Sixers turn in sloppy effort against Heat

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Sixers turn in sloppy effort against Heat

The first time the Sixers played the Heat this year was the season opener. The Sixers won, as the Sixers and their fans remembered. The Heat remembered, too (see story). Sixers head coach Brett Brown thought that might be a motivating factor for the visitors -- that and the fact that the Heat came to Philly on a surprising three-game losing streak.

“You’re getting a very talented, angry team that’s going to go up many, many levels defensively,” Brown said before tipoff. “That is going to be a real test for our young team, because we lead the league in turnovers already, and we’re going to be faced with an angry team that prides itself on defense, that is extremely well coached, that rolls out a bunch of thoroughbreds that are going to make us pay if we’re not smart. I think that’s the nature of, in my opinion, the team we’re going to play. And that’s what makes them special.”

As Brown anticipated, the Heat looked special in their 101-86 win over the Sixers at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay). You know who didn’t look special? If you guessed the Sixers, you are smart and observant -- or maybe you just watched the game.

The Sixers adopted a slogan this season: “Together we build.” Friday was a good night for that, because the Sixers had all the bricks they’d ever need. The Sixers shot 36.9 from the floor (only 2.6 percent better than their lowest single-game effort this season). They hit just 2 of 20 attempts from three-point range. The math nerds among you know that works out to 10 percent -- which was the worst single-game mark this year.

Part of it -- a large part -- was the Heat defense. Miami was great defending the perimeter. But part of it was the Sixer's long-range shooting, which was broken all evening.

“More than not, I think [the Heat] do a good job chasing and contesting,” Brown said. “Only a handful of threes, I think, were poor shots where we perhaps could have driven it or early in clock. I thought we had some good looks.”

Pause.

“Two for 20,” Brown continued, “is 2 for 20.”

That it is.

Making matters worse (which was hard to do, but they did it), the Sixers did not take care of the ball. If you’ve watched any Sixers hoops this year, you know that’s nothing new. The Sixers' capacity to create turnovers is staggering and unmatched.

The Sixers entered the game averaging 17.2 turnovers. If you think that’s a lot, it is. It’s the most in the NBA. On Wednesday, the Sixers committed 24 turnovers in a win over the Bobcats, which is the kind of oversized number that ought to come with its own cartoon character that shoots eyeballs attached to springs out of its face when it sees something unbelievable.

That unsightly season-long trend continued against the Heat. The Sixers turned the ball over 23 times against the Heat, which led to 25 points for Miami.

“We actually spread our turnovers around quite well,” Brown said, getting a laugh from the media assembly. “You can’t just blame it all on pace … it doesn’t give you the freedom to be reckless or irresponsible. Sometimes we’re wishing things. We’re hoping things. We’re trying to will our way into making something happen. The game tells you everything -- it’s not there.”

It wasn’t there Friday. Not the shot from distance, not the attempt to limit turnovers, not even uncontested attempts from the free throw line. The Sixers took 37 free throws and made 22. That’s 59.5 percent. Like a lot of the other stats from Friday evening, it wasn’t good.

“How about the free throw number -- 22 for 37?” Brown asked rhetorically. “Those are enormous numbers. You’d think we’d look down and say ‘we lost to the Miami Heat by 50.’”

They didn’t. It just felt that way.

Sixers-Hawks 5 things: Looking to keep win streak alive without Joel Embiid

Sixers-Hawks 5 things: Looking to keep win streak alive without Joel Embiid

Sixers (15-26) at Hawks (25-18)
7 p.m. on CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6:30

Coming off a thrilling comeback win over the Trail Blazers on Friday, the Sixers travel to Atlanta to take on the Hawks at Phillips Arena in the second game of a back-to-back. 

1. Going streaking
It's been a long time since the Sixers have had anything resembling a winning streak. No longer is that the case, as the Sixers have won three straight games, with Friday's win capping their fifth-straight home win. 

The Sixers have also won eight of their last 10 games — with only the Warriors posting a better record during that span — and are playing with a confidence and energy that hasn't been seen in Philly for years. 

One streak they'll try to end, however, is their recent losing streak to the Hawks, as the Sixers haven't beaten Atlanta in six straight matchups.

2. Injury scare
Fans at the Wells Fargo Center held their breath Friday night as Joel Embiid came down awkwardly on his left knee and came up limping. 

Embiid ran to the locker room on his own and was cleared to return to the game, though he never did. He was diagnosed with a left knee contusion and said after the game that everything was fine.

"I'm great," he said. "The knee's fine. They did an MRI and stuff, and everything looked good."

Despite not having Embiid for the final minutes of Friday's game, the Sixers were able to pull together and rally for a 93-92 win over the Blazers. 

Embiid won't travel with the Sixers to Atlanta, as he is scheduled to miss the game against the Hawks for a day of rest. 

