Sixers Losing Streak Reaches 11 with 112-102 Loss To Miami

The Sixers fell to the Miami Heat 112-102, their 11th straight loss. Ish Smith led the Sixers with 26 points in the loss.

Robert Covington's 25 points wasn't enough to prevent the Sixers from losing their 11th straight game | Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Covington’s 25 points wasn’t enough to prevent the Sixers from losing their 11th straight game | Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

With the Sixers starting Friday night’s contest against the Miami Heat on the wrong end of a 20-4 deficit, most of the 17,610 fans reported to be in attendance likely had their expectations set low.

The Sixers, even if fully healthy, would have found themselves at a severe talent deficit against the Miami Heat, who came into the game winners of six of their last eight games despite Chris Bosh being unavailable due to blood clots.

That talent deficit only grew when Brett Brown read the injury report before the game: Jahlil Okafor (shin), Nerlens Noel (right knee), Nik Stauskas (upper respiratory infection) and Kendall Marshall (upper respiratory infection) would all be unavailable against that Heat.

That left Brown with one player available who was a first round pick upon entering the league: 36-year-old Elton Brand, who had played exactly zero minutes on the season before tonight’s game against the Heat. The group that start the game for the Sixers included two second round picks and three players who went undrafted. When that group inevitably struggled and Brown went to the bench, his first two substitutions were Richaun Holmes (second round pick) and Isaiah Canaan (also a second round pick).

Despite that, the tandem of Robert Covington (25 points on 8-18 shooting, including 4-11 from three-point range) and Ish Smith (26 points on 11-21 shooting, 5 assists) kept the Sixers close for most of the night, even taking a brief lead, 72-69, late in the third quarter before Miami ripped off a 15-5 run to end the frame.

The game was never in doubt after that, with the Heat coasting to a 112-102 victory Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Sixers were done in by an atrociously bad first quarter where they allowed Miami to score 40 points on 14-22 shooting from the field. The 40 points were the most allowed by the Sixers in the first quarter of a game this season.

“The first six minutes sort of set the stage. Where do you go from there?” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said after the game. “I thought that we fought. With the personnel that we had, after the start that we had, I thought that our guys fought.”

The Sixers were able to overcome that horrible first quarter with some improved defensive play, holding Miami to just 29 points over a 19 minute span in the second and third quarters.

For Brown, that improved defensive performance started with more pressure on the ball defensively.

“I thought it was ball pressure,” Brown said about the turnaround. “It’s amazing. When you go back and look at tape, when there’s softness on the ball, there’s no harassment of a passer, they’re too good. The league is too good, the coaches are too good, they execute well.

“[When there’s pressure] the pass is a quarter of a second late, the pass is 4 inches higher, and it just disrupts rhythm,” Brown continued. “If somebody doesn’t turn their hip, or raise the ball above their shoulders, to me those are visual signs that you’re not close enough [defensively].”

The loss is the Sixers’ eleventh in a row, the longest losing stream the team has endured since Ish Smith was brought in on December 24th.

“I’m just kind of tired of losing,” point guard Ish Smith said after the game. “It just kind of becomes… not depressing, because we are getting better. But it just kind of weighs on you.

“We gotta get one. We gotta get one,” Smith continued.

Dwyane Wade led the Heat in scoring with 21 points on 7-16 shooting from the field. he also added in 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. Wade was joined by Hassan Whiteside (19 points and 19 rebounds), Goran Dragic (15 points, 11 assists), Luol Deng (13 points), Joe Johnson (12), Amar’e Stoudemire (12), and Gerald Green (12) in double figures.

Elton Brand makes his first appearance of the season.

With the Sixers playing without Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel, Elton Brand, signed by the Sixers on January 4th to serve primarily as a mentor to the Sixers’ young players, made his first appearance of the season. Brand finished with 8 points on 3-6 shooting to go along with 4 rebounds in 13 minutes of play.

“I felt good physically,” Brand said after the game. “It was fun.”

Brand said it was always his intention to come in and play for the Sixers.

“Contrary to reports, I was thinking I was going to play all season when I got here. But you see guys like Carl [Landry], Richaun [Holmes], guys working so hard, I didn’t mind not playing.”

Brand thinks he can function even better as a role model when he’s given time on the court.

“They see me, at 37 in a week, running back, or setting a pick and holding it. I think that bodes well for their confidence and their learning curve because they can see it,” Brand explained. “I talk to them about it, coach talks to them about it, and I think that’s the next level that they’re going to get to.”

Ish Smith, a North Carolina native, has been watching Brand play basketball for a long time.

“I’m from North Carolina, so I’ve seen Elton play – I don’t want to make him feel old – I’ve seen him play since I was a kid. He’s always been special to me,” Smith said.

One of the main benefits of Brand playing is how vocal he is, particularly defensively, something the Sixers’ young big men can learn from.

“What he brings on the floor is he’s talking to you. I remember one play I was up there and he told me to pressure the ball. Just hearing ‘Ish, I got your help. Just pressure the ball.’ Me pressuring the ball we got a turnover and we were out running,” Smith said. “He just kind of quarterbacks the gym.”

“I really didn’t know what to expect,” head coach Brett Brown said about Brand’s performance. “I thought he had practiced well, but we practice so infrequently that it’s not like you’re making that judgment on a high volume of appearances.

“You’re reminded of how good he was because he’s so smart. He really knows how to play. He’s a reliable 17-18 foot jump shooter. He sets screens. He’s positionally accurate almost always, whether it’s a floor spot on a defensive assignment or where he should be on offense. He’s prideful coming out of timeouts,” Brown continued, in an almost gushing manner. “In a weird way that was exciting for me to have a touch and a taste of Elton Brand.”

Both Okafor and Noel are considered day-to-day, so who knows whether one or both will be available Sunday night in Miami. If they are, it will be interesting to see if Brand gets minutes once the Sixers’ young bigs return to the lineup.

Joel Embiid workout

With Joel Embiid now back from his rehabilitation stint in Qatar, his pregame workout has been ramped up a bit. Here’s some video of Embiid working out before Friday’s game against the Heat:

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine’s Sixers Post. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.