If there was any question that the Philadelphia 76ers would be tanking this season, the answer is most definitely "no." The young Philly team is in rebuilding mode but took advantage of a slow start by Miami, jumping out to a 19 - 0 start in their season opener against the defending NBA champs. The 76ers built up the lead to 22, were down by nine to start the fourth quarter and then closed the game with a 15 - 3 run to pull away with a 114-110 victory.
The Heat looked doomed from the start. Dwyane Wade sat out the game and Roger Mason Jr., taking his place in the starting unit, handled the ball nervously and turned it over twice in the opening minutes. The lead climbed to 16 before Head Coach Erik Spoelstra replaced Mason Jr., Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers with Norris Cole, Ray Allen and Shane Battier. LeBron James finally scored the first Heat basket with nearly five minutes of play gone by, and Miami closed the first quarter down 33 - 14.
Spoelstra's strategy started working in the second quarter, however, as Miami, led by Cole's outstanding shooting (10 points) and Battier's defense, closed the gap to within 1. Rashard Lewis (11 points) also provided a spark off the bench and the first half ended with Miami only down 2 points, 51 - 49.
An impressive third quarter seemed to restore the proper balance as Miami exploded offensively. The Heat took their first lead on a Haslem layup with 8 minutes left and seemed to click on all cylinders, scoring 45 total points in the period. A team record 10 3-pointers were a big part of the comeback, with James (25 points) and Chris Bosh (22 points, 10 rebounds) hitting back-to-back shots from behind the arc to extend the lead. Allen started off slowly but hit four from long range, including a halfcourt bomb in the closing seconds of the quarter, pushing Miami's lead to 9.
But Philadelphia's inexperienced roster seemed determined to make the contest interesting. Rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams was especially strong, nearly notching a quadruple-double. He finished with 22 points (on 6 of 10 shooting, including 4 of 6 from long range), 7 rebounds, and 12 assists; his 9 steals set an NBA opening night record for rookies. Center Spencer Hawes was efficient and deadly from all over, hitting long jumpshots consistently and finishing around the basket with a deft touch.
Evan Turner, one of the few remaining veterans on the team, finished with 26 points. Turner's offense in the first and fourth quarters was particularly strong and his free throws with 19 seconds left sealed the Philadelphia victory. The win snapped a streak of 15 consecutive losses to the Heat, all since the formation of the Big 3 era in 2010.
For the 76ers, a team that Las Vegas experts predict will win a total of 16 games, this victory is likely to be the highlight of the season. Meanwhile, Miami was reminded that the long journey to a third consecutive NBA crown is bound to have several obstacles along the way.
That road leads next to Brooklyn, where the improved Nets team face the Heat on Friday night, starting at 8 PM (ESPN) from the Barclays Center.