Miami Heat must finish vs. 76ers, or season will be finished

Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat attempts to drive to the basket as he is surrounded by Dario Saric and Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers in the fourth quarter during Game 4 of the opening round of the playoffs at American Airlines Arena on Saturday in Miami. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

MIAMI — Dwyane Wade’s confidence in himself to rally his team, whether it be in a game or a playoff series, will always be absolute.

*D’Angelo: The Process will win series

But after the Heat’s frustrating 106-102 loss to the 76ers on Saturday — their second straight at home — dropped them into a 3-1 series hole, Wade didn’t mince words when asked if his veteran guile still gives the Heat an advantage over the upstart squad from Philadelphia.

“I’d rather be in their position, I’ll tell you that, figuring out how to close out 3-1,” Wade said after his 25-point performance nearly lifted the Heat back to victory after they let a double-digit, late-third-quarter lead slip away. “From our standpoint it’s going to be hard. It’s going to be one of the hardest things we’ve tried to accomplish as a team to try to bring it back here to Miami, and we gotta understand that.

“We gotta go in and put our hard hats on and go after it. We can’t worry about them. They’re in a good position. We’re the ones trying to come from behind. So we’ll see what happens Tuesday.”

The Heat, despite coming from 3-1 down to win a playoff series only once in franchise history, are not finished in this first-round, Eastern Conference series. Simple math proves that.

But they will be finished after Tuesday night’s Game 5 back in Philly if they don’t find a way to finish.

Like finishing at the basket. Miami in Game 3 was 25-for-46 on shots at the rim, missing layups and short jumpers, many on shots intimidated by Philadelphia’s 7-foot, 260-pound center Joel Embiid, who officially was credited with five blocks and whose rim protection “won us the game,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said.

Like finishing at the free-throw line. Coach Erik Spoelstra didn’t mask his feelings after Saturday’s loss. The Heat let one get away, partly by missing nearly half of their foul shots, going 13-for-25 from the line.

Like finishing defensive possessions. Miami has been crushed on the glass in the series (and was outrebounded 57-43 in Game 4), but the 76ers have done particular damage with offensive rebounds at crucial times to score on putbacks or by kicking them out for 3-pointers.

But, mostly, the Heat have to get better at finishing games — or their season will be finished after one more.

For the third straight contest the Heat allowed Philadelphia to go on a scoring blitz in the fourth quarter. In Game 3, the 76ers turned a two-point game into a cruise by outscoring Miami 32-14 in the final 12 minutes. Had Wade’s heroics not saved the Heat after their 16-point lead was cut to 2 in the fourth quarter of Game 2, the series would already be over.

On Saturday, Miami led 81-71 with 3:09 to play in the third quarter. From there, the 76ers went on a 21-4 run, bolstered by missed shots close to the basket, blown defensive assignments and poor rebounding by Miami. Wade scored seven straight points as Miami cut a seven-point deficit to one in the closing seconds, but he also missed a crucial free throw in the final seconds. Miami also let 76ers rookie guard Ben Simmons barrel down the lane uncontested for a two-handed dunk and on Philadelphia’s next possession left J.J. Redick, one of the NBA’s best shooters, all alone for an easy jumper.

“It was one of those moments where, for me, I just wanted us to get a stop or two,” Wade said. “I felt like I could win us one at home. We couldn’t get it. We made some mistakes down in the end. They made us pay. … Whether it’s getting offensive rebounds or miscommunications, we had to do a better job.”

The series has been physical, fast, fun and highly competitive. Neither team is acting like it’s a 3-1 series.

“We are going to Philadelphia looking forward to playing for an amazing home-court advantage,” said Brown, who said his team probably had “no right winning” Saturday’s game after how sloppily it played the first three quarters and finishing with 27 turnovers. “We are going to come in, bunker down and try to get better. We sure hope that equals a win.”

His young, talented point guard echoed the sentiment. “We have to finish it,” Simmons said. “We have to be locked in for that game coming up.”

Spoelstra knows his team has to finish or be finished.

“We all feel that we’re this close, and that’s what makes this game tough,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve had a tough time finishing games against Philadelphia, and that’s been the issue.”

Five takeaways: Sixers rally for 106-102 win over Heat to take 3-1 lead in series

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) blocks a shot by Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) in the fourth quarter in Game 4 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Miami. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)

MIAMI — A game that looked to be going the Heat’s way turned into a nightmare.

