Sixers

3 observations after small-ball Sixers impressively blow out the Heat

Sixers

The Sixers are now 9-4 this season when the NBA's No. 2 scorer doesn't play.

Wednesday night's 119-96 victory over the Heat in Miami without Joel Embiid has a strong case as their best yet.

With Embiid sitting because of left foot soreness on the first night of a back-to-back, the Sixers blew out Miami to split the mini-series between the teams and move to 40-21 overall. Dewayne Dedmon (left hip soreness) and Kyle Lowry (left knee soreness) were also out.

Tyrese Maxey had 27 points on 10-for-17 shooting and seven assists. James Harden recorded 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

Paul Reed posted 16 points and a career-high 14 rebounds. 

The Sixers will head to Dallas and play the Mavs on Thursday night in the second game of a five-game road trip. Here are observations on their win Wednesday: 

Maxey the starter looks awfully good

With Maxey in the starting lineup for the first time since Jan. 21 and PJ Tucker at center, the Sixers’ first several minutes of small ball weren’t encouraging. 

Bam Adebayo scored four of the Heat’s first six points and the Sixers had a few early turnovers after they committed 20 in Monday’s home loss to Miami. The Heat looked fluid offensively, too. Tyler Herro broke open off the ball and made a cutting layup to put Miami ahead 14-7.

As far as defensive rebounding effort, the Sixers were much improved from Monday. Maxey’s play was another big early bright spot as he notched 10 first-quarter points on 4-for-6 shooting.

 

The simplicity of his game was nice to see; he scored on two catch-and-shoot three-pointers, a driving hoop on Jimmy Butler, and a fast-break layup. That kind of uncomplicated style tends to go along with effective aggression for Maxey. More time alongside Harden usually helps, too. Especially given De'Anthony Melton’s track record as a good bench player who doesn’t need to ease into a rhythm, it would certainly be sensible if Maxey soon returned to a full-time starting role for a full-strength version of the Sixers. 

Butler matched Maxey’s 10 first-period points and flashed a smile in Tucker’s direction after converting an and-one layup against him. He also drew the second foul on Melton with 5:12 left in the first, leading the Sixers to turn to their bench. 

Reed tremendous as Rivers tweaks bench 

Sixers head coach Doc Rivers played a nine-man rotation that did not include Georges Niang, who had struggled the past two games. 

Danuel House Jr. replaced Melton, receiving his first post-All Star action. House was bound to make the occasional mistake — he put his hand up after a defensive coverage went awry on one play — but there’s no question he was ready to roll. After a steal late in the first quarter, he steamed in for a basket through contact. At a minimum, House will have plenty of self-belief in all situations and be glad to play fast. 

Jalen McDaniels subbed in for Tobias Harris, who had a very solid bounce-back game with 18 points, six rebounds and five assists. Though McDaniels blew an open lefty layup, he chipped in during a game-turning, 12-0 second-quarter run when he picked up a steal on Victor Oladipo and then tried for a highlight dunk on Cody Zeller. He narrowly missed it, but McDaniels got fouled and made both of his free throws. 

Shake Milton knocked down a corner three, gave the Sixers a strong opening stint, and finished with 12 points.

Reed was the unquestioned star off of the Sixers’ bench, though. He went 12 straight minutes simply because there was no decent reason to take him out. Reed posted 10 points and six rebounds during that stretch, but he was even better than his impressive production suggests. Miami had no discernible interior advantage with him on the floor, and he played active, bothersome defense while avoiding fouls. He was a significant positive offensively, too. The 23-year-old sealed Gabe Vincent deep in the paint and drew two free throws after Harden spotted the mismatch and threw the ball up to him. 

Of course, that play was just one of many good ones for Reed and the Sixers. A single excellent night doesn’t indicate Reed is destined for massive playoff success; before Wednesday, Harden-Reed lineups had a minus-14.2 net rating this season, per Cleaning the Glass. However, Reed stepped up in Miami and has decisively pushed Montrezl Harrell out of the backup center picture. 

 

As comprehensive as it gets 

The Sixers' three starting guards teamed up beautifully on a couple of plays in the second quarter that Melton punctuated with three-pointers. On one of them, Harden threw a hit-ahead pass to a sprinting Maxey, who tracked it down and dished to Melton in the corner.

Harden was generally great in the second. He scored 15 points in the quarter, the same number as the Heat. The Sixers had no turnovers over the final 20:29 of the first half.

While the Sixers were somewhat fortunate that Miami cooled off on a 7-for-29 three-point shooting night, they absolutely deserved to win by a large margin. The Sixers played harder and faster (26-7 advantage in fast-break points), and it wasn't particularly close. 

The Heat cut their deficit to 11 points with a 10-0 run in the third quarter, but House snapped it with a mid-range jumper and the Sixers got back on track rather easily. Maxey slithered past Max Strus and flipped in an and-one layup to quickly build the Sixers' lead back up to 20. 

Every game won't go as smoothly as Wednesday's for the Sixers, but the team should feel fantastic about how it started this road trip.