Sixers fall just short in attempt to end Heat's streak


Sixers fall just short in attempt to end Heat's streak


For one night, it seemed like old times. In the end, though, recent trends fell in line.

The Sixers gave the white-hot Miami Heat a slight scare Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, but once again, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen delivered, this time for a 98-94 victory (see Instant Replay).

The win pushed the Heat's winning streak to 20 games. It’s tied for the third-longest winning streak in NBA history, and it’s the longest streak since the Houston Rockets won 22 in a row during the 2007-08 season.

The NBA record for longest winning streak is 33, set by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1971-72. That team featured four Hall of Famers and went on to win the NBA title that season. The common link with the streaking Heat is Pat Riley, who played for the Lakers long before taking over as team president for Miami.

The Heat still have a long way to go if they are going to threaten the Lakers’ record. They also will have a lot of teams taking aim at them the way the Sixers did on Wednesday night.

The Sixers clawed back after Miami ended the first half on a 23-6 run and were down five entering the fourth quarter. Then they erased a 10-point deficit in the fourth and actually led by three with 3:37 remaining. After trading baskets, the Sixers forged a tie with 1:20 to go when Jrue Holiday drove through the Heat's defense and threw down a dunk over James.

But the Heat’s superstars took over in the final minute with James and Wade combining to go 5 for 6 from the foul line and Wade adding a tip-in over Thad Young and Spencer Hawes with 29.4 seconds left to push the lead to three points.

After Wade’s bucket, the Sixers ran a play in which Holiday found Hawes alone under the basket, but the reverse layup rolled off the rim. Two more foul shots from Wade iced it.

“That’s why they’re able to go on 20-game winning streaks,” Hawes said. “You can’t play that well consistently just going pedal to the metal. They pick their spots and they really press and obviously they have a pretty good formula.”

Afterwards, the Sixers took some solace in the fact that they gave the Heat all they could handle.

“When it came down to it, they made plays. We made plays, too, but they made more,” Holiday said. “It kind of sucks to say it, but we play to the level of our competition. Against the good teams we compete to the end and we step up to the challenge.”

At 24-40, the Sixers have stepped up but haven’t delivered. While the Heat have ripped off 20 wins in a row and 25 out of the last 27 to clinch the first playoff spot of the year, the Sixers have dropped six out of their last seven and 13 out of the last 15. During the Heat’s winning streak, the Sixers have gone 4-16 and now are 8½ games behind the Bucks for the final playoff spot in the East.

So in playing to the level of the competition on Wednesday night, the sold-out crowd at the Wells Fargo Center treated the game as a de facto playoff matchup, creating an atmosphere not seen in the arena since last spring. The fans exploded into a raucous frenzy when Holiday dunked over James and were fired up by Young’s energetic effort.

With Young leading the Sixers with 24 points and 15 rebounds and Holiday adding 21 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, the Sixers were in a great spot with a minute to go in the game.

But that’s where the Heat thrive.

“At the end, we just couldn’t come up with that one rebound,” coach Doug Collins said. “I thought we executed, got some good shots at the end, but we just couldn’t find a way to get over the top.”

That’s the story of the Sixers’ season.

Just don’t expect them to pack it in. Even though the Sixers have to go 17-1 the rest of the way to finish with a .500 record, Young promises the effort will be there.

“No game is easy. Any team can be beat on any given night, so you have to go out there and always play as hard as you can,” Young said. “I don’t think there’s any pressure on us. Those guys have a streak that they didn’t want to end and we were trying to end it. We’ve got to go out there and figure it out -- just figure out how to beat those guys.”

The Sixers face the Heat once more on April 6. If the streak stays alive, the Heat could be attempting to tie the Lakers’ record against the Sixers.

Next, the Sixers host the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night before facing the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night.

Kevin Durant era begins as Warriors open vs. Tim Duncan-less Spurs

Kevin Durant era begins as Warriors open vs. Tim Duncan-less Spurs

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Kevin Durant era tips off for the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night against an opponent, the San Antonio Spurs, that both Durant and the Warriors would consider unfriendly.

After signing a two-year, $54.3 million deal to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder in the offseason, Durant is expected to take his place alongside holdover Warriors standouts Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in the nightcap of TNT's opening-night doubleheader (10:30 p.m. ET).

And he will do so against a Spurs team that also will sport a new look this season -- albeit one with a key piece missing.

In its quest to unseat Golden State as the two-time Western Conference champs, San Antonio will go forward without future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, who retired in July after his 19th season.

