OAKLAND, Calif. - For Dario Saric, there's nothing like a mother's presence.

The 76ers power forward says one reason for his emergence as the new front-runner for rookie of year is having his mother around.

He left his parents, Predrag and Veselinka, in his native Croatian in September to embark on his NBA career. The rookie had some ups and downs in the first couple of months. Then Veselinka arrived on Feb. 15.

Since then, Saric has no longer been considered just a valuable backup. He's now a bona fide cornerstone alongside injured rookies Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

"I want to say my mom helped me to be better," Saric said. "She makes me be full, like 100 percent in my body and my soul, to feel like I'm at home."

Hard work and his adjustment to the NBA game are the other reasons for Saric's success. He has blossomed into a solid scorer and finisher over the last six weeks.

Saric had averaged a team-leading 20 points plus 8.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists and shot 47.9 percent in the 15 games heading into Tuesday night's matchup against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. The only NBA players with comparable numbers during that span are Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook, Cleveland forward LeBron James, Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, and New Orleans center DeMarcus Cousins.

Saric appears to get better each time he sees the court.

With his mother joining the team on their four-game road trip, Saric scored a career-high 29 points on Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers. That came three days after he recorded his previous career high, 28 points, against the Portland Trail Blazers. He had a streak of 16 straight games scoring 10 or more points heading into Tuesday's matchup.

"He's just building that momentum going into next season," teammate Robert Covington said. "As long as he continues to progress throughout the rest of the season, his game is just going to skyrocket from there."

Saric, who has averaged 12.2 points this season, saw his role increase after the trade of Ersan Ilyasova to the Atlanta Hawks on Feb. 22. That put him back in the starting lineup. He's also the focal point of the offense with Embiid (left knee) out for the season.

While he's adjusting to the NBA, Saric is also delighted to see his mother's face when the games are over.

He talked about rarely eating at the Sixers' training facility because his mother has been cooking his favorite Croatian dishes at his home. She has provided a home away from home for him. She's also been there to critique his performances and provide encouragement.

"Maybe she doesn't know basketball like a coach or something like that," Saric said. "She tells you something, like for example, 'Slow down, you are rushing.' Or [when] you play bad, she, of course, [says] something. She's mom."

Veselinka Saric will conclude her monthlong stay with her son after Sunday's home game against the Boston Celtics.

Years from now, he'll look back at her presence as something that helped to elevate his game.

kpompey@phillynews.com

@PompeyOnSixers

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