76ers

Heat 122, Sixers 99: In Dwyane Wade's last dance, shorthanded Sixers fall to Heat

Heat 122, Sixers 99: In Dwyane Wade's last dance, shorthanded Sixers fall to Heat

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It looked like one team was fighting for its playoff life and trying to send off an NBA legend in grand fashion, while the other team … wasn’t.

In Dwyane Wade’s final game in Miami, the Heat beat up on the shorthanded Sixers, 122-99, at American Airlines Arena.

With Joel Embiid, JJ Redick and Mike Scott resting and the Eastern Conference’s third seed all wrapped up, this game didn’t profile well for a win. Miami went 6 of 9 from three on its way to a 34-20 first-quarter lead and the Sixers never recovered.

The loss drops them to 50-31 on the season.

Here are observations from the game:

• If you were expecting D-Wade to pull a Kobe Bryant and jack up 40 shots in his farewell, sorry for the disappointment. Wade simply played his game and was very good, scoring 30 points in 34 minutes. The 13-time All-Star looks like he could keep going, but good for the 37-year-old for hanging it up on his own terms.

• For most of the game, Ben Simmons and Boban Marjanovic looked like the only truly effective Sixers. 

Simmons pushed the tempo and was looking to score on his drives. He was scoring efficiently, but wasn’t doing much in the assist department — a big ask when your team shoots below 40 percent (when Simmons was in the game) from the field. He played just 21 minutes in this one, finishing with 16 points on 7 of 12.

Marjanovic was his usual efficient self offensively, going 6 of 10 for 12 points, but also showed why playing him as Embiid’s backup in the postseason is a concern. Both Bam Adebayo and Hassan Whiteside were able to sneak behind Marjanovic for easy lobs. Both centers also hit jumpers that Marjanovic couldn’t get out to contest.

• Speaking of the backup center spot, Jonah Bolden was questionable with knee soreness coming in and played just 12 minutes before heading to the locker room for the night. There’s certainly concern there. Bolden could be a key piece for this team as Brett Brown has also used Bolden at the four recently.

• Jimmy Butler was back in the lineup after missing the last two games with back tightness. He looked predictably rusty, going 2 of 5 for four points in 15 first-half minutes. Butler is close with Wade and likely didn't want to miss this one.

Tobias Harris, who is currently on pace to play 83 games this season, was ice cold from the field, going 3 of 16 for six points. He played 20 minutes in the first half and also did not return.

Brown emptied out his bench in this one as even Haywood Highsmith got run. The rookie wing actually broke up an attempt by Wade to throw a ball off the backboard for a dunk in the fourth. I get the conext of the moment for Wade, but good for Highsmith.

• We got our first look at Zhaire Smith as a starter and our first look at Furkan Korkmaz since Feb. 12.

Smith continues to show off the traits that made him a first-round pick. He has such quick feet and decent instincts defensively. He also filled lanes well and showed a little something as a cutter. Simmons hit him on one look out of the post which drew a foul. Simmons tried a lob for the rookie a little later, but threw it too high for even the freakishly athletic Smith. He also had a nice finish over Whiteside after the veteran center blocked him earlier. That fearlessness will help if the 19-year-old gets playoff minutes. He's also been solid from three, going 4 of 11 in five games.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Korkmaz, but as was the case when he was getting regular minutes earlier this season, it was a mixed bag. You saw plenty of lapses on the defensive end, but he did make a nice read on one possession, getting into a passing lane, getting a steal and an easy bucket. His calling card is supposed to be his shot, but he’s shooting just 33 percent from three this season. He missed his only attempt from three in seven minutes.

Jonathon Simmons also got his first extended minutes in quite some time and actually looked pretty good. On the defensive end, you can see why a team once signed him to a decent NBA deal. He's struggled on offense, but put up 14 points on 5 of 9 and also dished out eight assists. It’s been a little surprising to not see Simmons get back into the mix when James Ennis got hurt. He lost “the tournament” to Ennis, but has a wealth of playoff experience.

With Ennis likely to miss multiple playoff games, someone will need to give the Sixers a couple minutes from the wing. None of the choices are ideal, but with defense being at a premium during the postseason, I'd go with Smith. He's active and can keep a guard in front of him. Let the kid play.

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'Potential' is a dangerous word, but Sixers have players to realize it

'Potential' is a dangerous word, but Sixers have players to realize it

On paper, a lot of teams in the NBA look awfully good.

Both L.A. teams look like juggernauts. The Warriors lost Kevin Durant, but they’re still the Warriors. The Bucks have the reigning MVP and perhaps the deepest roster in the NBA.

Then there are the Sixers, who have as much potential as any team. Their starting five could be the best in the league. One prominent statistical model even gives them the best chance to win the Finals.

But the word “potential” can be dangerous. Al Horford may be the steadiest player there is. Joel Embiid is still ascending and has work to do, but is already arguably the best big man in the league. 

The other three members of the starting unit all have to tap into their full potential for the Sixers to accomplish their goals.

Does anyone in the league have more to prove than Ben Simmons? It seems weird typing that sentence for a 22-year-old who’s won Rookie of the Year and already made an All-Star team, but here we are. Simmons was given his rookie max extension Monday — which was 100 percent the right move — but questions still linger over his jump shot. He’s been working with famed trainer and shooting coach Chris Johnson in Los Angeles this summer. He also has decided not to play for the Australian national team in the FIBA World Cup so that he can focus on getting prepared for the NBA season.

