Instant Observations: Sixers Get Blown Out in Meaningless Game Against Heat

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) and Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers had nothing to play for and it clearly showed in the form of a 129-101 loss to the Miami Heat on Thursday night.

Joel Embiid was the only player who remotely showed up for the Sixers, finishing with 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting. James Harden finished with 14 points, four rebounds and four assists. Tyrese Maxey missed this contest with neck stiffness.

The Heat were led by Jimmy Butler’s 24 points, three rebounds and six assists. Tyler Herro added in 24 points, four rebounds and five assists. Miami shot 55.7% from the field and 46.2% from beyond the arc. They were without Nikola Jovic due to back spasms.

The Sixers now sit at 52-28 on the season with two games remaining. This game very well could be the last time Embiid or Harden suit up in the regular season. The Sixers’ next matchup is on the road against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday. Here are some instant observations from the loss to the Heat:

– The Sixers, having secured the third seed in the Eastern Conference, did not have anything to play for against Miami. Their intensity and focus, predictably, was lacking. The Heat carved them up in the first quarter, scoring 41 points and shooting 68.2% from the field. The difference in energy levels between the two teams became very clear early on.

Give the Heat some credit, they took advantage of the Sixers sleep walking on the floor. The Sixers were moving in slow motion and Miami shot uncharacteristically hot from long distance. Philly also struggled to control the ball, committing eight turnovers in the first half that the Heat turned into 17 points. The Heat carried a 21-point lead into halftime.

In theory, playing the starters made some sense in order to avoid having a roughly two-week layoff between the win over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday and when their first-round postseason series begins. However, once the game got carried away it made no sense for either Embiid or Harden to get much time in the second half. Despite the big deficit, both Embiid and Harden were still playing until when Harden exited with 10 minutes remaining in the game. The Sixers managed to cut the deficit to as low as 13 points late in the third quarter, but the Heat had a response for every run they went on.

– The Sixers still managed to keep pace with the Heat for much of the opening quarter. Embiid played the entirety of the quarter, scoring 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting. He consistently weaved his way into the paint using a combination of finesse and physicality. The big fella made multiple tough contested shots while ending up hitting the floor multiple times.

Embiid found some success attacking mismatches, on one play easily powering through Butler in the post for an easy layup. The Heat seemed content for most of the game to keep switching on Embiid-Harden pick-and-rolls, and Embiid consistently punished them. Despite Embiid’s hot start, things started going off the rails for the Sixers late in the opening quarter. Miami switched over to a zone defense and it caused a bunch of issues for the Sixers. Shots were not falling and they made far too many mistakes between sloppiness and a general lack of aggressiveness. Miami is one of the best teams at utilizing zone defense, which could cause concern in a potential postseason matchup.

– The minutes with Embiid off the floor have been a cause for concern over the last few games. They were outscored 13-6 in a 5:34 stretch to open up the second quarter. Some of the offensive possessions they had against Miami’s zone defense were downright brutal. The Harden-led second unit has had mostly positive results since the Sixers went to it starting in early March. However, Harden’s recent scoring struggles have put a damper on that unit’s success. The last handful of games have shown that unit needs Harden to be an aggressive scorer (barring one of the bench players going on a heater) in order for it to succeed.

Outside of a pair of 3-pointers in the second half, Harden had very little impact as a scorer against the Heat. He has been out of rhythm in the last handful of games. Needless to say, the Sixers need him to regain his usual form in the postseason if they are to make a deep run.

Jalen McDaniels continued to build momentum heading into the postseason, putting together another solid showing off the bench. He has caught fire from 3-point range in recent games, connecting on two of his five attempts from long distance against Miami. One of those makes came on a pull-up jumper at the end of the first quarter. Having him be a capable outside shooter adds an entire other aspect to his offensive skillset. The lone negative from McDaniels’ night was his continued penchant for committing poor fouls. Overall, he finished with 10 points and four steals in 25 minutes.

– With Maxey out of the lineup, Shake Milton filled the role of the first guard off the bench. He put together an impressive showing, dishing out a team-high 10 assists to go with 11 points. He does not get many minutes due to being behind Harden, Maxey and De’Anthony Melton in the rotation. However, he has generally played well whenever the opportunity arises.

Melton, who came into the game questionable with right calf tightness, exited the game in the second half with what the team deemed “mild right calf tightness.” Hopefully this does not develop into a major concern. Regardless, it would not be shocking to see him (and others) miss the final two games of the regular season in an effort to get him fully healthy for the postseason.