76ers

A look back at Sixers' regular-season series with Heat

A look back at Sixers' regular-season series with Heat

The stage is set. The Sixers will face the Miami Heat in the first round of the postseason (see series details).

Let’s dive into the regular-season series and see exactly how we got here. 

Game 1: Feb. 2, Sixers win, 103-97
It was well into the season before the Sixers and Heat finally met, but this battle was anticipated for a long time.

That’s because Joel Embiid and nemesis Hassan Whiteside engaged in a social media beef after the preseason finale. Both centers lobbed barbs back and forth (see story). Ultimately it calmed down and it was realized that things would play out on the court.

When the Heat came to the Wells Fargo Center that Friday night, the building was already rocking with the Eagles’ Super Bowl appearance just hours away. The Sixers fed off that energy to build a 26-point lead after three quarters. However, they nearly blew it by being outscored 37-17 in the fourth quarter before holding on to claim the victory. 

In the end, Embiid had the upper hand in the big man battle (17 points, 11 rebounds to Whiteside’s four points, nine rebounds) and in the win column.

Game 2: Feb. 14, Sixers win, 104-102
The Sixers were on the opposite end of a big deficit in the final game, but they made their comeback stick.

With Embiid sidelined for ankle soreness, Ben Simmons took over in the second half to overcome a 24-point hole. Simmons notched a triple-double with 18 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. 

Marco Belinelli also made a strong first impression with 17 points in his Sixers debut as the team won for the fifth straight time.

"I remember yesterday saying the one thing I really love about this group," Belinelli said (see story), "they want to win so bad and that's why I think we won this game. It's not easy. Especially down [24] against a really good team in Miami, I'm really impressed." 

Game 3: Feb. 27, Heat win, 102-101
Don’t wake up Father Prime.

That’s the hard lesson the Sixers learned in a heartbreaking one-point loss. The Sixers held a lead coming down the stretch, but they couldn’t prevent Dwyane Wade from taking over. The veteran two-guard scored a season-high 27 points, including 15 of Miami’s final 17 points. The icing on the cake was a step-back jumper with 5.9 seconds left on the clock.

That was still enough time for the Sixers to work a play and find an open JJ Redick for a three-pointer only for it to clang off the rim.

“You can't ask for a better look,” Redick said (see story). “I don't know if I rushed it or not, but I would have liked to have set my feet a little different. But other than that, can't ask for a better look.”

Game 4: March 8, Heat win, 108-99
Things came full circle as the Embiid-Whiteside feud boiled over on this night.

Whiteside got the better end of the rivalry as he torched the Sixers for 26 points (9 of 12 shooting) and eight rebounds. Meanwhile, Embiid contributed 17 points (5 for 18) and seven boards.

However, the major takeaway in the game came in the third quarter when the two big men got tangled up and were called for double fouls.

“Looking at the replay, it looked like I didn’t touch him,” Embiid said (see story). “Then they called a double foul. [He] tried to 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.”

And now here we are with perhaps the tighest first-round series in the entire NBA postseason (the four games were decided by an average of 4.5 points). But with the way the Sixers are playing now, and particularly if they can get Embiid back in action sooner rather than later, they would have to be a big-time favorite to advance. Still, they know it won't be easy (see story).

Either way, buckle your seatbelts for playoff basketball in Philadelphia for the first time in six years.

It's going to take more than Jimmy Butler and one game to fix Sixers' issues

It's going to take more than Jimmy Butler and one game to fix Sixers' issues

This is Philadelphia and the idea of telling fans not to overreact is probably futile, but here goes …

R-E-L-A-X.

Yes, the Sixers lost in Jimmy Butler’s debut, 111-106, to the Magic Wednesday. Yes, Joel Embiid had 16 points in the first half but had just three points on 1 of 10 shooting in the second. Yes, Ben Simmons was quiet with nine points, six assists and three rebounds.

But it’s one game. When Butler first landed in Philly he said that the team was going to have things to figure out and that’s what it looked like. Butler told reporters after the game that everyone has the right mindset.

