The Philadelphia 76ers entered Thursday night’s game in Miami hoping to secure the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. By the second quarter, they were trailing by 22 points and well on their way to a 106-94 loss worse than one Tobias Harris had called “terrible” Tuesday night against the Indiana Pacers.

Jimmy Butler had 21 points, five rebounds, and four assists. Tobias Harris led the Sixers with 21 points on 8-for-17 shooting.

Matisse Thybulle (left hand swelling) and Victor Oladipo (right quadriceps tendon surgery) were out. Joel Embiid, Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton returned for the Sixers. 

Here are three takeaways:

Scary start

Harris thought the Sixers lost their composure late in Tuesday’s game. Their frustration level remained high early against the Heat.

Embiid and Trevor Ariza were each given technical fouls after some arguing when Embiid missed a runner and fell onto Ariza’s legs. Embiid was also unhappy when he was called for a moving screen with 1:59 left in the first, his second foul. Ben Simmons was called for his third foul late in the second quarter, though head coach Doc Rivers kept him in the game.

Miami’s defense was very good from the opening tip-off, forcing Philadelphia to work deep into the shot clock and sending aggressive help on Embiid and Harris post-ups. The Sixers’ ball and player movement was not nearly crisp enough in response to that defensive intensity. It didn’t help that the Sixers’ first made three-pointer was a Seth Curry shot with 4:15 left in the second quarter.

Another indication of the Heat’s superior effort was that they held a 27-12 first-half rebounding advantage. 

Just when it appeared things couldn’t get any better for the Heat, 40-year-old Udonis Haslem entered for his first action of the season and scored four quick points. His stint was short, though. Haslem was ejected following a face-to-face, finger-pointing confrontation with Dwight Howard. 

Howard picked up his 16th technical foul. Unless it’s rescinded, he’ll be suspended for a game. The 35-year-old will have a clean slate once the playoffs begin. 

Dewayne Dedmon and Howard had an altercation in the third quarter, too, with Dedmon earning a technical. Howard managed to avoid any trouble in that instance. 

Rough night for Embiid and half-court defense 

The Sixers started the game with Danny Green guarding Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons defending Duncan Robinson.

The Green vs. Butler matchup didn’t begin well for them. A low-volume 21.4 three-point shooter on the season heading into Thursday’s game, Butler made three long-range jumpers in the first quarter. He scored 16 points on 5-for-5 shooting in the period and also drew two fouls on Green, which led to the insertion of George Hill. 

Simmons’ versatility gives the Sixers options, and Rivers has often preferred having him open up on someone besides an opposing star ball handler. Robinson was scoreless until the third quarter, so that part of Rivers’ decision worked. It was one of very few things that broke the Sixers’ way Thursday. Tyler Herro picked up Robinson’s outside shooting slack, scoring 18 points off the bench.

Embiid, who’d been a game-time decision with a non-COVID illness, never looked sharp or in rhythm. He had a season-low six points on 3-for-9 shooting and was decisively outplayed by Bam Adebayo (18 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists). The four-time All-Star was clearly below his best in terms of health but aiming to do his part in wrapping up the first seed. 

In a departure from the norm, the Sixers’ transition defense was fine but their half-court defense was not, even when Embiid and Simmons shared the floor. Thybulle’s absence was a factor but no excuse. 

Struggle against zone 

The Heat turned to a zone defense late in the first quarter against the Sixers’ bench.

The Sixers looked unsure of how to attack the Heat. If the Sixers meet the Heat in the second round of the playoffs, expect zone defense to be a key factor. 

Up next

The Sixers will conclude their regular season with a home mini-series on Friday and Sunday nights against the 21-49 Orlando Magic. A win in one of those games would lock up the top seed in the East.