The Sixers erased a 12-point Heat lead with a huge run over the third and fourth quarters to rally for a 106-102 victory Saturday and take complete control of the first-round series. Philadelphia now heads home for Tuesday’s Game 5 with a 3-1 lead. Continue reading “Five takeaways: Sixers rally for 106-102 win over Heat to take 3-1 lead in series”

Behind the numbers: Should Heat’s Dwyane Wade get more playing time in playoff series vs. Sixers?

Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat shoots the ball against Dario Saric #9 of the Philadelphia 76ers in the fourth quarter during Game Two of the first round of the 2018 NBA Playoff at Wells Fargo Center on April 16, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Heat defeated the 76ers 113-103. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

MIAMI — The Heat will look to even their first-round playoff series against the Sixers in Saturday’s Game 4 at 2:30 p.m. Philadelphia enters with a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Here are five things to know entering Game 4 (we know three games is a small sample size) … Continue reading “Behind the numbers: Should Heat’s Dwyane Wade get more playing time in playoff series vs. Sixers?”

Heat’s Justise Winslow fined $15,000 for stepping on Joel Embiid’s mask

Miami Heat’s Justise Winslow (20) attempts a 3-point basket as Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid (21) defends during the first half of Game 3 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series Thursday, April 19, 2018, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

MIAMI — Heat forward Justise Winslow has been fined $15,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct for intentionally stepping on and attempting to damage the face mask of Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, the NBA announced Friday night.

The incident occurred with 7:51 remaining in the second quarter of the Heat’s 128-108 loss to the Sixers on Thursday in Game 3 at AmericanAirlines Arena. Embiid was wearing the mask to protect his fractured orbital bone, which forced him to miss Philadelphia’s previous 10 games.

When asked about his run-in with the mask, Winslow said following Thursday’s game: “[Embiid] kept throwing [the mask] on the ground. So I don’t know if he didn’t like it or what. But I was talking to JoJo. We were smack talking, trash talking, going back and fourth. But no love loss.”

Embiid didn’t seem too bothered by the incident because he has more masks in reserve.

“Justise stepped on it and tried to break it with his hands, but little does he know, I have about 50 of them,” Embiid said after Game 3. “So it’s going to take much more than that to get me out of this series. I’m going to be a nightmare for them, too.”

Embiid finished Game 3 with 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks in his playoff debut. The Sixers lead the first-round series 2-1, with Game 4 set for Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

[Heat know getting Hassan Whiteside back on track is ‘a game-changer.’ But is it possible against Sixers defense?]

[Dwyane Wade on physical nature of Heat-Sixers series: ‘It’s the playoffs, baby, let it go’]

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Five takeaways: Sixers take home-court advantage right back, defeat Heat 128-108 in Game 3

Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons (25) goes up for a basket as Miami Heat’s Hassan Whiteside (21) defends during the first half of Game 3 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series Thursday, April 19, 2018, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

MIAMI — The Heat stole home-court advantage in Game 2. But it didn’t take the Sixers long to snatch it back.

The Sixers survived a bruising 48 minutes to defeat the Heat 128-108 in Game 3 on Thursday to take a 2-1 lead in the first-round playoff series. The game included 56 personal fouls and six technical fouls, as the teams played a physical brand of basketball.

Despite the lopsided score, it was a back-and-forth game most of the way that included 17 lead changes and 13 ties. But Philadelphia took control in the fourth quarter, outscoring Miami 32-14 in the final period to turn a two-point lead at the start of the quarter into a 20-point win.

“We went through a little bit of a drought and they just kept on scoring either via 3-pointer or foul trouble or getting to the free-throw line,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s the thing. It was right there. But you have to be able to complete it for 48 minutes. That’s what’s going to be required against this team. They went on a big run and it just got away from us.”

Sixers All-Star center Joel Embiid was dominant in his playoff debut, finishing with a team-high 23 points to go with seven rebounds and four assists. Ersan Ilyasova and Dario Saric scored 21 each.

Miami’s defense didn’t bother Philadelphia much in this game. The Sixers shot 50.6 percent from the field and made 18-of-34 threes.

The Heat were led by point guard Goran Dragic, who recorded 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting. But starting center Hassan Whiteside was quiet again with five points and two rebounds in 13 minutes.

“He might not necessarily put up the numbers, but its part of my job — to figure it out and figure out how he can get to his strengths and be an impact player for us,” Spoelstra said of Whiteside. “It starts with the defense, the rebounding. It’s a lot of responsibilities for us offensively. I’ll spend some time working that out in the next day in a half.”

