76ers

Sixers struggle against zone defense, drop first game at home to Heat

Sixers struggle against zone defense, drop first game at home to Heat

BOX SCORE

After handing the Heat a 27-point drubbing in their last matchup on Nov. 23, the Sixers had to know they were in for a fight.

They got just that in a thrilling 108-104 loss to Miami at the Wells Fargo Center Wednesday night, their first defeat at home this season. The Sixers got it to within two late, but Al Horford missed a three-pointer with four seconds to go.

It's the first time they've lost back-to-back games since Nov. 13 and 15 in Orlando and Oklahoma City. The loss drops them to 14-1 at home and 20-9 overall.

The Sixers stay at home for a matchup against the Luka Doncic-less Mavericks Friday (8 p.m./NBCSP).

Here are observations from the loss:

Not in the zone

With the Sixers’ size advantage and a lack of elite three-point shooting, Brett Brown figured his team would see zone this year. While they’ve seen it in spurts, nobody used it as much as head coach Erik Spoelstra did Wednesday — and it worked pretty darn well.

When the Heat first went to it, it looked like maybe it was a mistake as Tobias Harris drove baseline on an over-aggressive closeout by Meyers Leonard for a dunk. To Spoelstra’s credit, he stuck with it. Even as Harris was able to find a couple cracks and Furkan Korkmaz hit a couple corner threes, Miami stayed with the zone and it worked. The Heat outscored the Sixers 37-19 in the second to take a 56-48 advantage at halftime and wouldn’t relinquish it.

It forced the Sixers to settle for way more threes than they would like to take. While they’ve seen a recent uptick in their percentages, this is not a team that wants to live and die by the three. They went 5 of 22 from distance in the first half and finished just 12 of 39.

A mixed bag with size advantage

Just like in the first matchup between these two teams, the Sixers’ size bothered the Heat early. Joel Embiid was also able to snag eight rebounds in less than eight first-quarter minutes. The Sixers held Miami to just 19 points in the quarter.

Offensively, the Sixers were looking to take advantage of Ben Simmons’ size with whoever the Heat had guarding him. Simmons alertly went to the post and his teammates were making a concerted effort to get him the ball. It seemed like the game plan coming in and it worked until Miami switched to a zone. 

But the one area in which the Heat were able to do damage was with the pick-and-roll with either Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro or Kendrick Nunn as the ball handler and Bam Adebayo as the screener. Getting the Sixers’ bigs on the move seemed to be the priority and Adebayo punished them all night.

Needed more from star trio

Last Friday’s win over the Pelicans marked the first time Simmons, Embiid and Harris all scored 20-plus points in the same game as teammates. The Sixers could’ve used a little more from all three Wednesday.

Embiid was a beast on the glass (19 rebounds) but struggled from the field (20 points, 8 of 19) and perhaps gave Adebayo a little too much space on the defensive end. Adebayo finished with 21 and seemed to give Embiid problems all night. Embiid did come alive with 12 fourth-quarter points, but it just wasn't enough.

Harris looked like he might get going in the second quarter as he was the one player finding ways to penetrate the zone. But much like the Sixers as a team, Harris couldn’t get it going from outside, finishing 2 of 6 from three and just 7 of 16 overall for 20 points. Harris has been playing at a high level lately. Just a tough night in kind of a funky game.

Simmons wasn’t poor by any stretch, but it seemed like he could’ve done more to attack when Miami went zone. His unwillingness to shoot from the outside with any regularity didn’t help matters. He had 17 points, six assists and six rebounds.

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It sounds like Brett Brown has a long-term plan without Ben Simmons in mind

It sounds like Brett Brown has a long-term plan without Ben Simmons in mind

Updated: Tuesday, 5:09 p.m.

We now have a diagnosis on Ben Simmons' injury. Simmons suffered a nerve impingement in his lower back and will be re-evaluated in two weeks, a team source confirmed Tuesday to NBC Sports Philadelphia (see story). Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium first reported the news.