3. Playoffs?
Hey, crazier things have happened, so let's not rule this one out. 

With the Sixers in the midst of their hottest strech in recent years, Embiid has the team and city thinking playoffs. After notching yet another win Friday night, the Sixers are just 4½ games back from the eighth seed in the East. 

"I look at it every day," Embiid said Friday. "We’re coming for those playoff spots. We’re going to keep on getting better, keep working and winning games."

If the wins actually do keep coming, this might be something to keep an eye on as we get deeper into the season. 

4. Tall task 
With Embiid scheduled to miss Saturday's game against the Hawks, the Sixers will lean on Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel to carry the load in place of their superstar center. 

A night after facing a dynamic backcourt featuring Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, the Sixers will turn their attention to the dominant frontcourt duo of Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard. 

Millsap comes in averaging 17.8 points and 8.1 rebounds, while Howard averages 13.7 points and an incredible 13 rebounds per game. Without Embiid, the Sixers might have a hard time stopping Millsap and Howard from having their way in the paint. 
 
5. This and that
• The Sixers have made three go-ahead field goals in the final five seconds of the fourth quarter/OT this season — the most in the NBA.

• The Sixers have 15 wins at the halfway point of the season. They had just 10 wins total all of last season. 

• Jahlil Okafor last played on Jan. 14 against the Wizards, posting 26 points, going 10 of 16 from the floor. 

• The Sixers are 13-17 with Embiid, but just 2-9 without him. 

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

BOX SCORE

The Sixers began the season looking lost without Joel Embiid. Now they are finding ways to win when he is not on the court. 

Embiid suffered a left knee contusion in the second half of Friday’s 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see story). He was sidelined for the decisive 8:50 of the game (see Instant Replay).

The Sixers trailed, 81-78, when he subbed out for the second time because of the injury, and outscored the Trail Blazers, 15-11, from that point on.

So how was this team that battled with inconsistency and reliance on Embiid able to pull out a comeback win punctuated in the final seconds? Ask the Sixers and they’ll give varying answers, a sign they are getting the job done in multiple ways and aren’t relying on just one key to success.

The most glaring difference was the hero of the game. Robert Covington drained two three-pointers in the final 40 seconds. His trey from Dario Saric with 38.2 remaining cut the Trail Blazers' lead to just one, 91-90. With 4.5 to go, he nailed the game-winning three from T.J. McConnell to give the Sixers their eighth victory in 10 games (see feature highlight).

“That’s resilient Cov,” Nerlens Noel said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a good shot or a bad shot; he’ll pull it in your face. That’s the confidence he has and that’s the confidence we need him to have. He steps up and makes two big shots like that, that’s enough said. He won us that game.”

Critics have called out Covington’s up-and-down performance from three all season. (They’ve made their feelings known with loud boos at home games.) Covington shot 5 for 12 behind the arc on the night but his 2 for 3 performance in the fourth was what mattered most. 

“I am a fighter, that’s what I have been my whole life,” he said. “Just because fans are booing me at one point doesn't mean anything. I just keep working. I am not going to let that deteriorate my game. It goes in one ear and out the other.”

Without Embiid in the game, the Sixers had to rely on a total team effort. After he went to the bench, the final points were scored by a combination of Covington, Gerald Henderson, Noel, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and McConnell.

“Ball movement,” head coach Brett Brown said. “We had 25 assists out of 36 made baskets. It’s not like we’re going to give the ball to Damian Lillard (guard for the Blazers). That’s not who we are. Whatever we do, it has to be done by committee, by a group, by a team. It’s even more exposed when Joel isn’t in the game. They did that. Unlikely people ended up with the ball sometimes in unlikely spots. … You have to move the ball. That’s what the team has learned without Joel.” 

Several of the players on the court in critical moments were from the second unit. Since Brown locked in on his rotation, the reserves don’t have a drop-off in confidence from the starters. 

“It’s the mentality,” Covington said. “Everybody has that swagger about us right now because once Joel comes out, the next person steps in and fills that void. It’s a matter of that contagious feeling that trickles into the second unit that’s making us that much more valuable.”

Then there's always defense, the foundation of any solid NBA team and a focal point for the Sixers. Noel saw that as the difference-maker when subbing in and out. The Trail Blazers scored just two points in the final 1:56. 

"The second unit goes there and does a great job guarding the yard, not letting up easy baskets," Noel said. "The offensive side is fluid motion. Guys get shots, pick-and-roll, it opens up open threes for guys, driving lines, pump fakes, it’s a great unity."

Embiid liked what he saw from a distance. He will not travel with the team to their game on Saturday against the Hawks in Atlanta. 

"I’m just happy we’ve been closing out games, and the main thing I’m really happy [about] is they’ve been able to do it without me," he said. "That’s going to give us a lot of confidence when I’m missing back-to-backs. My teammates are going to have more confidence to come in and play the same way."