We know that 76ers fans feel the sky is falling after the second straight road loss, Thursday’s 106-94 defeat at Miami, that was much worse than the final score indicated.
The Sixers (47-23) will still earn the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a win in one of their final two home games this weekend against Orlando. (They would also earn the top seed if the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks each lose one of two games this weekend.)
So there will be some suspense when Orlando comes to the Wells Fargo Center, but based on the Magic’s season, the drama shouldn’t last long.
You’re signed up to get this newsletter in your inbox every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @sjnard. Thank you for reading.
— Marc Narducci (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Little magic this season in Orlando
To all the Sixers fans who might be panicking that the Eastern Conference No. 1 seed is slipping away: Just look at this weekend’s opponent. Quite frankly, if the Sixers can’t win one of two against the Magic (21-49), they don’t deserve to earn the No. 1 seed.
Like the Sixers, Orlando will be playing the second of a back to back after losing on Thursday at Atlanta, 116-93. That was Orlando’s fifth consecutive loss, and since the All-Star break, the Magic are 8-26.
The Magic have suffered so many injuries. Eight players were out against Atlanta, including former Sixer Markelle Fultz, who suffered a season-ending torn ACL in the eighth game of the season.
That said, as bad as the Magic have been, the Sixers had now had two flat performances, including Tuesday’s 103-94 loss at Indiana.
“We just got to get our focus and energy level up to where it needs to be, and we can’t have games like this at this point of the year,” Tobias Harris said after Thursday’s loss. “We have another one [Friday] to get back and get it right.”
One thing the Sixers will have to do better is shoot from three-point range. In the last two losses, they are 15-for-51 (29.4%).
Sixers coach Doc Rivers blamed the offense for the loss to Indiana, and he could have done the same against the Heat. These two games marked the first time this season the Sixers have scored fewer than 100 points in consecutive games.
They will be facing an Orlando team that is 26th in the NBA in defensive rating, allowing 113.6 points per 100 possessions.
Kobe Bryant will be inducted posthumously into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday. Mike Sielski writes how Bryant achieved his basketball immortality.
David Murphy writes that the city of Philadelphia’s decision to allow 50% capacity at the Wells Fargo Center will give the Sixers a big advantage in the playoffs.
Murphy also writes that the Sixers played scared against Miami on Thursday and adds that they have every reason to fear the Heat if they meet in a second-round matchup.
The Sixers are offering a COVID-19 vaccine incentive to their fans on Saturday.
Pompey has all the details of Thursday’s loss in Miami.
Butler, Heat could be a handful in the postseason
Miami’s Jimmy Butler has no trouble getting up to face his former Sixers team. During Thursday’s pregame interview, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he wasn’t sure if Butler would play. In Tuesday’s 129-121 win at Boston, Butler suffered an eye injury and didn’t play in the second half.
Spoelstra said Butler would warm up before the Sixers game and then it would determined if he would play.
Well, Butler sure played.
He had 21 points and hit all four of his three-pointers. Miami led, 38-22, after the first quarter and Butler led the way with 16 points, hitting all five of his field-goal attempts, including three from three-point range. The Sixers never got back in the game.
If the Sixers earn the top seed and Miami is either fourth or fifth (the Heat currently are in fifth place), the teams could meet in the second round of the playoffs.
The Heat have won four in a row and 11 of their last 14, and there isn’t a team that will relish playing them in the postseason.
“I want to win. I want to keep winning at that and you can call it whatever you call it, I’m not saying we are trying to prove it to anybody,” Butler said Thursday night in his Zoom news conference. “We just know what we’re capable of. Honestly, we talked about it all year. I think we’re finally coming around. Let’s just see if we can keep playing basketball the way that we’re playing, not really jinx ourselves, just go out and hoop.”
The Sixers shot 36-for-78 (46.2%) from the field, including 7-for-25 (28%) from three-point range. Butler said it wasn’t only the Heat defense that caused the rough shooting.
“I won’t sit here and pretend that they didn’t miss a lot of shots,” Butler said. “Jo [Embiid] was not as aggressive as he normally is, Tobias missed some, [Seth] Curry, who else, DG [Danny Green]. We did a good job, but we don’t want to say that they didn’t miss a lot of shots as well.”
The Heat were the surprise team last year, advancing to the NBA Finals before losing in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Could they be making another late-season run?
Tonight: Magic at Sixers, 8 p.m., Wells Fargo Center, NBC Sports Philadelphia
Sunday: Magic at Sixers, 7 p.m., Wells Fargo Center, NBC Sports Philadelphia
May 18-21: Play-in tournament
May 22: NBA playoffs begin
Passing the rock
Question: Do you think Doc is holding back these last couple games ... I don’t, just don’t know what’s going on. — D Sixers Willis, @SixersD on Twitter
Answer: Thanks for the question. No, I don’t think Rivers or the Sixers were holding back. Even though Embiid missed Tuesday’s 103-94 loss in Indiana, Ben Simmons played 36 minutes, 45 seconds and Harris played 34:09. That doesn’t sound like he was holding back to me.
Against Miami, the starters played heavy minutes in the third quarter but after trailing by 22 points entering the fourth, they had the rest of the night off. With a back-to-back game Friday, that was the right move, but before the fourth quarter, there was little holding back.
As Rivers said after Thursday’s loss, “I don’t think we were ready to play the game tonight.” That was the problem more than Rivers’ holding anybody back.