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Sixers down depleted Heat

By Marc Narducci
The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS

PHILADELPHIA - This time the 76ers, with reinforcements returning, had no problem with the depleted Miami Heat.

The Sixers welcomed back Tobias Harris, Shake Milton, and Matisse Thybulle, who each missed the past three games due to health and safety protocols and none of them showed much rust in Thursday’s 125-108 win over the Heat at the Wells Fargo Center.

It was the second win in three days over the Heat in this baseball-type series in Philadelphia. On Tuesday, the Sixers earned a 137-134 overtime win.

For the second straight game against the Sixers, Miami had the minimum of eight players at coach Erik Spoelstra’s disposal. The Sixers had 10 players but only played eight in Tuesday’s win. On Thursday, they had 14 available players and 10 had seen action before the first quarter ended.

Milton, who finished with 31 points, especially showed plenty of pep. He had 19 points at halftime as the Sixers led 73-58.

The 6-foot-5 combo guard has shown a great ability to get his own shot off the dribble. He can take smaller defenders to the basket, but also gives the Sixers a viable perimeter and 3-point threat.

Milton entered the game shooting just 27.5% from beyond the arc, after shooting 43% last season. He hit all three of his 3-pointers in the first half.

Harris also set the tone early, by scoring nine points in the first quarter. Thybulle was active defensively.

Before the game, coach Doc Rivers said he didn’t know how long the three would play. They had not played since last Thursday’s 122-109 loss at Brooklyn.

The Sixers were only without two rotation players - starting shooting guard Seth Curry, who missed his fourth straight game after testing positive for COVID-19 last week, and Furkan Korkmaz, out for the 10th straight game with a groin injury.

Among the missing for Miami due to health and safety protocols, were Bam Adebayo and former Sixer Jimmy Butler, All-Stars from a year ago, and Goran Dragic who is averaging 14.8 points. That is a lot of firepower.

Before the game coach Rivers insisted that his relationship with Ben Simmons was fine after the Sixers point guard was very much in play during trade talks with the Houston Rockets for James Harden. As it turns out, Harden was traded to Brooklyn, and Simmons remains a Sixer. Amateur psychologists will have a field day looking into the relationship between Simmons and not only Rivers, but the franchise.

He finished with a triple-double of 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists Thursday.

The Sixers went on a 14-1 run to close the first quarter and take a 38-30 lead. They continued to push the ball at a fast pace in the second quarter, similar to what Atlanta did to a depleted Sixers team in Monday’s 116-94 loss to the Hawks.

What’s interesting is that Simmons and Embiid only combined for nine first-half points while the rest of the team put up 64. After torching the Heat for 45 points Tuesday, Embiid wasn’t close to the same dominating figure, finishing with nine points.

The Sixers led 98-78 after three quarters.

One thing that Miami showed is that when the full team returns, last year’s Eastern Conference finalist should be a handful.

The Heat play as hard as any team in the NBA and second-year guard Tyler Herro, a standout in last year’s playoffs, showed his improvement in both games against the Sixers. Known for his long-range shooting, what Herro did well against the Sixers was drive it to the basket.

Sixers forward Mike Scott, who was scoreless in 5 minutes and 10 seconds in the first half, was sidelined the rest of the game with right knee soreness.