The 76ers and their fans have been looking for a measuring stick, a competitor they might be able to use in order to tell just where they stand when they stack up their impressive record against the elite teams of the NBA.
On Friday, in front of their first sellout crowd (20,694) at Wells Fargo Center this season, they ran into a healthy Miami Heat team and got an answer, loud and clear, absorbing their worst home setback of the season, 99-79, at the hands of the Heat.
The Heat unfurled a nearly flawless fourth quarter of basketball, making 12 of 16 shots, including 3 of 3 from behind the three-point line to outscore the Sixers, 32-16, in the quarter and 48-32 in the second half.
The quarter included a 25-7 run during which the Heat made shot after shot, under duress or not, until it became clear that they were just not going to lose this game, especially after blowing an 18-point lead in a loss to Milwaukee on Wednesday.
Miami's LeBron James said the loss to the Bucks did provide some added incentive.
"We just came together even more as a team," said James, who finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds, and 8 assists. "We understood what it was about in Milwaukee, and we realized we just needed to communicate better and just get better. If we are going to go out there and hold ourselves to a championship standard, we have to do it for a full 48 minutes."
The Heat (17-6) did everything against the Sixers (16-7) that so many teams have tried and failed to do against them. They shot the ball extremely well (51.3 percent), and they dominated the Sixers on the boards, carving out a 47-38 advantage.
Though clearly not happy with the loss, the Sixers said the Heat's victory was mostly about their superstars.
"That's what you expect them to do," Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday said. "They have three of the top players in the NBA, and that's what their team is, especially in the fourth quarter. We have guys who can make shots like that, but we didn't make them tonight. They made their shots."
Thaddeus Young led the 76ers with 16 points. Jodie Meeks and Lou Williams each added 13. Holiday finished with 11 points and seven assists, and Andre Iguodala finished with 10 points, seven rebounds, and six assists.
But the Sixers got very little from interior players Elton Brand (scoreless in 22 minutes, 37 seconds) and Tony Battie, scoreless in slightly more than 17 minutes.
"It's frustrating not scoring, especially when your team is trying to score and having trouble," said Brand, scoreless for just the fifth time in his 823-game career. "We have to get our offense on track. We carried out our defensive assignments. But they just hit their shots in that fourth quarter. That's what the difference was."
Miami's Dwyane Wade led all scorers with 26 points. Chris Bosh added 12 points.