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76ers, Heat seek win to stay above playoff cutoff line
MIAMI -- The spirit of Philadelphia is alive in the 76ers.
In a year in which the Philadelphia Eagles shocked the favored New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl, here comes another up-and-coming team from the City of Brotherly Love.
The 76ers had a seven-game win streak -- their largest since January 2009 -- snapped Sunday with a loss to the Washington Wizards. But the Sixers are on the rise.
Philadelphia (32-26) visits the Miami Heat (31-29) on Tuesday night in an important Eastern Conference matchup at AmericanAirlines Arena. The 76ers are seventh in the East standings and Miami is eighth, the final playoff spot.
The Sixers are powered by 6-foot-10 rookie point guard Ben Simmons, veteran shooting guard JJ Redick, star center Joel Embiid and forwards Robert Covington and Dario Saric.
Philadelphia's bench is led by shooting guard Marco Belinelli, who is the team's highest scoring reserve and is similar to Redick in that both have more than a decade of NBA experience.
The bench brigade also includes frontcourt players Richaun Holmes, Amir Johnson and Trevor Booker.
And then there's third-year point guard TJ McConnell, an undrafted player out of Arizona who earlier this month posted the franchise's first-ever triple-double off the bench.
Add all the bench pieces together and it's a solid group.
"In the playoffs," Embiid told the media, "you need the bench to come in and keep it up for the starters to finish."
The highly improved Sixers have drawn praise from a growing number of league coaches and players, including Wizards guard Bradley Beal.
"They are a hungry team," Beal told the media on Sunday. "They're going to be trouble."
That trouble, presumably, will be in the playoffs, which is something the Heat hope to experience this season.
However, the Heat have slumped of late, losing eight of their past 10 games.
Miami is coming off a runaway win over the floundering Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night. The Heat prevailed 115-89, handing Memphis its ninth straight loss, the longest active skid in the NBA.
The victory ended Miami's streak of 17 games won by single digits, three short of the NBA record.
In Tuesday's game, Miami will have one extra day of rest as compared with Philadelphia. The Sixers also had to travel while Miami stayed at home.
Furthermore, since Miami's most recent game was the rout over Memphis, Heat starters such as point guard Goran Dragic (25 minutes) and center Hassan Whiteside (26 minutes) got to rest a bit more than usual.
Miami starting shooting guard Tyler Johnson posted a game-high 23 points against Memphis, his highest-scoring game this calendar year. You have to go back to Dec. 30 to find a game where he was more productive, scoring 31 points against the Orlando Magic.
Johnson missed five games with an ankle injury, returning to action on Jan. 27. Since then and before Saturday, he was averaging only 9.7 points.
"I had to take a long look at myself over the (All-Star) break," Johnson told the media. "I had to see what was working and what wasn't working. I was settling for jumpers, trying to shoot my way out of a funk instead of doing what I do best, which is being an attacker."
Updated February 26, 2018