Before concluding the addition of Durant and the subtraction of Duncan tilts the balance significantly in the Warriors' favor, consider this: The last four times the Spurs played Golden State without their star big man, they won two of them.

The Spurs went after Durant in free agency, then settled for Pau Gasol, who is primed to join a star-studded collection of talent himself. San Antonio returns Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard from a team that won 67 games last season.

"I wouldn't think of ourselves as the guinea pig," Gasol said Monday when asked if the Spurs saw themselves as a test experiment for Golden State's new concoction. "We have an incredible team here with a lot of talent and a lot of experience. It's going to be an interesting, challenging first game."

The Warriors feel the same way, and with good reason.

Even after winning the season series 3-1 last season, Golden State has prevailed just six times in its past 30 regular-season meetings with the Spurs.

Meanwhile, halfway across the country, Durant was having similar struggles with his Southwest Division rival. His 25.8-point career scoring average against the Spurs is lower than his mark all teams except the Charlotte Hornets, Dallas Mavericks, Milwaukee Bucks and Portland Trail Blazers.

The Warriors will take the court fully aware the NBA hasn't scheduled a coming-out party for Durant on opening night.

"It'll be a really good atmosphere, obviously, and I'm sure there will be a very high level of play on both ends," Curry said. "It'll take a lot to get a win."

The Warriors did more tinkering to their record-breaking, 73-win team than adding Durant. They even plucked one of the Spurs -- David West -- with a team-friendly, $1.6 million offer that was similar to the one ($1.5 million) that lured the veteran away from the Indiana Pacers for a shot at a title in San Antonio last season.

That didn't work out as planned, as West contributed only a career-worst average of 4.0 rebounds and his lowest scoring output in 10 years (7.1 points per game) to the Spurs' quest.

So now, instead of backing up Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge as he did a year ago, he will team with Zaza Pachulia in replacing Andrew Bogut in Golden State's bid for a second championship in three seasons.

Point guard Joel Embiid? Sixers' big man works on leading break

Point guard Joel Embiid? Sixers' big man works on leading break

CAMDEN, N.J. — Toward the end of Sixers practice Monday, Joel Embiid participated in a fast-break drill … by himself.

Embiid brought the ball up the floor in a one-on-none situation against members of the Sixers' coaching staff. 

He's already showed off his three-point shooting skills and now he’s running the break? 

“I’ve always thought I was a point guard,” Embiid joked. “So that’s something that I want to do.”

In all seriousness, Embiid worked on his ball-handling skills during his two-year rehab from foot injuries. It’s not that he wants to become an unconventional point guard, it’s that he is striving to be an all-around threat. Embiid focused on recording his first assist, as an example, during the preseason. 

“I think I’m a complete player,” he said. “I think I can do everything on the court. Doing that shows I think it can help my team, too, in other aspects.” 

With running the break comes attacking the basket in traffic. It could be an anxious moment for a coach to watch a player fresh off two years of foot injuries to drive in a crowd. Sixers head coach Brett Brown said he has to be past the feeling of holding his breath whenever he watches Embiid do so. 

“We are so responsible with how we use him and play him,” Brown said. “It’s like us with children. They go out for the night. You’re nervous, but they go out for the night. He plays basketball for a living, and so he plays. We’ve just got to keep putting him in responsible environments and monitoring his minutes.”

As a point guard, T.J. McConnell appreciates Embiid’s skills, especially given his size. 

“To the people that try to pick him up when he brings the ball up the floor, good luck,” McConnell said. “It’s pretty incredible to see.” 

Robert Covington watched Embiid practice his ball handling during his lengthy recovery. He has seen improvements and likes the dynamic it creates for the team on the break. 

“His handle is really tight and then he’s really strong with it as well,” Covington said. “We’re very comfortable with him pushing the ball.”

That being said, Brown isn’t about to anoint Embiid into a point-center role. He knows Embiid’s desire to be active all over the court, but just as he’s said he doesn’t intend for Embiid to become a go-to three-point shooter, he also wants Embiid to focus on his true position. 

“Joel likes to be a player,” Brown said. “He wants to be a guard. He wants to shoot a three. He wants to be a post player. He wants to play. And we all have seen enough to think he actually can. 

“There are times that he rebounds and leads a break, we want him being aware of get off it, get it to a point guard more than not. I don’t mind him coming down in trail if he’s got daylight, him shooting some. He’s got a wonderful touch and I’ve seen it for two years. 

“... All over the place, I want to grow him. I’m not just going to bucket him up. I still say, like I say to him, 'At the end of the day, you’re a seven-foot-two post player. Post player.'”

Watch Embiid running the floor here: