3 observations after Heat edge out Sixers in final game before All-Star break

3 observations after Heat edge out Sixers in final game before All-Star break originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Sixers didn’t earn the satisfaction of one final win before the All-Star break on Wednesday night.

They lost a back-and-forth matchup with the Heat at Wells Fargo Center, falling to a 109-104 defeat.

At the break, the 32-22 Sixers sit fifth in the Eastern Conference standings. They’re a half-game behind the Knicks and two games ahead of the Pacers. The East-leading Celtics have already racked up 43 victories and hold a six-game advantage over the Cavs, who are second in the conference.

The seventh-seeded Heat improved to 30-25 by beating the Sixers. Miami‘s Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro scored 23 points apiece. Duncan Robinson added 20.

The Sixers’ top producer was first-time All-Star Tyrese Maxey, who posted 30 points, seven assists and six rebounds. Buddy Hield had 22 points and a career-high 10 assists.

The Sixers were down Joel Embiid (left knee meniscus procedure), Tobias Harris (left hip impingement), De’Anthony Melton (lumbar spine stress response), Nicolas Batum (left hamstring strain) and Robert Covington (left knee bone bruise).

Miami’s Jimmy Butler, Terry Rozier, Josh Richardson and Dru Smith were out.

Harris, Melton and Batum were partial participants in the Sixers’ practice Tuesday, according to Nick Nurse. The All-Star break should “give us a chance to get a few guys back,” the Sixers’ head coach said.

Kyle Lowry, who officially signed with the Sixers on Tuesday night, is expected to join the team after the break. The 37-year-old Philadelphia native hasn’t played since Jan. 21 and is ramping up to return.

“Nobody competes like that guy,” Nurse said pregame of Lowry. “I haven’t had a player in my entire coaching career that competes like that guy. That’s the highest compliment I can give.”

Here are observations on the Sixers’ loss Wednesday in their last pre-All-Star contest:

Offense keeps on humming with Hield in first half

The Sixers’ offense lost no steam following the team’s impressive win Monday night over Cleveland.

Hield’s off-ball movement continued to create many possibilities. On a nicely designed action, the Sixers had Hield make a UCLA cut, circle under the baseline, and then sprint up to the wing off of two down screens. Hield eventually assisted a KJ Martin corner three-pointer.

Of course, anything Hield does off the ball tends to worry opponents because of his shooting chops. He’s made at least four threes in each of his first four games as a Sixer.

Maxey was very good conducting the offense in the opening minutes and drained his first three shots, including a smooth pull-up jumper from the right elbow. Paul Reed was the last Sixers starter to score with a lefty layup that lifted the team to a 22-15 lead. The Sixers were 9 for 11 from the floor at that point.

While the Sixers need a healthy Embiid to go deep in the postseason, it absolutely appears that their post-trade deadline team is capable of scoring at a high rate without him.

Reed’s trending up going into the break

Miami had a hot start Wednesday as well, hitting 9 of its first 12 field goals. The Sixers’ perimeter defense was not top-notch and the team had several breakdowns when it failed to track cutters or simply lost open Heat players near the hoop.

Adebayo threw down two early alley-oops. Miami’s big man scored 10 of his team’s first 17 points and opened 5 for 5 from the floor.

Reed’s energy was excellent Wednesday in his eighth consecutive start at center. He competed for every single potential rebound and loose ball, and he won many of those battles. The 24-year-old also sunk his first long-distance shot of February and recorded 18 points and 12 rebounds on the night.

Since Reed stepped in as the Sixers’ starting center on Feb. 1, he’s snagged multiple offensive rebounds in each game and committed just two total turnovers. Solid work leading into the All-Star break.

Mo Bamba played nine minutes as Reed’s backup vs. Miami. Cameron Payne, Ricky Council IV and Terquavion Smith were the three other Sixers that Nurse used off the bench.

In his third straight game as part of the Sixers’ rotation, Council again looked like he belonged in a 13-point, four-rebound, two-assist outing that included a go-ahead three late in the third quarter.

Heat a tad cleaner than Sixers in final minutes

Maxey entered the night as the Sixers’ one healthy All-Star.

That’s still the case, though he had an injury scare early in the third quarter. Maxey chased after a loose ball, landed in the front row, and came up limping. He went back to the locker room with Sixers head athletic trainer Kevin Johnson but returned to the game a few minutes later.

Nurse said postgame that Maxey had his ankle re-taped in the locker room. The 23-year-old guard said he was “all right.”

The contest remained tight all night; neither the Sixers nor the Heat ever held a double-digit lead. Off shooting nights from Kelly Oubre Jr. (0 for 4 from three-point territory) and Payne (0 for 5 from long range) hurt the Sixers, who went into the fourth quarter trailing by a point. Oubre picked up his fifth foul with 8:58 left when he crashed in recklessly in search of an offensive rebound.

Following a blowout road win the night before over the Bucks, the Heat still had a decent amount left in the tank and slowed the Sixers down by avoiding live-ball turnovers and playing sound zone defense. Miami went up 99-93 following a tough Robinson three and an Adebayo slam.

The Heat’s execution was a bit sharper across the board down the stretch. Hield had a couple of late giveaways and the Sixers struggled to generate offensive flow. Meanwhile, Jaime Jaquez Jr. scored a put-back layup, Herro sunk a mid-range jumper, and Miami made more pivotal plays than the Sixers.

The Sixers forced the Heat to work until the buzzer, though. They created a Miami turnover in the backcourt and Maxey then converted a goaltended floater that cut the Sixers’ deficit to 105-102.

However, Jaquez delivered a devastating dunk on the Heat’s next play, flying in to slam home Robinson’s missed three, and Adebayo fought for a crucial offensive rebound with approximately 12 seconds to go.

The Sixers won’t be back home until next Thursday when they’ll meet the Knicks in the first matchup of a three-game homestand.