Sixers begin second half without Embiid vs. Heat
The Philadelphia 76ers will look to begin a post All-Star break push for the playoffs when they host the Miami Heat on Thursday night.
The Sixers entered the break with a 126-111 road victory over the New York Knicks as they improved to 37-21. Last season, the Sixers finished 52-30 in the regular season.
In the win over the Knicks, Joel Embiid had 26 points and 14 rebounds, while Tobias Harris scored 25 points.
Embiid and Ben Simmons both earned trips to the All-Star Game. Now that the annual event is complete, it's time to focus on the final 24 games before the playoffs start, but the trek will begin without Embiid.
The team announced Wednesday that Embiid will be held out for a week as a precaution after experiencing left knee soreness, though an MRI revealed no structural damage.
Harris is still adapting to his new team after being acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers in a blockbuster deal shortly before the trade deadline.
"I've been with this group for such a tiny amount of time. I'm excited to move the group forward," Sixers head coach Brett Brown told reporters. "This is the period of the season that interests me the most. My enthusiasm is pointed north."
Jimmy Butler -- who was also acquired in a major trade by general manager Elton Brand -- was solid against the Knicks with 13 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
"I think we're doing great," Butler told reporters. "I think we're a really good team."
The Sixers' starting five, which is considered among the strongest in the league, combined for 97 points against the Knicks.
"I feel like when the ball moves, great things happen," Embiid said. "So we've got to keep it that way."
When the Heat visit Thursday, it will be a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference semifinal series, which the 76ers won in five hard-fought games.
The Heat will begin their move to the postseason at 26-30, tied with the Detroit Pistons for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Miami has been inconsistent all season, with only one win streak longer than two games. But the Heat recently completed a 2-3 trip to the West Coast, including wins over Portland and Dallas and competitive battles with Sacramento and Golden State.
"You just want to see progress," Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "That's the most important thing: Are guys improving? Is your team improving? At least for a five-game stretch -- well, eliminate the Denver game (a 103-87 loss) -- but for the other four games, our ball club got better."
"All you can ask is continue to get better and hope that it can show up in the wins and losses a little bit more," forward Justise Winslow added.
The second half will be the final action for future Hall of Fame guard Dwyane Wade. The 16-year veteran just competed in his last All-Star Game and will attempt to lead the Heat back to the playoffs again.
"I just want to enjoy the end," Wade told the Sun-Sentinel.
The Heat have lost their past four regular-season trips to Philadelphia, but they did win a playoff game there last season.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 20, 2019