Heat's increased physicality bothers Sixers in Game 2

Heat's increased physicality bothers Sixers in Game 2

Game 1 was just a little too easy for the Sixers. Too much free space in transition, too many open threes, too many offensive rebounds. The Heat were determined to make Game 2 different.

An hour before tipoff, 15-year veteran Udonis Haslem’s focus was clear. “We gotta get into the physical part of the game,” Haslem said. “Make everything tough, make everything physical, raise our level of intensity as their level of intensity has raised. And then secondly, we’ll get into the X’s and O’s. But first of all, just pure competition.”

Miami’s physicality was on another level in Monday’s night 113-103 win (see observations). The Heat picked up Ben Simmons full court, chased Marco Belinelli and JJ Redick tight around every screen, and issued their fair share of “playoff fouls” whenever a Sixer found an inch of free space in the paint. It was a stark contrast to Game 1, when they gave Simmons plenty of room to operate, saw the Sixers make 18 of their 28 three-point attempts and conceded numerous open dunks.

“They were more physical, and I think that was the expectation,” JJ Redick said. “In terms of their schemes, they didn’t change a whole lot. I think the biggest thing was just how they approached their defense on Ben. Instead of sagging off in the paint, they were pressuring full court. Other than that, it was just being more physical all around with our bigs. We had trouble just getting to our plays sometimes.”

The Heat held the Sixers to 7-for-36 shooting from three-point range, their fourth-worst long-range shooting percentage of the season. While a few of those misses were open looks, a big part of the Sixers’ struggles from long range Monday were due to how closely the Heat tailed shooters off the ball, and how often they denied the initial action and made the Sixers take a worse shot.

“I just think we made it tough on them,” Heat guard Josh Richardson said. “They were able to get wherever they wanted last time and if you let them do that then they're just going to punish you. We took it upon ourselves in those last two days to come out tougher and make things harder on them.”

After a dismal second quarter in which they were outscored 34-13 the Sixers responded in the second half. Their shots still weren’t falling from deep, but the Sixers didn’t shy away from the physical challenge. Simmons, who scored 15 of his 24 points in the second half, was involved in plenty of pushing and shoving off the ball with Justise Winslow.

“They were a little bit more physical, but at the same time, our guys can throw bodies around,” Simmons said. “I think that was one of the biggest things.”

This series is going to be a fight, and Redick thinks it’s not the worst thing in the world that the Sixers absorbed a few blows Monday night.

“For the guys who haven’t been through the fire of the playoffs, this will sharpen you and strengthen you as a player, as a man, as a group,” Redick said. “Games like this are good for you, but it doesn’t feel good to lose.”

Kevin Knox, Zhaire Smith to have 2nd workout for Sixers

Kevin Knox, Zhaire Smith to have 2nd workout for Sixers

The Sixers are taking another look at two prospects two days before the NBA draft, in which they hold pick No. 10.

Kentucky forward Kevin Knox will be back at the training complex again Tuesday for an individual workout. Last week, he participated in a group setting.

Texas Tech guard Zhaire Smith also will return for a second group workout.

Both stood out their first time in Camden, New Jersey.

“He walked into the gym, it’s not hard to see the intrigue with his size and mobility, his frame,” senior director of basketball operations Vince Rozman said of the 6-foot-9 Knox last week. “He’s 18, so there’s a lot to develop from.”

Knox, who averaged 15.6 points (34.1 percent from three), 5.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists as a freshman, was confident following his first performance for the Sixers.

“They’re really interested in me,” Knox said. “They love my game, they love the way I can shoot the ball. That’s something they really like to do is shoot a lot of threes. My versatility, being able to take guys off the dribble is something that would complement really well with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.”

The 6-foot-5 Smith posted 11.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists his freshman season. He was focused on demonstrating shooting, decision-making and playmaking during his first workout.

“He’s got great length,” vice president of player personnel Marc Eversley said last week. “He’s a terrific, terrific athlete. He didn’t shoot the ball as well throughout the year, but he came in here today and shot it pretty well.”

The Sixers additionally hold picks No. 26, 38, 39, 56 and 60. Tuesday’s group workout also will include La Salle guard-forward B.J. Johnson, USC guard De’Anthony Melton, Fairfield guard Tyler Nelson, Kansas guard Malik Newman and Wichita State guard Landry Shamet.

More on Sixers, NBA draft

• Knox thinks he would fit with Sixers

• NBA draft profile: Kentucky's Knox

NBA draft profile: Texas Tech's Smith

NBA draft profile: UCLA PG Aaron Holiday

USA Today Images

NBA draft profile: UCLA PG Aaron Holiday

Aaron Holiday

Position: Guard

Height: 6-0

Weight: 187

School: UCLA

Sixers fans should recognize the name. Aaron Holiday is the brother of former Sixers first-round pick Jrue Holiday and Bulls wing Justin Holiday. Aaron is the youngest — and smallest — of the three. 

A three-year player at UCLA, Holiday developed into one of the most prodigious scorers and shooters in Bruins history. He was the first UCLA player to lead the Pac 12 in scoring (20.3 points per game) since some guy named Reggie Miller. For his efforts, he was named to the All-Pac 12 first team.

For his college career, Holiday averaged 14.3 points and 4.7 assists per contest in 101 games (65 starts). He also hit 180 treys, shooting 42 percent from three.

Holiday’s most obvious and translatable NBA attribute is his jump shot. He shot over 40 percent in all three of his seasons at UCLA and is capable off the dribble, off screens and in catch-and-shoot opportunities. He also has NBA range and is not afraid to pull up from any spot on the floor.

For his size, he’s a good, creative finisher and features a pretty nice floater. He understands how to attack defenses, especially in the pick and roll. He’s excellent at changing his pace and lulling defenders to sleep. He’s a good and willing passer. Defensively he has excellent instincts. He’s aggressive and does well at getting his hands in passing lanes.

Size is a huge issue for Holiday. The other big issue is, he’s just an OK athlete that lacks quickness and explosion while driving to the basket. Defense is always going to be an issue as he’ll struggle to guard some of the bigger and more explosive point guards in the league. He also struggled with turnovers.

NBA comparison
Aaron Brooks, most recently of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Both players make up for their size with excellent perimeter shooting. Brooks was more explosive coming out of Oregon, but also has a good change of pace to confuse opponents. Holiday has better feel and vision. Brooks has struggled defensively at the NBA level and Holiday will likely encounter the same issues.

How he'd fit with Sixers
It’s tough to project Holiday to the Sixers. His shooting would play well here and playing with a 6-foot-10 point guard would certainly help his cause, but where would he fit? He won’t be a starter right away and the Sixers already feature T.J. McConnell off the bench. McConnell provides energy and top-notch defense that Holiday cannot.

Draft projection
The modern NBA is all about the three so teams will be interested in Holiday as a backup point guard and shooter off the bench. He could go anywhere from the late teens to the mid-20s.

More on the Sixers and the NBA draft