Star guard James Harden perfectly summarized what’s in store for his Philadelphia 76ers.
“It’s not going to get any easier,” Harden said. “We’re going to play against some really good teams the rest of the season.”
The 76ers will play 12 of their 17 March games on the road, starting Wednesday with a trip to Miami to play the Heat.
It will serve as a rematch of Miami’s 101-99 win in Philadelphia on Monday.
Harden had a chance to likely win that game just before the buzzer, but his 3-pointer missed off the back rim.
“Sometimes you need the ball to bounce the right way,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Harden was open.
“But we contested so many shots that sometimes when you do get an open look, you’re not in great rhythm.”
Monday’s close game was not a shock. The teams also split four games in the 2021-2022 regular season.
However, the Heat got the better of the 76ers in last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals, eliminating them in six games.
On Monday, Miami’s Jimmy Butler hit the go-ahead bucket with 1:28 left, spinning between two defenders to make an acrobatic layup.
“I work on that type of stuff every day,” Butler said. “I love this game, and I love to compete.”
Butler finished with a game-high four steals and a near triple-double: 23 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.
He is always Miami’s Alpha, but Butler is even more important now that Heat point guard Kyle Lowry has missed nine straight games due to an injured left knee.
Butler, a six-time All-Star, played 55 regular-season games and 12 playoff games for the 76ers in 2018-2019, but he has been a much better fit for the Heat. He leads Miami this season in scoring (21.9), free throws per game (8.2) and steals (2.0).
Miami has two other elite scorers in Bam Adebayo (21.2) and Tyler Herro (20.5). However, both of them were off their games against the 76ers on Monday. Adebayo scored 13 points on 4-for-14 shooting. Herro was held to eight points on 3-for-13 shooting.
Adebayo’s performance may have had something to do with him being guarded mostly by 76ers star center Joel Embiid, who had a game-high 27 points on 10-for-17 shooting and a game-high 12 rebounds.
Embiid, an All-Star in each of the past six seasons, entered Tuesday with a career-best 33.0 ppg scoring average, ranking second in the NBA behind Dallas’ Luka Doncic (33.1). Embiid also leads the 76ers in rebounds (10.4) while shooting 53.2 percent from the field and 86.0 percent from the foul line.
Harden leads the NBA in assists (10.7) and ranks second on the 76ers in scoring (21.6). He makes 86.4 percent from the foul line and 39.3 percent on 3-pointers.
Despite the star duo’s output, 76ers coach Doc Rivers is surely not pleased with his team’s current two-game losing streak.
Harden said he and his teammates will hear from Rivers during a film session prior to Wednesday’s rematch.
“It’s really just Doc cursing us out,” Harden joked. “But we learn. We try to fix things.”
–Field Level Media