The Heat will now try to bounce back and even the series, 2-2, in Saturday’s Game 5 at 2:30 p.m.

“It’s going to be hard to play the way we need to play to win the series,” said Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who finished with eight points on 2-of-7 shooting. “But this team you got to understand that you go through these moments. You lose a game like today and you understand you don’t like this feeling and you like the feeling you had in Game 2. You got to work harder to get to that. So we’ll see. We’ll come in and we’ll learn from it.”

Here are our five takeaways …

The return of Joel Embiid: The Sixers got their All-Star center back Thursday and he made a major impact. Embiid finished with a team-high 23 points to go with seven rebounds and four assists in his return. His presence was especially felt on the defensive end, as Miami shot just 6-of-18 at the rim in Game 3. Embiid had missed the previous 10 games (final eight of the regular season and first two of the playoffs) to recover from surgery to repair an orbital bone fracture. Philadelphia posted a 9-1 record in his absence, with the only loss coming in Game 2 of the series. But it’s obvious the Sixers are a better team with Embiid on the court.

“Obviously, when the game speeds up, he can slow it down,” Spoelstra said. “He has a way of drawing fouls and its not just in the post. A lot of his fouls drawn are on the perimeter, shot fakes and drives. He knows to draw them. We have to do things with great technique, great discipline. We’re capable of it. And we expected him to be in the series at some point. So, that’s the challenge for us.”

Another quiet night for Hassan Whiteside: Even with Embiid back on the court, Whiteside continued his quiet series. Battling foul trouble for most of the night, Whiteside finished with five points and two rebounds in 13 minutes. He only attempted one shot in the game. This comes after the Heat’s $98 million center logged just 15 minutes in Game 2 and 12 minutes in Game 1. Whiteside is averaging 3.7 points and 4.0 rebounds in the playoff series.

“It’s just different, man,” Whiteside said of his underwhelming numbers this series. “I feel like our offense is a lot different. I’m not as involved in as many dribble hand-offs as I was and post-ups as I was in the regular season. That’s what coach wants. Coach wants me to just be in the corner and set picks. That’s what he wants. I’ve just got to trust it.”

This series is physical … very physical: Didn’t think this series could get more physical after the first two games? You were very wrong. The Heat and Sixers combined for 56 personal fouls and six technical fouls in Game 3. There were 72 free throws taken in the game — 35 for Miami and 37 for Philadelphia. The tension seemed to reach its peak when Wade and Sixers reserve guard Justin Anderson were called for “physical taunting foul” technicals after they were involved in a small skirmish near the basket with 10:26 remaining in the second quarter. Double technical fouls were also called on Miami’s James Johnson and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons for exchanging words with 4:22 remaining in the second quarter. There’s still at least two more games in this series. What happens next?

“It’s the playoffs, baby,” Wade said. “I wish the whistle didn’t blow as much as it did. We’re fine with it. Let it go, man. Nobody wants to get into fights. But there’s going to be some body on body. There’s going to be some man-on-man combat in this series and it’s the playoffs. This is why everybody is walking on eggshells in the regular season so they can get to the playoffs and be healthy.

“But this is what the fans love to see and this is what competitors love to play in. The physicality doesn’t matter. We want them to be physical and we’re going to be physical. It’s just about winning a ballgame and whatever you can do.”

The Heat need this Goran Dragic: The discussion after Game 1 was about how much the length of 6-foot-9 Sixers forward Robert Covington was bothering Heat point guard Goran Dragic. That’s because Dragic struggled in the first game of the series with an inefficient 15 points on 4-of-13 shooting. But Dragic has turned it around since then and turned in his best performance of the series so far in Game 3. He finished with 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting and eight assists on Thursday. The performance didn’t lead to a Heat win, but this is the Dragic the Heat will need moving forward.

The playoff version of Justise is entertaining: In Game 2, Justise Winslow opened eyes with his ultra-physical defense against Simmons. In Game 3, Winslow opened with his ability to be just about everywhere on the court. The 22-year-old provided a major lift off the bench with a season-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds and three assists. And Winslow’s physical and feisty play continued Thursday, and he even stepped on and broke Embiid’s protective goggles. But Winslow was held scoreless in the second half on 0-of-5 shooting. Still, it seems like Winslow is made for playoff basketball.

