No one expected the Sixers to beat the Miami Heat. We’ll start there, with the truth. Because when you start there, with the truth, everything else sounds like what it is -- spin.
The Heat came to Philly having won many games in a row. The Sixers welcomed them to the Wells Fargo Center having lost many games -- though, in fairness, not all were in a row. What a glaring juxtaposition between the first-rate and the forgotten.
Before Wednesday's game, Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra -- who has the best job in sports behind third-string quarterback -- tried to make it sound like the Heat aren’t as good as you think and the Sixers are better than you believe. It was amusing (if disingenuous) stuff.
Spoelstra said “the challenge” for the Heat is that “night in, night out” they have to “rev up those engines” in order to “take the game” to their opponents.
Man, yeah, what a challenge. Except it wasn’t -- not really. Miami beat the Sixers, 98-94. Oh, sure, the score was close, but the Heat still won and the Sixers still lost. The end result, that thing that matters most, was as unsurprising as everyone anticipated.
It was Miami’s 20th win in a row (and their 14th straight against the Sixers in the regular season), tying the Heat with the 1970-71 Bucks for the third-longest streak in NBA history. Only the 2007-08 Houston Rockets (22 wins) and the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers (33) are ahead of the Heat in consecutive victories.
Meanwhile, the Sixers (24-40) have lost 13 of their last 15 games.
“We gave ourselves every chance,” Doug Collins said. “I couldn’t be more proud about the way our guys just fought, kept battling and battling and battling.”
That’s what the Sixers have been reduced to this season. They are lauded for their effort because the scoreboard has been such a big, bad bully. At some point soon, a grade school principal will come along and pat them on their heads and award them participation medals.
As Collins noted, great squads have “a one-two punch” while the Heat are “blessed to have one-two-three punch.” That combination flattened the Sixers (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined for 58 points, 20 rebounds and 12 assists), just like it has dropped so many other teams this season.
It’s one thing to lose to an excellent team. It’s another to help that team make history. And it’s something else entirely, something far more degrading, to be patronized with hollow compliments.
Spoelstra did it, too. He’s a coach, and they’re good at that kind of thing -- using coach speak to praise an opponent even when it isn’t deserved. But even as coach speak goes, Spoelstra’s remarks were glaring and hilarious. He said the Sixers are a “dangerous team.” Then he called them a “tough team.” How he managed to say that with a straight face remains a mystery and a credit to the man’s deadpan delivery skills.
Spoelstra also made it a point to mention the Sixers' “effort” and how they “play hard.” It is the kind of thing you say to a Little Leaguer that really tries but isn’t very good. You mention his “effort” and tell him he “plays hard,” then you take him out for ice cream and that makes everything better.
Maybe Collins should take the Sixers to Dairy Queen -- buy them all Blizzards and trumpet their resilience. That’s all they have going for them these days -- the fact that they keep showing up to get beaten.
“Our guys fight hard,” Collins said. “I mean, they do. As I’ve said before, we let a few games get away from us. We had a tough loss in Milwaukee -- we lose by two. Minnesota, you’re down four right after the All-Star Break late in the game and we couldn’t get that one. We had a tough loss in here against Orlando. Go to Washington, we’re up three with a minute-something to go and have the ball. And the other night in Orlando, we’re down two shooting a couple free throws with two minutes to go. So, we’ve given ourselves a chance. We just haven’t been able to close a lot of those games out.”
Collins added that he “loved everything we did tonight.” Well, maybe not everything.
Another moral victory for the Sixers, then. Another real victory for the Heat. In a season full of indignities, that might be the biggest.