Tuesday, May 30 2023

Will tight losses, tough schedule serve Sixers well in the end? They believe so originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Clearly, neither Joel Embiid nor James Harden wanted to lose consecutive home games by tiny margins.

Both stars had a bigger picture in mind following the Sixers’ Monday night defeat to the Heat, though.

And each used the same phrase in summing things up: “It’s good for us.”

“It’s not going to get any easier,” Harden said after missing a game-winning three-point attempt right before the final buzzer. “We’re going to play against some really good teams for the rest of the season. … We can learn and focus on being detailed and being great for fourth quarters. It’s going to test our character, test our togetherness as a unit, as a team. But we’ll be good. We learn from it, we get better, and we keep pushing.”

While the 39-21 Sixers may very well become a stronger team through intense games against high-quality opponents, their first half Monday was bafflingly bad.

It wasn’t shocking that the Heat worked hard in trying to snap a four-game losing streak. Miami was overdue for an above-average outside shooting performance, too. After making a mere 29.3 percent of their three-pointers over the prior eight games, the Heat shot 15 for 37 (40.5 percent) against the Sixers. Still, the Sixers conceded the game’s first nine offensive rebounds and the first 14 points off turnovers. That’s an abysmal showing, especially given this was the Sixers’ first meeting against the team that eliminated them on the same court last postseason.

“Just being sloppy,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said to reporters. “They double a lot, they reach a lot. We know that. Our passing was not on target tonight. I just thought we were really sloppy tonight — sluggish. It happens. But in those games, you’ve still got to find a way to win the game. Tonight we didn’t.”

Tyrese Maxey played an excellent third quarter Monday, scoring 14 of his 23 points in the period to help the Sixers cope with Embiid’s foul trouble. The third-year guard ultimately fouled out himself, though. He had to watch the final 3:21 from the bench.

“Coach Doc has said it ever since I’ve been here: In the playoffs, games are broken down into single (possessions),” Maxey said. “And today, it was broken down into a single-possession game. … Every play matters. I missed a layup in transition … didn’t grab a rebound. All of those plays add up.”

Before the game, Rivers emphasized multiple times that he’s not coaching these playoff-like games as he would actual playoff games.

For instance, he framed the Sixers’ issues with Embiid on the bench as stemming mainly from lineups that likely won’t appear in the postseason.

“I’m going to guarantee you that every night we’re not going to be perfect off the bench,” he said. “And again, we’re not going to overreact to a night. My guess is on every team, if you took most of the best players off the floor, the plus-minus would probably be a little different.

“So we don’t look at it. In the regular season, we’ll keep a deep rotation as much as we can. In the playoffs, obviously it’ll be less of a rotation. So we’re not that concerned by it.”

Georges Niang’s stretch of about two and a half minutes early in the fourth quarter Monday might be one illustration of Rivers’ point. Niang, who had a second straight rough game, would perhaps have stayed on the bench in a similar playoff situation. He subbed in for Harden, who still averaged slightly over 40 minutes per contest over the last three games.

PJ Tucker also played a bit more than usual his past two outings — close to 71 total minutes. Rivers was as direct as he’s publicly been in noting the Sixers believe in Tucker’s ability as a backup center but don’t want to overuse him there before the playoffs.

“I love it,” Rivers said pregame of Tucker playing the five. “We’ve got to get the right group with it. We’re still looking for the perfect group with that lineup. But it’s not a lineup we’re going to show a lot. Again, PJ is 37 years old. So it’s a lineup that we know will be effective. We feel strongly about that moving into the playoffs. We’ll do it on certain nights, and on certain nights we’ll play Paul Reed or (Montrezl Harrell). That’s just the way it’ll be during the regular season.”

After their losses to the Celtics and Heat, the Sixers are 20-13 in “clutch games” — point differential of five points or less with under five minutes left — according to NBA.com/Stats. No team has a massive sample size with that stat, although one nice number for the Sixers is a league-best 93.8 defensive rating in the clutch. 

Maxey wouldn’t be surprised at all if the tight games continue. The Sixers now have a five-game road trip that will both start and finish with a back-to-back. They’ll play the Heat again Wednesday before facing the Mavs, Bucks, Pacers and Timberwolves.

“The last three games have shown us that we can beat and play with anybody,” Maxey said. “All three of those games, I feel like it came down to the last possession in the game, and that’s what it’s going to be.

“We’re going to play a lot of playoff-caliber teams and everybody’s fighting to find themselves and find their rhythm heading into the playoffs. And that’s what we’re doing — trying to step in the right direction so that when we get in that first round, whoever it’s against, we’re prepared and ready to go.”

Source: Yahoo Sports


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