Pros and Cons: Sixers vs. Heat
How did things go for the Embiid- and Harden-less Sixers?
Adam Aaronson, whose legal name is Sixers Adam (@SixersAdam on Twitter), covers the Sixers for The Rights To Ricky Sanchez. He believes cantaloupe is the best food in existence, and is brought to you by the Official Realtor of The Process, Adam Ksebe.
After a grueling loss to the Toronto Raptors last night, the Sixers faced the Miami Heat tonight without their two best players. Here’s what’s on my mind tonight:
Pro: Joel Embiid and James Harden get the night off
As they prepare for their upcoming west coast road trip, the Sixers made a proactive decision to get their two superstars a night off. As Embiid nurses his back and Harden deals with lingering hamstring issues, a night off for each player seemed timely.
Of course, you never want to sit your two best players in a game against the Eastern Conference’s top overall seed, but with the west coast swing beginning on Wednesday night, this was a necessary evil.
Embiid entered tonight having played in each of the team’s last 20 games, a significant period -- one in which he averaged more than 34 minutes per game. As impressive as his durability has been this season, it is much more important that he is the best version of himself when the playoffs roll around.
Harden’s hamstring issues have been a bit difficult to follow since he arrived in Philadelphia, but his explosiveness has been noticeably lacking compared to usual over the last few games. In his 11 games with the Sixers, he has averaged a gargantuan 38 minutes per game.
Load management is never fun, but sometimes it’s necessary.
Pro: It turns out Furkan Korkmaz… is alive?!
Entering tonight, Korkmaz had been out of the Sixers’ regular rotation for seven games. After a red-hot start to the season, he fell back down to earth and then some.
Korkmaz’s shooting, typically his biggest strength, has been very poor -- his three-point percentage has dipped below 30 percent, a very difficult number to stomach for a player who is supposed to be a knock-down shooter.
Doc Rivers pulling Korkmaz from the rotation was absolutely justified. But on a night when the Sixers were short-handed, he reentered the rotation and made the most of his opportunity.
Korkmaz lit up Miami in the first half, scoring 10 points on a perfect 4-4 shooting line, grabbing three rebounds and dishing out two assists.
Ultimately, my guess is that Korkmaz won’t find his way back into the rotation by the playoffs. But it’s worth remembering how helpful the optimal version of Korkmaz can be. If the Sixers deal with an injury or have a rotation piece struggling mightily, don’t count Korkmaz out.
Pro: Shake Milton: also alive!
In the first half, Korkmaz gave the Sixers a massive lift. In the second half, it was Milton who stepped up.
Milton finished the night with 20 points, tying a season-high, along with six assists and five rebounds.
Unlike Korkmaz, Milton has been in the rotation recently. But somehow, his stretch has maybe been even more grim.
Entering tonight, Milton was just 1-8 from the field in his last six games, including zero shot attempts in each of the last three contests.
To rebound from that with an assertive, impressive stretch of basketball that carried the team for a significant portion of the second half is an extremely positive development. We’ve got a ways to go before declaring that Milton is a lock to be in the playoff rotation.
But like Korkmaz, he showed tonight that this Sixers bench has some untapped potential.
Bonus Pro: Tyrese Maxey, closer
Tyrese Maxey just stole the show, going absolutely bananas in the final minutes. Whether it was with a step-back three, a pull-up three, tough finishes around the rim or an and-one, he absolutely lit Miami up for the entirety of clutch time. Then, to help close the game out, he made a ridiculous block at the rim.
An electric Philadelphia crowd chanted “TY-RESE, TY-RESE” until they lost their collective breath.
Embiid, sitting on the bench, began running in circles celebrating his budding star teammate.
Embiid was reduced to pure astonishment, and I have been reduced to silence and confusion. That was one hell of a win.