NBA Notes: Heat back in familiar territory

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NBA Notes: Heat back in familiar territory

While there are plenty of coaching hires being made and roster moves being discussed, the Sixers have been relatively quiet since the regular season ended (see story).

Now let's look at some news and notes from around the NBA:

Heat: Familiar territory for Miami
MIAMI -- LeBron James has been wearing a good amount of camouflage attire at times during the NBA playoffs, with some of his vests, pants and even ties done in the design.

It doesn't seem fitting, since there's really no where for him to hide.

He has more at stake than any other Miami player in these NBA Finals, especially now that the San Antonio Spurs are one game away from grabbing the title. If the Heat lose, it'll be perceived as James' failure. If the Heat win, his status as the game's best player not only becomes even more cemented, but he might even win over a few more doubters.

James says he looks forward to the challenge that starts when Miami hosts Game 6 of the series on Tuesday night (see full story).

-The Associated Press

Spurs: Duncan closes in
SAN ANTONIO -- It's all right in front of Tim Duncan now, and the big fella can feel it.

You can tell when he broke out that little spin move in the paint in Game 5 on Sunday night, a nimble little display of footwork that has mostly been in moth balls for the past four or five seasons.

You can tell by the elevation he got on a first-quarter dunk, one of the most emphatic he's had in years.

And you can tell by the glimmer that can't be hidden by the far-away look in his eyes when he talks about being one victory away from title No. 5.

"I think every one of us wants this very badly from the top on down," Duncan said after scoring 17 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in a 114-104 victory over the Miami Heat that gave his San Antonio Spurs a 3-2 lead in the NBA Finals (see full story).

-The Associated Press

Nuggets: Connelly hired for front office
The Denver Nuggets have hired Tim Connelly as executive vice president of basketball operations.

Team President Josh Kroenke confirmed in an email to The Associated Press on Monday that Connelly will take over for Masai Ujiri, who left to become general manager of the Toronto Raptors.

Connelly has been the assistant GM with the New Orleans Pelicans since 2010. His first order of business with the Nuggets will be finding a replacement for George Karl after the longtime coach was fired nearly two weeks ago (see full story).

-The Associated Press

Bucks: Drew adds assistants
ST. FRANCIS, Wis. -- Bob Bender and Nick Van Exel are following Larry Drew to Milwaukee.

The Bucks announced Monday that Bender and Van Exel will be assistants on Drew's staff. Bender also was an assistant during Drew's three years as head coach in Atlanta, while Van Exel was the Hawks' player development instructor from 2010-12.

Drew says the two were "important pieces" of his staff in Atlanta and will be dedicated to teaching Milwaukee's young players.

Bender spent the past nine years in Atlanta after two years as an assistant in Philadelphia. As a college coach, he led Washington to four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances (1996-99) and was Pac-10 coach of the year in 1996.

Van Exel, a Kenosha native, played 13 years in the NBA. He was an All-Star in 1998.

-The Associated Press

Sixers-Knicks 5 Things: Sixers hope to remain hot after All-Star break

Sixers-Knicks 5 Things: Sixers hope to remain hot after All-Star break

The Sixers (22-35) finish off a back-to-back set out of the All-Star break when they the New York Knicks (23-35) at Madison Square Garden (7:30 p.m./CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports app).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup.

1. Starting out strong
So much for having nine days off and players in new roles negatively impacting the team.

The Sixers stormed into the home stretch of the season with a 120-112 win over the Washington Wizards. Seven different players scored in double figures for the Sixers, as they knocked off the Eastern Conference's No. 3 seed.

Perhaps no player had a bigger impact on the game than Richaun Holmes. The backup big man notched the first double-double of his career with 12 points and 10 rebounds. He also added a career-best five blocks.

"I try to approach every game this season the same way, whether everybody was playing or people were hurt," Holmes said. "Prepare like I'm going to play 30 minutes a game. I think having that mindset helped me to stay ready at all times and be aggressive when I had a chance."

2. Young guns
Injuries will prevent another juicy clash between Joel Embiid and Kristaps Porzingis, but there will still be two other young players to keep an eye Saturday night.

Dario Saric and Willy Hernangomez have been two of the most impressive rookies this season, especially since the calendar flipped to February.

Saric has averaged 16.4 points, 7.3 boards and 2.2 assists this month. He's coming off a 20-point, 11-rebound performance against the Wizards for his third straight double-double.

Hernangomez has put up 11.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists a night in February. The center, who was actually drafted 35th overall in 2015 by the Sixers before being traded, recorded 11 points and 10 rebounds in the Knicks' 119-104 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.

Saturday's clash could go a long way toward determining Rookie of the Month honors for the East.

