Sixers Get Cardio In Blowout Loss to Heat

The Sixers (52-27) hosted the Miami Heat (42-37) on Thursday. Philadelphia wanted to build on its victory over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday. Miami wanted to extend its winning streak to three games. Their playoff position is already locked up, and their opponent almost certainly decided. The Sixers laid an epic stink bomb, mailing it in in a 129-101 defeat. 

Before we get to what I saw, some notes. 

Contextual Notes

  • The Heat were without the services of Nikola Jovic, who had back spasms. 
  • Erik Spoelstra started Gabe Vincent, Tyler Herro, Max Strus, Jimmy Butler, and Bam Adebayo.
  • The Sixers were without the services of Tyrese Maxey, who had a stiff neck.
  • Jaden Springer is on a G-League assignment with the Delaware Blue Coats and was out.
  • Louis King and Mac McClung are on Two-Way G-League assignments with the Blue Coats and were unavailable.
  • Doc Rivers started James Harden, De’Anthony Melton, Tobias Harris, PJ Tucker, and Joel Embiid.

Likes

It didn’t always pay dividends, but Philadelphia got some very good looks from beyond the arc courtesy of Harden. The Sixers set up their offense on the left side of the floor, dragging weak-side helpers toward the ball. The right side suddenly empty of Miami defenders, Harden fired the ball across the floor to find Philadelphia’s open shooters. The spacing was excellent early on, the Sixers stretching the Heat as they pulled in to help toward the lane.

The only other good thing to come of this game was Jalen McDaniels. He knocked down a pair of triples off the catch, continuing a trend of slowly but surely finding his shooting touch as a Sixer. He had a very slow start as a shooter with the Sixers, but as he’s gotten more comfortable with his teammates and his spots within the offense, he’s become quicker to fire when the ball comes his way. More importantly, he’s starting to hit the target with better consistency. His hands were everywhere on defense, too. McDaniels jarred the ball loose from Herro on dribble penetration, swiped down to knock the rock off Haywood Highsmith’s foot, and snuck into the play on the back side to tip a couple passes away and create transition chances for Philadelphia.

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Those traits — being a trustworthy shooter and excelling as a defender beyond shutting assignments down — are what will afford McDaniels staying power in Philadelphia over the long haul. More importantly to everyone, proving to his teammates and coaches that they can trust his discipline will get McDaniels on the floor when the games start to really matter later this month.

Regardless of the outcome, the good thing about covering a TNT game in person is that I don’t have to hear whatever Stan Van Gundy had to say. From the looks of Twitter, it was nothing good. 

Dislikes

The glass-half-empty angle to the first ‘Like’ above is that Harden’s read of the floor and projectile passes across the court masked some early timidness in trying to attack off the dribble. He found the edge with Strus on his hip a few times. But, Harden largely looked unsure of whether he could get around individual defenders squared up with him.

If you wanted a gauge of the Sixers’ sense of urgency in this game, the off-ball screen navigation and turnovers tell the story. It wasn’t just one culprit on Philadlephia’s side. Melton got caught up on screens, giving Strus easy curls into three-point looks. House Jr. struggled fighting through flaring pin-downs, surrendering a few open looks to Kevin Love. Miami has not been a good three-point shooting team all season, and offense in the halfcourt setting has not been easy to come by for the Heat for the last two seasons. That the Heat got such open looks from deep was as much the Sixers losing focus for long stretches as it was Miami moving the ball well.

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The thing is, the Sixers can survive hot shooting by a mediocre offense because their offense is so good. Of course, their offense has to be firing on all cylinders for that to happen. And that just wasn’t the case at all in this game. Philadelphia wasn’t strong with the ball. They forfeited possessions in the middle of the action on the slightest swipe-downs from handsy defenders. The Sixers were sloppy even in basic executions, committing the rare shot-fake-and-jump travel. The turnovers, by themselves, are also survivable. Philadelphia has won games throughout the season despite losing the turnover battle handily. But, it’s fatal when the turnovers coincide with the barrage of threes. The Sixers served up that exact combination in the first half of this game. It might as well have been over from there.

You knew the game was in jeopardy when the Sixers lost the minutes that Butler was off the floor in the first half by seven. That dude is the heart and soul of the team. If you can’t win the minutes he’s resting, you’re probably in for a difficult night. 

Embiid put up a very light night of scoring by his own standards. And perhaps we can say that the guy who is trying to nail shut his first MVP award and dropped 52 points just two nights ago is allowed a night of low effort. But anyone who follows the NBA knows that the MVP dialogue has become so poisonous that detractors will use every single game against the candidate(s) they dislike. So, if Embiid was going to play a regular-season game that essentially had no meaning for his team’s purposes, you might say that it at least had some purpose for his personal resume. As such, I think it’s fair to opine that he should close strong and give his best effort if he’s going to suit up. Don’t give the nay-sayers any material.

Instead, he put up light scoring numbers that were well below his season average anyway and totally checked out otherwise. Butler ate him alive in isolation, getting him off balance with his first step and taking him to the rim. He slowed up just enough for Embiid to run right into him on the back side, getting himself to the free throw line with his usual bag of tricks. A telltale sign that Embiid wasn’t locked in, he was slow getting to spots against dribble penetration. His contests on shots inside were late, forfeiting scores at the rim.

The staple of this outclassing was the defensive rebounding. Miami beat the Sixers to every single defensive rebound, keeping their possessions alive and rendering Philadelphia unable to complete defensive stands. The Sixers are not a great boxing-out team anyway. Philadelphia is, at best, a pedestrian defensive rebounding team. If they’re getting beat to every loose ball, might as well pack it in.

That’s not necessarily an Embiid problem. Although, his rebounding numbers are too low for my liking. But, if effort is blatantly absent team-wide, why even play your best players? Was it just to get some run on Fan Appreciation night at the Wells Fargo Center? You might as well not give anyone any real bait and rest your stars. Considering narrative power, that is especially the case for the one jockeying for a significant award. Your typical reserves would give better effort because of the rare opportunity to play significant minutes anyway.

Melton left the game after the third quarter with mild right calf tightness and did not return.

The Sixers (52-28) will visit the Atlanta Hawks (41-39) on Friday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the game on NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Pat Bernard
Pat Bernard

Pat Bernard has four years of podcasting. His first year with the Pattison Ave Phantics and four years running Devereaux Sports. Now currently, both Devereaux Sports and Edge of Sports. Pat is a  for 6 Philly sports fan.  Flyers, Phillies, Eagles, Sixers, Wings, and Union. The Gobbler is a former pro wrestler and ACPW Hall of Famer! He is originally out of Ambler from Northeast Philly (by the Tacony Bridge).  Pat is a credentialed Philadelphia Wings Beat Reported under Edge of Philly Sports.

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