In a perfect world, Dario Saric would be sitting on the bench in a suit.
In a perfect world, T.J. McConnell would be sitting right beside Saric.
But these are far from perfect times for the 76ers. They’re banged up — more banged up than any team in the NBA — and they need to gut out two more regular season games to complete the 2016-17 season.
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Saric is dealing with plantar fasciitis and has a 24-minute restriction. McConnell turned his ankle last Thursday against the Chicago Bulls but is determined to finish the season.
These two players embody everything about the Sixers — tough, determined, willful, gutsy. The fans may not immediately notice, but they should.
With Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jerryd Bayless, Jahlil Okafor, Sergio Rodriguez and Robert Covington all out for the rest of the season, Saric and McConnell are actually needed. In a perfect world, they’d be out, too.
“I think it's a mental fatigue as much as physical because it is so crippling to him to restrict him to 24 minutes,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said of Saric. “It is so disheartening. He goes in and he plays his heart out. I experienced this with Joel Embiid. It’s not like their intentions are wrong, it’s like somebody just gorging at a buffet because I am starving and the restaurant is going to close and I know I’m going out. They’re mindful of the clock. They see it. I got four six-minute chunks of my basketball world where I used to play 36 and I used to be in games and coach didn't have to figure out, 'Oh, how do we have to do this to end the game?'”
McConnell earned his way on the Sixers roster two years ago despite a glut of guards. He worked and worked and worked, and now he’s cemented himself as a legitimate backup point guard, good enough to place ninth in the league in steals. Good enough to be talked about in trade rumors. Good enough to demand respect from every one of his teammates.
“If I’m good enough to go, I don’t care how many games are left, I’m not going to abandon this team,” said McConnell, who was undrafted two years ago from the University of Arizona. “We all know how many people are hurt so I’m not going to sit out the rest of the year. If it’s sore, I’m going to play through it. And I’m going to be smart about it on off days. You’ve just got to fight through it anyway you can, scratch, claw. The finish line is right there. Just take care of our bodies on days like tomorrow.”
Saric and McConnell are wounded, but they won’t go to the infirmary. They’re going to be on the court, proving to the city what toughness is all about.
“A guy like Dario is a competitor, so he wants to be out there as much as he can,” McConnell said. “We all know it’s bothering him, but the fact that he’s out there playing as much as he does, just shows the guy he is. We love and respect him for it.”
The fan base should love and respect this group. This 28-52 team — they have two games left against the Indiana Pacers at home and the New York Knicks on the road — is giving everything it has. In every way.
“I try to come back and push but what can you do,” Saric said. “It’s hard the way things are going, but what can you do? You just play. I know in my heart I need to play. So I do it.”