Recently, Tobias Harris joined Simmons for a workout in L.A. and he came away impressed with Simmons’ progress.

“We played a lot of 1-on-1. He’s in the gym religiously every day – grinding, getting better. He’s in great shape,” Harris said at a press conference last Friday. “Everyone was trying to figure out why I was guarding him at the three-point line. It was really because he hit two of them. I dared him to hit two of them and he hit two in a row that’s why I was there. He’s made big improvements on his game. His jump shot is looking really good. He has confidence to shoot it. I just kept telling him there, even in these workouts when you’re playing, have the confidence to shoot them and don’t’ get discourage when you miss.”

Harris is another player with something to prove after being given the richest contract in franchise history. GM Elton Brand gave up a haul to acquire the 27-year-old from the Clippers and the results were mixed.

Harris came out on fire with the Sixers, averaging over 20 points a game and shooting 40 percent from three in his first 13 games. He then really struggled down the stretch, averaging 16.1 points a game and hitting only 23 percent of his threes. He was also inconsistent during the team’s postseason run.

Still, there’s plenty of optimism surrounding Harris’ fit with the team — especially with Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick gone. He admitted that uncertainty surrounding his role affected his play, but these new pieces could unlock more of his potential. Harris had a borderline All-Star season and was one of the most prolific shooters in the league in a more featured role with the Clippers. He’s improved every season he’s been in the NBA and there’s hope that ascension will continue.

Harris hopes that ascension continues in Philadelphia — and only Philadelphia.

“Everybody knows over the course of my career I've been in a lot of situations,” Harris said. “Hearing in my meeting the possibility of getting these guys that are sitting up here with me was also one of the most appealing things in the pitch. For me, it was just a win-win, to come here in a situation where I can continue to develop and to be somewhere for many years to come. I'm excited for that and, obviously I signed a five-year deal, so I'll hopefully finish my career here, God willing."

It makes sense that Harris would be excited for the arrival of Josh Richardson. Other than Richardson proving to be a strong two-way player, the two have an existing relationship. While they missed playing with each other by a season at Tennessee, the two still crossed paths. Harris was stuck in Tennessee during the NBA lockout in his draft year so he took the incoming freshman Richardson out to dinner. 

Harris remembers an assistant coach saying around that time that Richardson “was going to be a pro” because of how hard he worked. It was a rather bold statement when you consider Richardson was a two-star recruit coming out of high school, but he made that unnamed coach look awfully prophetic.

Richardson, a second-round pick in 2015, had to earn his way onto the floor in the NBA with his tenacious defense and high energy. Much like Harris, Richardson’s offensive game has grown every season in the league. At times, he ran the Heat’s offense last season as the ball handler in the pick-and-roll and took the most threes of his career by a healthy margin — though he was only right around league average percentage wise.

While the team looks like a defensive monster, spacing is still a question mark. The Sixers are relying on all three players — and really even Embiid and Horford — to have the best shooting seasons of their careers.

"I look forward to training camp, figure all that out,” Brand said. “Defensively, of course that's where we're going to hang our hat. We should be one of the top defensive teams in the league, in my opinion. But we'll figure out the spacing. We have a lot of versatility. Al Horford can space, Joel Embiid can space, Ben's working on his game, Josh is a high-level scorer and Tobias is a high-level shooter and scorer also, so we're looking forward to making that work in training camp. But it's going to take some time. It should take some time."

With how much work Simmons, Harris and Richardson have put in, all that potential could be realized.

That could make the Sixers a very dangerous team.

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This statistical model gives Sixers best chance of any team to win NBA Finals

This statistical model gives Sixers best chance of any team to win NBA Finals

The Sixers, according to the statistics-centric website FiveThirtyEight, have a 55 percent chance to make the NBA Finals and a 27 percent chance to win it all — both the highest of any NBA team.

FiveThirtyEight's "Way-Too-Early Projections" for the 2019-20 season give the Sixers a greater than 99 percent chance to make the playoffs. The Houston Rockets have the next-best odds to win the title at 24 percent.

It's important to note, of course, that teams' rosters will change between now and the start of the regular season, and we still don't have a schedule.

Its model incorporates heaps of data and does "50,000 simulations of the schedule." A new element this year is the DRAYMOND defensive metric, which gives greater weight to how a defender impacts opponents' shooting percentage.

The fact that Joel Embiid has the second-best DRAYMOND rating since the 2013-14 season might, in part, explain why this year's model is so high on the Sixers. Conventional wisdom would suggest that the Giannis Antetokounmpo-led Milwaukee Bucks (26 percent chance to win the East, 10 percent chance to win the championship) and star-studded Los Angeles Lakers (13 percent odds to win it all) and Clippers (5 percent chance to win it all) have a better shot than FiveThirtyEight gives them.

In case you somehow missed it, a lot has changed for the Sixers this offseason. The team's new starting unit of Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Embiid is locked in for the long term, while Mike Scott and James Ennis are again expected to feature off the bench. It's a big, defensively imposing team.

Ennis has said he thinks the Sixers can "walk to the Finals in the East." If you trust FiveThirtyEight's model, his view might not be so outlandish.

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