Sixers Down Heat for 4th Straight Home Win
The Philadelphia 76ers beat the Miami Heat on Monday night by a score of 101-94, their fourth consecutive win at the Wells Fargo Center.
The win also gave the Sixers consecutive overall wins for the first time since March 18th and March 20th in 2015. The Sixers did not win consecutive games once during the 10-win 2015-16 season.
The Sixers didn’t pick up their 4th win of the season last year until January 4th, 2016, their 37th game of the season, making this the second time this calendar year that the Sixers picked up their 4th win of a season.
The game featured Joel Embiid squaring off against Miami center Hassan Whiteside, two of the premier centers in the game. Whiteside came into the game averaging 17.7 points, a league leading 16.2 rebounds, and 2.8 blocked shots per game.
The Sixers struggled to contain Whiteside, who just signed a 4-year, $98 million deal this past summer. Whiteside finished the game with a career-high 32 points to go along with 13 rebounds and 2 blocked shots.
Still, Joel Embiid was able to keep pace with Whiteside for much of the night. In fact, during the 16 minutes that both Embiid and Whiteside shared the court Embiid finished with 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots on 6-9 shooting from the field, with Whiteside scoring 12 points to go along with 6 rebounds and 2 blocked shots on 4-8 shooting during that time. While Whiteside feasted on Jahlil Okafor and the Sixers second unit, Embiid largely outplayed one of the best centers in the game during the time he was matched up with Whiteside.
Embiid finished 7-13 from the field overall, scoring on a dizzying array of post moves, perimeter jump shots, and acrobatic drives to the rim, and also used his sheer size and strength down low to get to the line 9 times on the night, connecting on 7 of them.
“Just going against him it makes me better,” Embiid said about his matchup with Whiteside. “Since high school that’s how I’ve always gotten better, I get my ass busted and I learn from that. So it’s always good. Just go out and play. If someone scores on me it’s a learning process, and you have to trust it.”
Perhaps the most impressive part of Embiid’s growth of late has been his improved ability to recognize double teams and limit his foul trouble. Embiid finished with just 1 turnover on the night, the fewest times he’s turned the ball over in a game during his brief NBA career.
“We’re just moving the ball. Especially for me I’m not forcing it anymore. I’m just getting my shots in the flow of the offense,” Embiid continued.
In fact, after averaging 4.7 turnovers per game during the first 6 games of his NBA career Embiid is averaging just 2 turnovers per game over his last three, and he appears to be doing a significantly better job of recognizing double teams and getting his shots in the flow of the offense.
The Sixers were almost done in by a woeful showing on the defensive glass, with the Heat pulling down 38.9 percent of their available offensive rebounding chances. The Heat came into the game 8th in the league in offensive rebounding, but were seemingly able to pull down every long rebounding chance that came their way, and finished the game with 26 second chance points to the Sixers 8.
Outside of the rebounding issues, head coach Brett Brown was happy with his team’s defensive performance.
“We got stops. We had a hard time getting (defensive) rebounds, long rebounds,” Brown said. “I thought that overall our defense throughout the game was solid.”
The Sixers were able to overcome that shot discrepancy by hot perimeter shooting, connecting on 11 of their 26 chances from beyond the arc, and that was even with Robert Covington (9 points, 4-13 shooting, 1-5 from three) continuing to struggle mightily with his shot.
As Covington returns to form and Jerryd Bayless gets acclimated to the team, perimeter shooting could become a legitimate strength for the Sixers. Bayless made his season debut tonight after missing the first four weeks with an injured left wrist, finishing the game with 4 points on 1-7 shooting to go along with 5 assists in 15 minutes of playing time.
Bayless had participated in just one day of training camp before injuring his wrist, and practice time with the season in full swing has been rare of late. The Sixers sent Bayless down to their D-League team, the Delaware 87ers, for two days last week, which is the most practice he’s received in weeks. It will take time for Bayless to fully round back into form.
While Covington struggled with his shooting, he did come up huge down the stretch, scoring 5 big points for the Sixers late in the fourth quarter, pushing the Sixers lead to 5 after making his first three-point shot of the night. He also continued his strong defensive play, something which once again proved to be important for the Sixers. Covington finished the game with 9 rebounds and 3 steals on the night, along with a number of other players which didn’t necessarily register in the stat sheet.
“All of us can only imagine the last 3, 4 games every shot goes up, there’s ooh’s and ah’s, he misses and he misses, and there’s groans and boo’s,” Brown said about Covington’s struggles. “To stay with him, to encourage him, it was easy for me because he guards. And then for him to make that big shot, and make that big layup, I think is great reward for him.”
At the end of the game Covington was appreciative of the faith his coach, and his teammates, have shown in him during this slump.
“Each and every one of my teammates have told me that no matter what keep shooting,” Covington said. “Coach has believed in me since I’ve been here.”
The key to Covington’s continued playing time has been his defense, something which Brown points out at every opportunity.
“I’m going to give my maximum effort on both ends of the court. Just because one aspect is not going the way it’s supposed to doesn’t mean that I can’t impact the game other ways,” Covington said after the game.
The Sixers were also boosted by a strong performance off the bench from second-year center Jahlil Okafor, who finished the night with 15 points on 7-13 shooting in his 24 minutes. Head coach Brett Brown announced before the game that Okafor’s minutes restrictions had been removed, although Brown did not play him significantly more minutes tonight.
The Sixers will continue their homestand by playing their next three games, and seven of their next eight, at the Wells Fargo Center. Next up is Memphis on Wednesday night.