Speaking before the Sixers' win Monday night over the Hawks, head coach Brett Brown was unsure how long the injury would sideline Simmons. The 23-year-old sustained the injury at practice Wednesday going up for a rebound, according to Brown, and irritated it in the first quarter of Saturday night’s game against the Bucks.

“I don’t know,” Brown said. “And it really is like how long is a piece of string — who knows? Who knows? … Whatever the time equals on days, games, period of time, we can talk more honestly as this thing shakes out.”

However, it sounded as if Brown was preparing for his two-time All-Star point guard to be out for a while. He framed the situation as one the Sixers can cope with if other players take advantage of the chance to play expanded roles.

There’s 25 games left. … It’s an eternity,” he said. “Just keep going back to the end game. What’s the bottom line? I’ll say it again — if you get their health and their spirit, it’s got a chance to equal form. … And it’s all about landing the plane. And so with 25 games left, we’ve taken a hit with Ben. 

"I do see it this way. I’m not spinning it. It’s an opportunity for us to learn and something will emerge. And we need something to emerge. It’s not like we were all saying, ‘Oh, here it is, it’s anointed.’ It wasn’t that. So, I think we’re going to learn something and find something. If this was six games out, I wouldn’t be telling you this story. When it’s 25 games out, it is, with all my heart, what I think. That’s what I said to the team, that’s what I really think and that’s what I’m going to try to pull off.

Who specifically will take over ball handling duties? Brown said it “will be done by committee” for the time being, and he named a few players who he expects to be in that mix. Monday night, the team started Shake Milton, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid. 

“The candidates could be Raul Neto or [Furkan Korkmaz] or Alec Burks or J-Rich, Shake," he said. "So, you have capable people that aren’t traditional point guards but have the ability to get the ball up the floor. Then at that point, you’re probably going to have to be in something that has motion and continuity instead of just giving Chris Paul the ball and saying, ‘Go to work’ out of a pick-and-roll, as an example.”

Regardless of Brown’s attitude, the tangible impact of not having Simmons will clearly be significant. He leads the league in steals, has assisted on the most three-pointers and is a highly athletic, versatile and talented player.

The loss of all those attributes will no doubt be difficult to overcome.

“When there is a vacuum, as there is right now with Ben, something will happen,” Brown said. “Somebody will step up. I’m trying to see the world through those eyes, and I really do — it’s not even creative coach speak. I see it as an opportunity, and I think I need to see it that way.”

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Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons suffered nerve impingement in lower back

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons suffered nerve impingement in lower back

Ben Simmons suffered a nerve impingement in his lower back and will be re-evaluated in approximately two weeks, a team source confirmed Tuesday to NBC Sports Philadelphia. Simmons will undergo daily treatment. 

Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium first reported the news. 

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports “there's little expectation that [Simmons would] be ready to return to lineup that soon,” and says “doctors are hopeful treatment can drive improvement, but Sixers are preparing to play without him." 

According to head coach Brett Brown, Simmons was first injured at the team’s practice last Wednesday. The 23-year-old All-Star missed the team’s first game after the All-Star break, a win Thursday over the Nets. 

“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 Thursday. “And it has played out as it has played out. We don’t believe it’s anything too significant.”

Simmons sat out the Sixers’ game vs. the Nets on Thursday and played Saturday in Milwaukee. He appeared to be in discomfort after drawing a foul in the first quarter on the Bucks’ Brook Lopez. The 23-year-old stayed in the game to make 1 of 2 free throws, then exited when Matisse Thybulle committed a foul to create a stoppage of play and ensure Simmons could return to the locker room.

Ahead of the game against the Bucks, Simmons had averaged 16.9 points, 8.3 assists, 7.9 rebounds and a league-best 2.2 steals. He’d played 36.3 minutes per game, most on the Sixers and third-highest in the NBA ahead of Saturday’s games. 

Brown talked before the Sixers’ win Monday over the Hawks as if he was prepared for a long-term absence. He said the team would split up ball handling responsibilities by committee, with Shake Milton, Josh Richardson and Alec Burks among the possible candidates. Milton started on Monday. 

The 36-22 Sixers are fifth in the Eastern Conference and play the Cavaliers on Wednesday night in Cleveland. 

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