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.

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons out for Hawks game with back injury, will have additional evaluation Monday

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons out for Hawks game with back injury, will have additional evaluation Monday

Ben Simmons went through an initial evaluation on his back Sunday in Philadelphia, will have an additional evaluation Monday and is out for the Sixers’ game tomorrow night vs. the Atlanta Hawks, a team source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia. 

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the news.

Simmons missed Thursday’s game vs. the Nets with lower back soreness and irritated the injury in the first quarter Saturday night against the Bucks. 

Head coach Brett Brown said Thursday that Simmons was injured at the team’s practice Wednesday.

“It was a play where he went up for a rebound and I looked over and he left the court, and went and got treatment,” Brown said. “And it has played out as it has played out. We don’t believe it’s anything too significant.”

After drawing a foul on Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez with 7:21 left in the first on a running hook shot, Simmons put his hands on his knees and appeared in discomfort. He stayed in to make 1 of 2 free throws, and the Sixers then had Matisse Thybulle commit a foul to stop the game and allow Simmons to return to the locker room.

Before Saturday, Simmons had been averaging 16.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.9 assists this season in a team-high 36.3 minutes per game. The two-time All-Star has an NBA-best 115 steals. 

Simmons had entered the All-Star break strong, with a 26-point triple-double in the Sixers’ Feb. 11 win over the Clippers. 

He’d posted 20.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game in the final 18 contests before the All-Star Game, shooting 68.9 percent from the foul line during that stretch. When Joel Embiid was out with a torn ligament in his left ring finger, Simmons had carried the Sixers to a 6-3 record. 

With 25 regular-season games remaining, the Sixers are 35-22 and fifth in the Eastern Conference standings. They have a 26-2 home record, best in the NBA, and a 9-20 away mark that’s the worst of any team currently in a playoff position. The team’s remaining schedule is the easiest in the league.

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If Ben Simmons is sidelined for an extended period, how will Sixers adapt?

If Ben Simmons is sidelined for an extended period, how will Sixers adapt?

We don’t need to spend much time explaining how and why Ben Simmons is very valuable for the Sixers. 

The two-time All-Star leads the NBA in steals and, before irritating a lower back injury Saturday night in Milwaukee, was averaging 16.9 points, 8.3 assists and 7.9 rebounds.

Of course, the Sixers will hope the injury doesn’t keep Simmons out for long. The question of how the Sixers will manage if Simmons’ injury does sideline him for an extended period of time, however, deserves attention.

Who’d be in the starting lineup? 

Though Raul Neto started in Simmons’ place Thursday against the Nets, he didn’t play against the Bucks until the game was well out of hand.

Shake Milton handled much of the point guard duties after Simmons left and was solid, making 5 of 7 three-point shots and scoring 17 points.

Josh Richardson and Alec Burks are other ball handling options, with Brett Brown seeming to prefer Burks’ “scoring punch” off the bench.

In his second NBA season, Milton has posted 6.7 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game, shooting 36.9 percent from three. The 23-year-old was on a two-way contract with the Sixers as a rookie and starred with the Delaware Blue Coats, scoring 24.9 points per game in the G League.

Who else would be impacted? 

Between Jan. 25 and Feb. 9, Milton started eight straight games for the Sixers because of Richardson’s hamstring injury. Brown didn’t play him as much as a typical starter during that stretch, giving him 25.4 minutes per game. He only exceeded 30 minutes once, when he scored a career-high 27 points on Jan. 30 in Atlanta.

Milton again would not likely be assuming full-on starters minutes. Perhaps Richardson and Burks would combine for a greater sum of backup point guard minutes than usual. If Richardson were to handle backup point guard duties, that would presumably mean Glenn Robinson III, Furkan Korkmaz and Matisse Thybulle would have more minutes to take on the wing. 

Simmons was averaging a team-high 36.3 minutes entering Saturday’s game, so there is simply a lot of playing time that would need to be allocated among multiple players. 

Where would the Sixers suffer the most? 

The defense would take a big hit. The on-off stats mysteriously indicate that the Sixers have been a better defensive team with Simmons not on the floor, but they’d clearly be losing one of the best defenders in the game. 

Along with being first in steals, Simmons has the most total deflections and the most defensive loose balls recovered. He can defend opposing stars and, in general, most point guards, wings and power forwards. The Sixers would not be able to replace that defensive versatility or overall quality.

They’d obviously gain something in terms of outside shooting but would lose a lot in other offensive areas. Simmons has assisted on more threes than any player this season.

How much would it hurt overall? 

Because Simmons has played in 214 of a possible 221 regular-season games over the last three seasons, we don’t have any meaningful track record of how the Sixers tend to fare without him.

Joel Embiid would be the focus of a Simmons-less team, and it would make sense for the offense to involve more Embiid post-ups than ever.

The most basic formula for success without Simmons would be an elite Embiid on both ends of the floor, Milton and other guards succeeding in expanded roles, and Tobias Harris and Al Horford being better across the board, especially as three-point shooters. It’s not impossible that all those pieces would come together, but it would be a lot to ask. 

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