Joel Embiid

The Sixers (39-23) visited the Miami Heat (42-22) on the second night of a back-to-back. Philadelphia had plans to push its winning streak to 6 games. Miami intended to win for the 9th time in its last 10 games. The Sixers shot 34% from the field and ran out of gas late before surrendering to the Heat, 99-82.

Before we get to the game, allow me to set the scene.

Contextual Notes

The Sixers were without the services of James Harden, who missed the game as part of a left hamstring injury management plan.

Jaden Springer, Myles Powell (Two-Way), and Charlie Brown Jr. (Two-Way) were on G-League assignments with the Delaware Blue Coats and were unavailable. 

Doc Rivers started Tyrese Maxey, Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.

The Heat were without Kyle Lowry, who missed the game for personal reasons.

Markieff Morris missed the game as he ramps up his conditioning for an eventual return to play for the Heat. Victor Oladipo is in the final stages of recovering from a right knee injury and was unavailable.

Erik Spoelstra started Gabe Vincent, Duncan Robinson, Jimmy Butler, PJ Tucker, and Bam Adebayo.

First Quarter

Furkan Korkmaz was the recipient of 3 early triples in the first quarter. The first grazed the far side of the rim, the second clipped the far side of the rim, and the third was an airball. When asked about what Korkmaz is giving him that Isaiah Joe wouldn’t provide a few weeks ago, Rivers listed playmaking, ball-handling, and multi-level scoring. Those things would be valuable if Korkmaz actually performed them with any degree of consistency. Korkmaz simply does not do anything all that well. Rivers said on Friday that two of Danny Green, Korkmaz, Joe, and Shake Milton will have to make themselves stand out to earn a spot in the rotation as the season draws to a close. But Korkmaz has had more than enough opportunity to prove himself, and he should be at the end of the bench at this point.

Joel Embiid did very little in the way of asserting himself around the basket in the first quarter. In fact, he continued to look lethargic on offense despite looking a bit more vitalized on the defensive end. Part of the lethargy may have been that Miami swarmed him every time he touched the ball. Even when he got rid of it and entrusted his teammates, they couldn’t get anything to fall. When you’re making the right plays but nothing is coming of it, it’s human to be a bit discouraged and check out a little bit. The concern is that Embiid has looked lethargic for 3 straight games. He might need a night off just to get some extra rest, and there is an opportunity for that coming up. The Sixers visit the lowly Magic next weekend. It’s the first night of a back-to-back. The second night is a home game against reigning MVP Nikola Jokic. You know Embiid, who has been reserved but clear that he wants to win MVP, is going to be pumped for that game. Out-dueling Jokic could certainly go a long way in winning the award this season.

Second Quarter

Rivers opened the second quarter with a lineup of Tyrese Maxey, Milton, Georges Niang, Tobias Harris, and Paul Millsap. That’s right, he went with Millsap over DeAndre Jordan. I’m intrigued by that lineup’s offensive potential. Millsap isn’t confined to the post the way that Andre Drummond was and Charles Bassey or Jordan would be. This team has lacked defensive chops all season. So rather than trotting out lineups that have lower offensive ceilings for the sake of trying to field something resembling a decent defense, it might make more sense to lean into a lineup that can do some damage on offense.

With Millsap able to space the floor, the driving lanes open up for Maxey and Milton — two of Philly’s more adept finishers. Niang will let it fly no matter what. Harris can attack a close-out and score at three levels. Rivers is going to try different combinations, but I like the idea of that lineup. With the Sixers struggling to do much of anything on offense, the unit’s defense allowed Miami to build its lead as high as 19 points. But they also got the Sixers back in the game, cutting the deficit to 10 points before Embiid checked back in.

A lot of young players in the midst of impressive seasons can go out and ignite an offense with the home crowd pumping them up after a day’s rest. But, you learn a lot about what you have on the second night of a back-to-back in hostile territory. On top of that, the Heat are an excellent defensive team totally comfortable with employing physicality and size to thwart an offense. In the face of that, Maxey had no problem going right at the teeth of Miami’s defense. He finished a couple of layups through contact from bigger defenders and splashed a pair of triples off the catch in the first half. He’s becoming the guy who the Sixers go to to break the ice when the rest of the team can’t buy a bucket. Very few second-year guards in situations where they’re not the primary option on their teams can be relied upon to do that. Maxey is the third head when Harden is available, and the second head when he’s not. It doesn’t matter to him. He just trusts his preparation. The kid just continues to impress. 

Third Quarter

Given his body language and effort level, you can certainly make the case that Embiid has been pouting over the last couple of games. That certainly appeared to be the case in the first half. But, he dialed up the attention in the third quarter. He was far more aggressive on the defensive end of the floor, getting involved in the passing lanes, stepping up around the paint to affect shots around the rim, and holding off Heat rebounders to prevent second looks. On offense, he got a couple shots to fall around a bunch of damage at the free throw line. Miami was a bit sloppy with their hands. Embiid was able to take advantage by swinging his arms through to collect contact.

The only point with which I took exception was Embiid lowering the ball as he drives to the lane. He picked up a foul doing it on one play. But, keeping the ball low as he moves to the rim leaves him vulnerable to being stripped. If he extends his arms or keeps the ball high as he steps, that can’t happen.

Niang struggled from deep all night. But, he got a couple of big buckets up close down the stretch of the third quarter. Niang is maybe the most unassuming post player in the league. Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t get those opportunities all that often. But, he has a knack for leveraging his body mass to back defenders down and then wiggle just enough to flip the ball over his shoulder for a score up close. 

Fourth Quarter

Danny Green gave the Sixers some strong minutes in the second half of this game. He notched a pair of threes — something that neither Korkmaz nor Joe did — and was instrumental in forcing stops when the Sixers went on their runs. Green was great in help, getting his hands involved for strips or forcing jump-balls. He also extended his arms and timed jumps perfectly to force deflections and intercept passes when the Heat were swinging the ball.

I don’t really understand why Green has been lower in the rotation. He’s certainly slower defensively. But, Green is one of Philadelphia’s better three-point shooters on adequate volume. He should certainly be logging more minutes. You could even make a strong case for starting him in Thybulle’s spot. 

As the fourth quarter wore on, the Sixers just ran out of gas. They had to work far too hard to get decent looks, and it finally got the better of them late in the fourth quarter. As the ticker on the speedometer ticked towards “Empty”, Miami went to their Sixer-killing zone defense. With both fatigue and a weakness-exploiting defense working against them, the Sixers simply could not get the ball to Embiid.

To be fair, the big fella was pretty resistant in the paint most of the night. Perhaps that was fatigue, in itself. But, the Sixers struggled just as much getting him the ball as Embiid did asserting his physicality to establish himself in the paint. Even Maxey did not get many touches against the zone in the fourth quarter. Given his foot speed and capacity to attack gaps, Maxey should never be ignored when defenses go to a zone. That is especially the case with his growth as a three-point shooter off the catch.

It’s hard to win a game when your two best players don’t get many touches down the stretch. It’s impossible when you shoot 34 percent from the field and 17 percent on 41 three-point attempts. The crazy thing is that the Sixers shot 51 percent on twos in this game. But, they chose their coldest night in some time to have half their field goal volume be triples. They went for analytical efficiency, but they couldn’t hit the water if they fell out of a boat.

The Sixers (39-24) will host the Chicago Bulls (39-25) on Monday. Tip-off is set for 7 PM, EST. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.