“It was amazing,” Winslow said of scoring 19 points in the first half. “I live for these moments, these big games, the big stage. But I was just trying to do whatever it took to win and we fell short. So three months, four months from now I’ll look back and it will be a great memory and great moment. But the bigger picture, we didn’t win tonight. I rather have the two-point [win] rather than the whatever ‘L.’ It’s tough, man. It’s tough when you’re playing that well and you still can’t pull it out. But it is what it is. We got to find a way.”

[Heat’s Dwyane Wade says he and actor Kevin Hart ‘are not friends right now. I don’t like him’]

[Heat’s Erik Spoelstra, Dwyane Wade shocked, saddened by death of Erin Popovich]

[Justise Winslow enjoying physical style of playoffs: ‘I can be the bad guy if that means winning’]

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Justise Winslow enjoying physical style of playoffs: ‘I can be the bad guy if that means winning’

Justise Winslow #20 of the Miami Heat controls the ball as Dario Saric #9 of the Philadelphia 76ers reaches for it in the fourth quarter of Game One of the first round of the 2018 NBA Playoff at Wells Fargo Center on April 14, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 76ers defeated the Heat 130-103. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

MIAMI — If there’s one play that represents the aggressive and physical style the Heat used to defeat the Sixers in Game 2, it probably involves the matchup between Justise Winslow and Ben Simmons.

With the Heat ahead 34-31 in the second quarter, Winslow picked Simmons up the full length of the court and stayed with him until eventually drawing an offensive foul on the Sixers’ point guard. After the play, an emotional Winslow yelled some not-so-nice words in Simmons’ direction.

“I just tried to get into his body, force him to trust his dribble and when he attacked the basket he pushed off and they called the offensive foul,” Winslow said in advance of Thursday’s Game 3. Continue reading “Justise Winslow enjoying physical style of playoffs: ‘I can be the bad guy if that means winning’”

Sixers All-Star center Joel Embiid upgraded to probable for Game 3 vs. Heat

Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers reacts from the bench after a missed foul shot by LeBron James in the final seconds of the game at the Wells Fargo Center on April 6, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 76ers defeated the Cavaliers 132-130. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

MIAMI — It looks like Joel Embiid’s playoff debut will come in Game 3.

After Sixers coach Brett Brown called Embiid doubtful before morning shootaround, the All-Star center was upgraded to probable just a few hours before Thursday night’s game against the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena. Embiid missed the final eight games of the regular season and the first two games of the playoffs after undergoing surgery to repair an orbital bone fracture. Continue reading “Sixers All-Star center Joel Embiid upgraded to probable for Game 3 vs. Heat”

76ers center Joel Embiid listed as ‘doubtful’ for Game 3 vs. Heat

MIAMI — If Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown knew if star big man Joel Embiid would get on the court for Thursday’s Game 3 against the Miami Heat, he didn’t let it slip before practice Wednesday.

Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid wears mask while warming up for the team’s NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Wednesday, April 11, 2018, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Continue reading “76ers center Joel Embiid listed as ‘doubtful’ for Game 3 vs. Heat”

Erik Spoelstra makes it clear Heat’s rebounding must improve vs. Sixers: ‘They’re burying us’

Miami Heat’s Bam Adebayo, left, shoot as Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons, right, watches during the second half in Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series Saturday, April 14, 2018, in Philadelphia. The 76ers won 130-103. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

MIAMI — Not all of the talk after Wednesday’s practice was about what the Heat did right in their Game 2 win. Some of it was on what they did wrong.

“They’re burying us, they’re absolutely burying us on the glass,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said when asked about Philadelphia’s second-chance points. “They’re burying us, that has to change.” Continue reading “Erik Spoelstra makes it clear Heat’s rebounding must improve vs. Sixers: ‘They’re burying us’”

Even after the Heat won Game 2 to take home-court advantage, the Sixers are still betting favorites to win the series

Miami Heat’s Goran Dragic, left, of Slovenia, drives to the basket against Philadelphia 76ers’ JJ Redick, right, during the first half in Game 2 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Monday, April 16, 2018, in Philadelphia. The Heat won 113-103. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

MIAMI — The Sixers are still considered the favorites to win their first-round playoff series with the Heat.

Even after the Heat won Game 2 in Philadelphia on Monday to tie the series at 1-1 and steal home-court advantage, the oddsmakers still believe the Sixers will be the team to advance to the second round. Bovada, an online sports book, currently has Miami at 11-to-5 and Philadelphia at 5-to-13 to win the series. Continue reading “Even after the Heat won Game 2 to take home-court advantage, the Sixers are still betting favorites to win the series”