Burrrrn: Sixers Get Absolutely Scorched By Heat In Game 2

Burrrrn: Sixers Get Absolutely Scorched By Heat In Game 2

29 points. That's what LeBron James managed in the Heat's victory last night over the Sixers, a much better performance than his Game One effort on Saturday. But much more concerningly, that's also what the Sixers' entire starting lineup for the Sixers managed combined, with Jrue Holiday being the only of the five to reach double digits. They also shot 11-35 and had as many turnovers as assists (10 each). Now, one of the Sixers' strengths all year has been our bench, but if our starting lineup is that awful, it doesn't matter if we have Julius Erving and Charles Barkley coming off the pine. Meanwhile, the Heat's big three went for 64 points—nearly pacing the Sixers' entire team—as the Heat cruised to an easy 94-73 victory.

After the Sixers missed so many shots at the rim and from close range on Saturday, I thought for sure things would be different this time around. It was different, all right—it was a whole lot worse, actually, as just about everyone on the team took turn missing layups and open jumpers in the first few quarters. (The team somehow went 0-11 for the game on shots from between three and nine feet, which is just....wow.) Thaddeus Young, so deadly in Game One, was the worst culprit this time around, leaving nearly everything that left his hands just a half-inch short. His performance in the box score looks all right—8-20 for 18, with six boards—but most of that 18 came in garbage time, and before that, he was missing hooks, finger-rolls and jumpers left and right, killing the Sixers' momentum (whatever momentum they had) and neutralizing the one legitimate threat that the team had against the Heat.

Defensively, the Sixers' performance was actually not terrible. Dwyane Wade, already suffering from a migraine, was more or less taken out of the game, shooting just 4-11 for 14 points and turning the ball over five times, and the Sixers did a good job of making the supporting cast take shots, where they only went 11-29 (and 2-12 from three). But LeBron was making crazy shots, and Bosh remained dangerously close to unstoppable, draining or banking nearly ever jumper he took, going 9-13 for 21 points. The parade to the free throw line the Heat took in game one was slowed this time out, but they still took 29 free throws, nine more than the Sixers, and converted relatively consistently, making 23 of them.

The one positive to take from this game (and believe me, there's only the one) is that for maybe the first time all year, Evan Turner looked like a legitimate threat at shooting guard. Not to say that this was his best game of the year—he's had better, certainly—but in terms of just playing the two-guard position, I can't remember a game where Evan looked better-suited to the role. It was simple, really—he caught, he shot, he made. Evan was 6-10 from the field, and all six makes were from 16 feet out or further, including three from behind the three-point line. Each time he had an open shot, he made it—a feat which would hardly land him in the MVP discussion, since that's sort of what two-guards are supposed to do, but it's something that Turner has struggled with doing consistently all season, as everyone claimed he was still learning to play without the ball. For him to convert like that, in a big game where absolutely no one else on the team was hitting anything—it's a good sign, no doubt.

So what now? Well, it's hard to point out obvious adjustments that the Sixers should make to counter this Heat team, since as no less an authority than Coach Collins himself pointed out, if they're not screwing themselves up, they're just way better than we are. "If they’re playing great, they’re a better team," Dougie admitted. "OK? If they’re playing on top of their game, they’re a better team. I mean, they won 58, we won 41. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t  going to play and compete and fight. But when they come out tonight and defend  the way they did … it’s going to be very difficult for us to beat them." Honest, but not terribly encouraging. The one adjustment I would maybe like to see the Sixers make for next game is to get more PT for Jodie Meeks, whose minutes were justifiably purloined by Evan Turner last night, but who could have done more good things for this team than Lou Williams, who has now shot a combined 4-18 in the series to date. What about a lineup of Evan, Jodie and 'Dre, with Evan playing the point? It's worth a shot, I think.

Of course, the Sixers might not have any choice but to get a little experimental for the two games in Philadelphia, as it's now fairly clear that this team is going to have a lot of trouble beating the Heat straight up. I'd appreciate it if there weren't any more games as embarrassing as this, but it's hard to act too surprised by last night's result—when the Heat are playing to the maximum of their potential, really, there's no reason why they shouldn't win every game against non-elite competition by at least 20 points. As Collins says, that doesn't mean we're supposed to close up shop games in advance, but it does continue to demonstrate just how far away the Sixers are from being on the Heat's level—and how, in all likelihood, they'll continue to be this far away, as long as management believes that building around expensive, miscast supporting players like Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala is the surest recipe for team success.

Game three from Philadelphia at 8:00 on Thursday. Hopefully we can still salvage a little dignity out of this mess, even if an actual W is looking like a little bit of a stretch at this point.

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."

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Of the nearly 20,000 people in the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night, Joel Embiid was seemingly the least concerned when he came down and injured his left knee. 

Fans held their breath and the Sixers looked on anxiously as the standout big man got up in visible discomfort and limped off the court (see highlights). Embiid, however, wasn’t worried. 

“I knew it was OK. I just landed the wrong way,” he said after the Sixers' 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see Instant Replay). “I’m great. The knee’s fine. They did an MRI and stuff, everything looked good.”

Embiid ran off the court on his own, was diagnosed with a left knee contusion and was cleared to return to the game. He aggravated his knee again driving to the basket and this time, the team held him out to be careful.

“The review is that he hyperextended his left knee,” head coach Brett Brown said. “There was a minor tweak again, and for precautionary reasons only, the doctors did not allow him to return. There will be more information given as we know it. But quickly, that's what we know.”

Embiid understood the team’s decision to sideline him for the final 8:50 while the Sixers went on a comeback run (see feature highlight). He still finished the game with an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double, five assists and four blocks in only 22 minutes.

“Obviously those guys, the front office, they care about my future, so they just shut it down,” Embiid said. “But I was fine.”

Embiid will not travel to Atlanta for Saturday’s game against the Hawks (pre-scheduled rest). He expects to be available for Tuesday’s home matchup against the Clippers. 

"You know how tough he is," Nerlens Noel said. "If it isn’t anything serious, he’ll be right back. At the end of the game, he was telling me was he was feeling great and there was no pain. He wanted to come back in the game … he’s a trooper. He always gives it his all and always plays hard."

Injuries to any player are worrisome, especially a franchise centerpiece with two years of rehab (foot) behind him. The Sixers have been methodical and cautious with his playing time. Embiid is on a 28-minute restriction and can play in only one game of a back-to-back series. 

The same player who is so closely watched, though, also plays with sky-high energy that doesn’t have a brake pedal. 

“You're concerned,” Brown said of seeing Embiid get injured. “It's clear to all of us that he plays with such reckless abandon. I think that we're all going to be seeing this and feeling this regularly. From flying into stands to stalking somebody in the open court to block a shot to the collision he often is in trying to draw fouls. That's just who he is. 

“I think that as he just plays more basketball and continues to grow, to not necessarily avoid those situations, just to perhaps manage them a little bit more. Right now, he's just a young guy that's just playing that doesn't know what he doesn't know and has a fearless approach underneath all that attitude.”

Fearless is an accurate description considering Embiid's trouble-free reaction to the awkward way his leg bent (he hadn’t seen a replay). 

“I kind of had that in college, too,” he said. “I think I’m flexible, so it’s supposed to happen.”