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Miami Heat unveil a way to neutralize Sixers

Josh Richardson: “It’s not easy as you think to beat a zone, to beat that one."

Ben Simmons (25) and the Sixers had a tough time against the Miami Heat's zone defense.
Ben Simmons (25) and the Sixers had a tough time against the Miami Heat's zone defense.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

Did the Miami Heat provide the blueprint to beat the 76ers?

The Heat employed a 2-3 zone in a 108-104 victory Wednesday night over the Sixers. Miami used the zone on 39 possessions, the most by an NBA team this season heading into Thursday. Philly made just 38% of its shots against the zone.

“Our league isn’t much of a zone league and the 49 possessions that we have played zone [before Wednesday] this year, they say that we are the fifth-best offense,” coach Brett Brown said. “But it didn’t feel like it ...”

Brown thinks facing the zone crept into the Sixers’ spirit and mood.

“Yes is the short answer to the fact that I think it slowed us down,” he said. “We weren’t proactive.”

The Sixers boast a towering starting lineup with four players 6-foot-9 and taller in Tobias Harris (6-9), Ben Simmons (6-10), Al Horford (6-10), and Joel Embiid (7-2). Josh Richardson (6-6) is the other starter.

The best way to combat that lineup is to force players to shoot from the outside in a 2-3 zone. The problem is that Simmons, the point guard, rarely shoots from the perimeter. Richardson, the shooting guard, is a capable three-point shooter. He’s just not a three-point sniper like the team had in JJ Redick the last two seasons. No one on the team is.

As a result, Miami (20-8) went to the zone, daring the Sixers (20-9) to launch shots from the perimeter.

For the game, they were just 12-for-39 (30.8%) on three-pointers. The Sixers shot 38-for-90 (42.2%) overall. They admitted afterward to being frustrated.

“It’s not as easy as you think to beat a zone, to beat that one,” Richardson said. “It’s easy to start jacking up shots or get frustrated with your teammates, but you just have to stay together and attack it.”

But as Harris said, a team has to make three-point shots to get a team out of a zone. The Sixers missed a lot of those shots, so the Heat stuck with the zone.

NBA teams are aware of Miami’s success, and the Sixers’ frustration with the zone.

Philly attempted three-pointers on 43.3% of its shot attempts Wednesday. However, the Sixers attempted the league’s fifth-fewest three-pointers, 29.5%, as of Wednesday. As a result, the Heat’s zone forced them to attempt a few three-pointers they wouldn’t have normally attempted.

But ...

“Being in a zone like that, you just got to make shots,” Harris said. "You got to make threes to kind of make them get discouraged and get them out of the zone. I thought when they first threw the zone on us, we didn’t make enough shots.

“So they got encouraged with it, and it was effective for them all the way until the end of the game.”

The Sixers will host the Dallas Mavericks at 8 p.m. Friday.

The Mavs (18-9) will be without Luka Doncic (sprained right ankle). Seth Curry (lower back tightness) and Delon Wright (right finger sprain) are questionable.

The Sixers have won the teams’ last three meetings at the Wells Fargo Center. This game will be sort of a homecoming for Dallas point guard Jalen Brunson, a former Villanova standout.