MIAMI — The regular-season series between the Sixers and Heat is over. The battle between Joel Embiid and Hassan Whiteside, on the other hand, apparently is not.
The two centers had social-media-sparked tension leading up to this season. Their first three matchups were pretty tame and compliments actually were paid, but things got heated during the Sixers’ 108-99 loss Thursday (see observations).
Early in the third quarter, Whiteside blocked Embiid’s layup attempt. Just a few steps back down the court, the two got tangled up with arms grabbed, elbows flown, and a push ultimately initiated by Whiteside.
Whiteside was issued a technical. Embiid was called for a personal foul. The incident clearly will have a lingering effect beyond that whistle.
“Looking at the replay, it looked like I didn’t touch him,” Embiid said. “Then they called a double foul. [He] tried hit me in the back, which is kind of dirty because of the fact that I’ve had back problems. So we’re going to see about that. I won’t forget about that.
“But I didn’t think I touched him. But then they called a technical foul on him because obviously he’s the one that made a dirty play.”
Embiid wasn’t so much bothered by the contact — in fact he downplayed its force — rather the fact it happened at all.
“He hits really soft, so I didn’t feel anything,” Embiid said. “But just the action of him trying to do that I think is pretty messed up. I don’t care what we have outside of basketball but at the same time, you’ve got to respect the rules of basketball and play basketball and have fun doing it. But I’m not worried about it. We lost the game. Right now I’m worried about are we going to get better.”
Whiteside didn’t have as much to say, but his short reaction when asked if there is a rivalry between him and Embiid sent a clear message.
“I look towards this,” Whiteside said. “I will just let you know that.”
Whiteside got the best of this matchup at the basket. He led all players with 26 points (9 of 12 from the field) and eight rebounds. Embiid struggled as he shot 5 for 18 from the floor. He finished with 17 points and seven rebounds (see highlights), calling his performance “sh--ty.”
There is a chance this matchup could play out in the postseason. The Sixers (35-29) currently are in the sixth seed, one game ahead of the Heat (35-31). They are aiming for home-court advantage with only 1½ games separating them from the fourth-place Wizards (37-28). Depending on how each team finishes out their schedule, they could be paired in the first round. Their regular-season series is tied, 2-2.