The 76ers (18-63; 5th-Atlantic Division, 14th-Eastern Conference) close out their schedule against the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat (54-27; 1st-Southeast Division, 2nd-Eastern Conference). The Heat – with the NBA Playoffs looming – plan to rest All-Stars LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
Regardless of tonight’s outcome, the Sixers will finish with a loss total that either matches or establishes a new franchise mark for defeats in a single season. Monday’s 113-108 win over the Boston Celtics has positioned the Sixers to string together consecutive victories for the first time since their season-high four-game streak from the first week of January.
The 76ers and Miami have split the first two games of their season series. The Sixers delivered a stunning 114-110 season-opening home win over the Heat on October 30th, before falling to Miami, 101-86, at Wells Fargo Center on January 17th. If the Sixers were to knock off the Heat tonight, they would halt a 10-game losing skid at Americans Airlines Arena.
The 76ers have reached the finish line of a challenging season, one full of adversity that’s stemmed from sweeping changes brought to the front office, coaching staff, and roster. The impact of those changes has been the Sixers fully adopting and implementing new philosophies across the organization. As far as the on-court product is concerned, first-year general manager Sam Hinkie and first-year head coach Brett Brown have relied on an overhauled, youthful core to transform the Sixers into the fastest-paced team in the NBA.
“I’m really proud that they’ve stayed together,” Brown said about the Sixers on Monday. “The group has been remarkable where they really put out quality days. They practice at a professional rate. Their ability to co-exist as a team under great duress has been just beyond impressive. It’s not been by accident. They’ve worked at it.”
Perhaps no Sixers player has been asked to shoulder more of the franchise’s re-tooling burdens than seven-year veteran Thaddeus Young. Young has averaged a personal-best 17.9 points over a career-high 77 starts, but – in the past three years – he’s witnessed the Sixers’ identity change from potential up-and-coming Eastern Conference playoff contender to NBA Draft lottery pick candidate.
“Mentally, it’s been very, very crazy, a roller coaster ride up and down,” Young told reporters earlier today in Miami, FL. “At the end of the day, guys got better. There was a lot of growth around the locker room, growth within the coaches. We’re just ready to get to the summer and enjoy ourselves.”
While Brown has been tolerant and understanding of growing pains that have come along with a season so strongly geared towards player development, he has recently indicated a different tone will be set heading into next year.
“This ‘hall pass’ is getting a little bit over,” Brown said on Monday, before the the Sixers’ meeting with the Boston Celtics. “We [now] need to make progress in a different way.”
The Miami Heat has secured the second-seed in the Eastern Conference, and an opening round playoff match-up with either the Charlotte Bobcats or Washington Wizards, which head into tonight’s action separated in the standings by a single game. Having focused more in the past weeks on player health than wins, the Heat have turned in sub-.500 results down the stretch. They’ve dropped four of their last five games, and have posted an 11-13 record since an eight-game winning streak.
“We still have another game to play, and then after that, we take a day off, and then we get in to playoff mode,” said Dwyane Wade, who has played Miami’s last two games after missing nine outings in a row due to a hamstring injury. “The biggest thing for us is to enter the playoffs healthy. I think we’ll be healthier this year than last year entering the playoffs, so that’s a good thing.”
Neither LeBron James – third in the NBA in scoring, averaging 27.1 points per game – nor Chris Bosh – who posts 16.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game – will suit up tonight. James has missed his team’s regular season finale in each of the last four years.