That’s the first thing: We all want each other to be great. We’re all talking about where we’re supposed to be and what we see out there on the floor. I’m telling you it’s coming sooner rather than later. We’re going to be just fine. Because once we put this thing together, we’re going to be tough.

One of the concerns in acquiring Butler was that he wasn’t an elite three-point shooter, something needed to complement the skills of Embiid and Simmons. That looked to be part of the issue Wednesday, but there’s no reason to panic.

These three players are all exceptionally talented, but that doesn’t guarantee success. It’s going to take more than just one shootaround and one game to develop that chemistry.

With that said, there were moments that showed promise. The first unit of Simmons, Butler, Embiid, JJ Redick and Wilson Chandler showed great potential and moved the ball extremely well. The flashes of the two-man game between Butler and Embiid were promising.

"I think if you put really good basketball players out on the court, it’s always going to look good as long as you play basketball the right way," Butler said. "We just came up a little bit short. We’re OK. We just have to go back to the drawing boards at practice and get the W next time."

As great of a player as Butler is, he wasn’t going to come in here and solve all the Sixers problems right away. There are bigger concerns for the Sixers that were here before Butler arrived and you can’t expect them to be solved after one game with him.

This is a team that finished third in defensive rating last season. This year they’re 11th. That’s simply not good enough. They gave up 111 points to an Orlando team that averages 104.4 a game, good for 25th in the league. 

There are also these big runs and quarters they’ve been prone to give up. They blew a 21-point lead against the Hornets last Friday and barely escaped with a win in overtime. After building a 63-50 lead at the half, the Sixers were outscored 52-39 in the second half of their overtime loss in Memphis. 

On Wednesday night, they took an 11-point lead into the fourth quarter. They then allowed the Magic to go on a 21-0 run. You read that correctly, 21-0. I don’t care if you’re playing the Warriors, a 21-0 run in the fourth is completely unacceptable. 

The new defensive scheme is surely a factor. The Sixers not having all their pieces at one time certainly is as well.

At some point, with Butler in the fold, there won’t be any more excuses. But that time is not after one game.

"It is the NBA. You don’t just click your heels and win NBA games," Brett Brown said. "It takes patience and work and time. We have that."

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Jimmy Butler-only observations for his Sixers debut

Jimmy Butler-only observations for his Sixers debut

Jimmy Butler’s debut didn’t end the way he would’ve liked, but he showed flashes of why Elton Brand made the move.

He finished with 14 points (6 of 12) in the Sixers’ 111-106 loss to the Magic Wednesday (see non-Butler observations).

Here are a few observations from Butler’s performance to hold you over before our film review Thursday.

• Early on it looked like Butler was really just trying to let the game come to him, which makes sense in his first game with the team. 

He was perhaps a little too unselfish on the Sixers’ first possession of the game. They ran him off a double screen with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid and it looked like Butler had a mid-range jumper that he passed up.

But he was doing a lot of the little things that maybe not every star player does. He moved well away from the ball and was engaged even when the offensive set wasn’t meant for him.

• His first bucket was a thing of beauty. Butler and Embiid ran the two-man game much like Embiid and JJ Redick do. Embiid faked the dribble handoff and Butler made a great cut to the basket to get the easy bucket.

This is something Brett Brown will surely be taking a long look at. Keep in mind, Brown has basically had one shootaround to get Butler acclimated. As the season goes, he’ll learn what works well for Butler and the rest of the team.

• The diversity of Butler’s offensive game is impressive and it was on full display. He’s outstanding in the mid-range …

He’s also so strong finishing around the basket. You can also see how his ability to create shots is going to help the Sixers.

This play where he splits the defenders and finishes is as pretty as it gets.

• Butler has made the NBA’s All-Defensive first team four times and it’s easy to see why. Butler is so much fun to watch on defense. 

He has such quick feet and awareness. You can see how uncomfortable he makes offensive players with the pressure he puts on them. His recovery speed when he cheats in the passing lanes is also really impressive.

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