The Sixers beat the Heat on Monday night, 124-114, in their final contest before the debut of Jimmy Butler on Wednesday night.
Sadly, a second-quarter free throw by Markelle Fultz overshadowed everything else that happened in the game.
• Fultz’s free-throw form has not been trending in the right direction over the last couple games. What happened Monday night wasn’t exactly out of the blue, but it was still extremely alarming.
With 6:09 left in the second quarter, he made the first of two free-throw attempts. He then brought the ball up to shoulder height to take his second free throw and jerked it up as if he was about to shoot. The problem was, the ball didn’t come out. Fultz then lowered the ball a couple inches and finally released it. While a convincing pump fake, it was the opposite of how a free throw should look.
Despite all the remedial work Fultz did on his shot this summer, there’s still something terribly wrong, whether it's the “yips” or something else. There’s no doubt he’d made progress with his shot after the bizarre tribulations of his rookie season, even making four three-pointers in the Sixers’ first seven games. His midrange attempts didn’t look too bad on Monday night. Still, that free throw was an ugly, painful step backwards.
• Brett Brown went with a starting lineup of Ben Simmons, Fultz, JJ Redick, Wilson Chandler and Joel Embiid.
If you replace Fultz with Butler, that lineup makes a lot of sense for the Sixers.
Chandler has plenty of experience as a starter and as a small-ball four. Without Covington and Saric, the shooting (and spacing) Redick provides is essential.
As for Fultz, that free throw should unfortunately erase any possible consideration of him as a starter. Landry Shamet started in Fultz’s place in the second half.
• The Sixers’ first-round playoff matchup last season vs. the Heat was defined by sneaky elbows, not-so-sneaky slaps to the head (remember Goran Dragic on Ben Simmons in Game 5?) and constant contact off the ball.
Jimmy Butler is the kind of player who you want on your team in those feisty, physical series. Along with the shot creation and perimeter defense he brings to the table, his no-nonsense, ultra-competitive personality will be a welcome addition to the Sixers come playoff time.
• A masked Mike Muscala returned after breaking his nose and suffering a facial laceration in a collision at practice Tuesday. He had 13 points and eight rebounds.
• Joel Embiid returned to form after an off night in Memphis, with 35 points and 18 rebounds. He's one of the best players in basketball right now, without question.
• Furkan Korkmaz has made a strong case that he’s deserving of a bench role in the Sixers’ last two games. He nailed three three-pointers in the second period, including a four-point play. He scored 16 points, topping his career high from Saturday. While his shot is currently his only plus NBA quality, it’s a skill the Sixers could use.
• JJ Redick’s shooting slump is officially a thing of the past. After scoring 20 points against the Grizzlies, he went for 25 on 11 for 20 shooting in Miami.
• Just about all of what I wrote feels irrelevant. Fultz’s free throw is a much more important story than this individual game. The Sixers probably thought most of the questions they’d be asked after this game would be about Butler, who has his introductory press conference Tuesday morning in Camden.
Instead, Fultz’s pump-fake free throw is all anyone will be talking about.
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