3. A Rose is but a Rose
Derrick Rose will never be considered among the league's top assist men. That's simply not his style of play.

When the oft-injured Rose has his game flowing, it starts with scoring, particularly against the Sixers.

In 18 career matchups with the Sixers, Rose has averaged 20.7 points. He's also put up 6.6 assists and 3.9 rebounds in those contests.

Rose scored 25 points on 11 of 16 shooting in the Knicks' first meeting with the Sixers this season back on Jan. 12.

That typically would have been enough to say he won the point guard battle that night, but T.J. McConnell's buzzer-beating jumper stole the show in the Sixers' 98-97 win.

4. Injuries
Embiid (knee), Tiago Splitter (calf), Ben Simmons (foot) Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Joakim Noah (hamstring) is a game-time decision. Porzingis (ankle) is out for the Knicks.

5. This and that
• The Sixers' win over the Knicks in their last meeting snapped a five-game skid in the series.

• The Sixers had 28 assists in their win over the Wizards. They are eighth in the NBA with 23.6 assists a night.

• The Knicks are fourth in the NBA in rebounding with 46.0 boards per game.

In 1st game post-Ersan Ilyasova, Dario Saric shines as Sixers' starting PF

In 1st game post-Ersan Ilyasova, Dario Saric shines as Sixers' starting PF

When Ersan Ilyasova was traded to the Hawks on Wednesday, it became Dario Saric's time to shine.

And shine he did in the Sixers' 120-112 win over the Wizards Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center. In the first game coming off the All-Star break, Saric got the starting nod at power forward. He certainly looked the part, posting 20 points (10 of 19 from the field), 11 rebounds and four assists.

Saric, now the only true four on the roster, was proud of his team's performance against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

"We have a lot of veterans who can share the ball and that's how you're supposed to play," Saric said. "For me, I'm not surprised if we [beat the third-best team] in the East, but I believe these guys can play very good basketball."

Saric was excellent in the starting role, but his exceptional play dates back before the All-Star break. Including Friday, he's averaged 20.5 points, eight rebounds and 2.5 assists over his last six games. The Sixers are 4-2 in that span.

Head coach Brett Brown is seeing what he expected to see from the Croatian rookie.

"He's a professional basketball player," Brown said. "He has been that for a while. His love of the game, his passion for the game is contagious. It's a thing that we loved maybe more than anything about him when we did the deal with Orlando, knowing however many years ago with the trade with Elfrid Payton and Saric. That was a calculated move."

Saric played almost 33 minutes Friday night. So what did Brown do to give Saric a breather? He sent out Robert Covington.

Covington has played the position most of his life but has spent his entire Sixers career on the wing. In a time of need, he stepped up for a team still adjusting to roster changes.

The 6-foot-8 Covington held his own against the likes of Philly native Markieff Morris. It didn't seem to faze his offensive game, either. Covington scored 25 points on 9 of 14 from the field (5 of 9 from three). He also added 11 rebounds and three assists.

Covington has also been a catalyst for the Sixers during their recent success. He's averaging 17.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.2 steals in his last six. He's also shot a ridiculous 46 percent from three (19 of 41) in that span.

"We can only control what we're able to control on the court," Covington said. "Everything outside of what they do in management doesn't include us. We can only focus on what we can control on the court, and that's what our main focus was on these last few days."

Saric continues to show that he was worth wait while Covington continues to prove that he's a keeper.

They've certainly had different paths. Saric was a lottery pick and regarded as one the top young players in Europe. Covington went undrafted out of Tennessee State and spent the 2013-14 primarily with the Rockets' D-League affiliate.

Bryan Colangelo has identified Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons as the team's "transformational players." That's likely true, but every NBA team needs guys like Saric and Covington to complement their stars.

Covington is impressed with the progress of Saric in his rookie season.

"Dario's a very special player," Covington said. "He's able to do so much on the court. Tonight, you saw every aspect of his game. He'll guard, defending, rebounding and making plays on the offensive game. That's what Dario does. Now that he's going to play more in the starting lineup, it's really going to help him."

Saric may be the frontrunner to take home the Rookie of the Month for February. He's second only to Joel Embiid in double-doubles (seven) and 20-point games (six) among rookies. Whether it's Saric or Embiid, it appears the Rookie of the Year will be a Sixer.

His promotion to the starting lineup and wins against teams like the Wizards should only help Saric's cause.

"Maybe you see [me start consistently], maybe not," Saric said. "The game first time here I try to find myself. I got a couple rebounds, but still, I try to find myself with the new role. I've tried to move around, catch the rhythm of the game, that's the most important thing in basketball."

He appeared to find himself just fine Friday night.