Talk about reverting to the norm.
It was less than three months ago when the Philadelphia 76ers shocked the NBA world by starting off this season with three straight wins, including a season-opening victory over Miami. Philadelphia, expected to be historically weak this season, now sports a 13-26 record, and was expecting a challenge from a Heat team that had just lost the first three games of a six-game road trip.
Being challenged was an understatement. LeBron James set the tone even before the opening tip-off, telling reporters, "We're going to play with a lot of energy and effort tonight. For sure, we are ready." Miami (28-11) led Philly the entire game, playing tight defense against a Sixers team that leads the league in turnovers. Miami has played atypically weak defense during recent weeks but they tightened the screws on the young, erratic 76ers just enough to force 23 turnovers and limit them to 37% on field goal attempts.
The Heat were paced by Chris Bosh's 25 points (on 11-of-18 shooting), 6 rebounds and 5 blocks. James was clearly not looking for his shot but still almost managed a triple-double with 21 points, 8 rebounds and 10 assists. After missing the previous four games with tendinitis, a rusty Mario Chalmers was back in the starting lineup and finished with 10 points and 5 assists. And Shane Battier finished with 13 points, include 3 three-pointers, and 2 blocks.
Dwyane Wade, celebrating his 32nd birthday today, better hope for a better gift from fiancée Gabrielle Union than he got from referees tonight. He picked up two fouls in the first five minutes and a third upon re-entering in the second quarter but still managed 8 points and 3 blocks in 25 minutes.
Philadelphia was unfocused and shaky, perhaps allowing rampant trade speculation to rattle them even more than usual. Thaddeus Young is expected to be dealt in upcoming days and was held to 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting. Evan Turner, one of the longest-tenured Sixers, has also been the subject of trade rumors but chipped in 11 points and 6 rebounds. Michael Carter-Williams, the rookie point guard of the future that nearly notched a quadruple-double in his first game against Miami, was brought back down to Earth with 7 points, 5 turnovers and only 2 assists. Rookie Tony Wroten led Philly with 13 points, albeit on 4-of-13 shooting. And center Spencer Hawes whined and elbowed his way to 10 points and 10 rebounds.
This was clearly not Miami at its best, and it is difficult to determine how much of this victory resulted from Miami's improved defense or from Philadelphia's typically-erratic play. But, after three straight demoralizing losses and after dropping five out of the last 10, any win is definitely appreciated. There was improved passing (30 assists on 38 made field goals) and a trapping defense that led to transition offense, something Miami fans had not seen in recent weeks.
Despite the absence of Chris "Birdman" Andersen, Greg Oden, who was active against the Sixers, did not play.
The Heat continue their road trip tomorrow in Charlotte, where they face the Bobcats (17-24) at 7:30 P.M. in the Time-Warner Cable Arena.