Sixers Notes: Dario Saric 'so happy' to finally beat Celtics; Jahlil Okafor update

Sixers Notes: Dario Saric 'so happy' to finally beat Celtics; Jahlil Okafor update

After three games, Dario Saric had enough.

He was barely halfway through his rookie season in the NBA and already he was tired of losing to the Celtics. The Sixers competed hard against the Celtics in their first three meetings but had fallen short.

Saric didn't feel like waiting until next season to get a win. He poured a team-high 23 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals into Sunday's 105-99 victory.

"Finally, we beat them," Saric said. "I'm so happy because I want to beat them so, so, so bad because we are like three games until now, we were so close, we give all the games a hundred percent and we lost and today finally we won. We deserved it and better team won today."

What happened to Okafor?
Jahlil Okafor did not play in the second half because of right knee soreness. He missed two games earlier this month with the same injury.

"He was sore," Brett Brown said. "We knew that going into the game. We judged it. No player likes to come to the head coach and say, 'I can't go tonight. I'm struggling.' He didn't say that.

"I reminded him, 'We're not playing in the Eastern Conference championship this year. It's OK. If you're hurting, we will take you and we'll sit you. It's OK. Because we have so many games now coming up and that was my call more than anybody's. We just decided to sit him."

Okafor scored four points with one rebound in 12 minutes. He is traveling with the Sixers to Orlando. His status for Monday's game against the Magic is to be determined as the team will further evaluate him once they arrive in Florida.

Brown sees both sides
One of the hottest topics in the NBA right now is the sitting of starters in nationally televised games. On Saturday, the Cavaliers came under criticism for not playing LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in their matchup against the Clippers.

Brown knows that scenario well. Back in December 2012, he was an assistant coach on the Spurs' team that was fined $250,000 by the league for benching four key players.

"It was my job in Miami to escort (Tim) Duncan, (Manu) Ginobili, (Tony) Parker, Danny Green and Kawhi (Leonard) back to San Antonio and not play in Miami," Brown recalled before Sunday's game. "We played in Orlando, charter plane had a problem. I went to a commercial airport with those five profile people and navigated through turnstyles and lines and all that to go back and not play because we felt they're injured, they're not healthy, and the league spoke. All over the place you understand kind of the whole situation. You get both sides of the argument."

Brown, who coaches a very sports science-minded program, sees the teams' point of view in wanting to maintain the health of their players. He also gets where the fans are coming from. Brown considers the fans when he is unhappy with the Sixers' performance, so he can appreciate how they would feel if they couldn't see their favorite players either.

"You see a dad that's brought his three children and middle-income wage," Brown said. "This is a blue-collar city, and [if] you don't come and bring it, you feel that you have a responsibility. I share this freely with my players in timeouts when it's not going on, and you guys know this. When you think of those fans that come and look forward to seeing players play, you understand that."

Best of NBA: Spurs smack Cavs from top of Eastern Conference

Best of NBA: Spurs smack Cavs from top of Eastern Conference

SAN ANTONIO -- Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points and the San Antonio Spurs dismantled the ailing Cleveland Cavaliers 103-74 on Monday night in a showdown that turned into a major letdown for the defending NBA champions.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol added 14 points apiece for the Spurs, who won their fifth straight.

Cleveland (47-26) dropped its second in a row and fell a half-game behind Boston (48-26) for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

In addition to scoring a season-low 17 points, Cavaliers superstar LeBron James was injured late in the third quarter after taking an elbow to the base of his neck. He remained on the bench for a while receiving medical attention, then headed toward the locker room and didn't return to the game.

His status was not immediately known (see full recap).

Thunder use late run to surge past Mavs
DALLAS -- Russell Westbrook hit a pull-up jumper with seven seconds left and the Oklahoma City Thunder erased a 13-point deficit in the final four minutes to beat the Dallas Mavericks 92-91 on Monday night.

Westbrook scored 37 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter, with 13 rebounds and 10 assists for his third straight triple-double and 37th of the season.

The Thunder finished on a 14-0 run, capped when they gained possession on a replay reversal with 13 seconds to go and Westbrook hit the decisive shot from just beyond the free throw line over Wesley Matthews. Westbrook scored 12 of the final 14 points.

Dallas didn't call a timeout, and Harrison Barnes missed a long 3-pointer just before the buzzer, clinching the first losing season for the Mavericks (31-42) since 1999-2000, the season that owner Mark Cuban bought the team with Dirk Nowitzki in his second year (see full recap).

DeRozan, Raptors notch 6th straight victory
TORONTO -- DeMar DeRozan scored 36 points and Cory Joseph had 15 points and 13 assists as the Toronto Raptors defeated the Orlando Magic 131-112 on Monday night for their sixth straight victory.

DeRozan, selected the Eastern Conference player of the week earlier in the day, set the pace early by scoring 18 in the first quarter. Joseph added six rebounds and Jonas Valanciunas had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Raptors (45-29).

Elfrid Payton had 22 points and nine assists for Orlando (27-47). Evan Fournier added 20 points, and Nikola Vucevic had 12 points and 15 assists.

It was the first game between the teams since the Raptors traded Terrence Ross to the Magic for Serge Ibaka in February.

Ross finished with 17 points and two rebounds, while Ibaka had 16 points and seven rebounds (see full recap).

Report: Kings receive permission from Sixers to speak with Sam Hinkie

Report: Kings receive permission from Sixers to speak with Sam Hinkie

You can't make this stuff up.

After getting what is generally regarded as fleeced once upon a time by former Sixers general manager and president Sam Hinkie, the Sacramento Kings are reportedly interested in his services.

According to ESPN's Marc Stein and Zach Lowe on Monday, the Kings have expressed exploratory interest in Hinkie. Sources told ESPN that Kings owner Vivek Ranadive sought and received permission from Sixers owner Josh Harris to speak with Hinkie.

The Kings needed the Sixers' permission to speak with Hinkie because the executive is forced to sit out the entire 2016-17 season based on a non-compete clause in his contract that took effect when he resigned in April 2016.

The report states Hinkie's level of interest in the Kings or what his role would be alongside current president/GM Vlade Divac was not immediately known. It also says other undisclosed teams have sought permission to speak to Hinkie.

The Kings later released a statement denying the report: "The Kings are not hiring Sam Hinkie and have no plans to bring anyone in above Vlade."

Hinkie, hired prior to the 2012-13 season, engineered the Sixers' massive rebuild. The team struggled mightily during his three seasons at the helm as it finished with a 47-199 record. He stepped down on April 6 of last year and his role as team president was ultimately filled by Bryan Colangelo.

However, Hinkie set the Sixers up for the future by his continued flipping of players for assets. That includes perhaps his best deal, which involved the Kings.

In July 2015, Hinkie dealt the rights to Arturas Gudaitis and Luka Mitrovic to Sacramento for Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry and Jason Thompson. More importantly, the Sixers also got the rights to swap first-round picks in the 2016 and 2017 NBA drafts and an unprotected first-rounder in 2019.

The Kings made moves to recoup some of those lost assets at this season's trade deadline when they shipped star big man DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi for 2016 No. 6 overall pick Buddy Hield along with veterans Tyreke Evans and Langston Galloway and a 2017 second-round pick.

"But I believe we are going to be in a better position in two years," Divac said to the Sacramento Bee. "I want to hear again from these same people in two years. If I'm right, great. If I'm wrong, I'll step down. But if I go down, I'm going down my way."

Hinkie went down in Philadelphia on his own terms, too. Now his terms may involve working with Divac -- or even taking over his job.

Just remember, Vlade, trust the process.