullinger was draped over Embiid as Embiid called for the ball. Instead, Embiid spun away from Sullinger and toward the basket, leaving the bulky forward grasping at air. Rodriguez fed Embiid and the latter finished the play with a slam.

After another sound defensive possession, Embiid struck again, this time nailing his second three of the contest. It forced the Raptors to call a timeout and the crowd to erupt. Chants of "Trust the Process" could be heard throughout the entire arena.

"It’s amazing," Embiid said. "Even on the road, you hear 'Trust the Process' chants. I feel like everybody around the world is starting to follow and trust us and trust the process. The fans have been great. I’m glad we’re winning games for them. We’re doing it for the city."

While Embiid's global outreach may be somewhat exaggerated, there's no doubt this city has fallen in love with the charismatic Cameroonian. When it was time to close out the game, who else was in the middle of the action but Embiid.

After Robert Covington blocked a Lowry three with 30.1 seconds left, Lowry was able to recover the loose ball and drive to the basket. The only thing he'd find there was Embiid waiting to swat away his layup attempt. Lowry then fouled Embiid, sending him to the line to seal the game.

As the big man stepped to the charity stripe, a different chant broke out —"M-V-P."

"It’s amazing. Last year, that’s something I never thought would happen," Embiid said. "I never thought we would be winning so many games, especially so many games in a row. But what I’m trying to do is change the culture. I like to get into it with the fans. I don’t like it quiet. I play better when fans are into it, chanting ‘Trust the Process,’ ‘M-V-P,’ cheering for us. That’s what I love."

The Sixers have won five in a row with Embiid in the lineup and seven of nine overall. They have 14 wins with another month left until the All-Star break. They have a legitimate superstar and are garnering an identity as a strong defensive unit.

The atmosphere was electric in South Philly on Wednesday and it's been a long time coming.

"The fans are fantastic," said head coach Brett Brown, who entered this season with a 47-199 record. "We’re all kind of starving for some success, we’re starving for some good feelings, some wins. To feel it and feel it again, it’s addictive. This city and the fans deserve it. They really deserve it."