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.

Sixers Talk: Ben Simmons not playing in the World Cup; Mike Scott living his best life

1400x1400_promo_sixers_talk_fullscreen.jpg
NBC Sports Philadelphia

Sixers Talk: Ben Simmons not playing in the World Cup; Mike Scott living his best life

Ben Simmons will not be playing for Team Australia in the World Cup while Mike Scott is living his best life on his 31st birthday. Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick talk that and sneaky teams in the East on this edition of Sixers Talk.

Simmons is choosing to work on his game for the upcoming NBA season instead of playing in the FIBA World Cup. What are the pros and cons?

Scott and the hive are having a great time on Twitter. Plus, we found out that the Sixers' forward didn't do so hot in French class at UVA.

The Sixers and Bucks appear to be the two top teams in the East. Which team could sneak up on them?

That and more below on this edition of Sixers Talk.

'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.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers