The longest winning streak in the NBA this season — and the third-longest in Miami Heat history — finally ran out of gas on Saturday night.
Playing on the second night of a back-to-back and on the final day of a four-game, six-day trip, the Heat played a step slow on defense, turned it over more times than it dished out assists and saw its 13-game winning streak come to an end with a 117-109 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center.
“You have to give them credit. They were the most physical team tonight,” said Goran Dragic, who had 30 points, five rebounds and two assists but also matched a career high with seven of the Heat’s 20 turnovers.
“We didn’t play well offensively,” Dragic continued. “The ball didn’t move a lot. We had [15 assists]. We usually get more. Credit to Philly. Usually, we move the ball, but they defended well. They were in the passing lanes. They were aggressive. Sometimes you’re not comfortable making a pass. I didn’t have a good game. We go home, get some rest and hope to bounce back.”
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Seven players scored in double figures for the Sixers (20-34), who more than made up for a 125-102 loss to the Heat in Miami a week earlier when Hassan Whiteside dominated them with the first 30-point, 20-rebound game of his career.
Nerlens Noel, Robert Covington and Dario Saric each scored 19 points for Philadelphia, which limited Whiteside to 12 points, 19 rebounds and one block.
Miami, which had a chance to move into ninth place in the Eastern Conference had it won, missed 16 of its 23 three-point attempts, got beat in the paint 50-44 and had its 20 turnovers lead directly to 21 points for the 76ers.
James Johnson came off the bench and scored a season-high 26 points for the second night in a row in another solid all-around performance. But it wasn’t enough to save the streak, which began when Okaro White first arrived from the D-League back on Jan. 17 and the Heat beat the Houston Rockets 109-103 despite a 40-point triple-double from James Harden.
The main thing the Heat accomplished during the streak, Whiteside said, was getting back in playoff contention.
“We just stacked games on top of each other, trying to get ourselves in a playoff position,” Whiteside said. “That’s what it really was. You take it as a compliment. They had a championship celebration over there after they won. What can you do? They won the game.”
Whiteside had 32 points the first time Miami played in Philly. On Saturday night, he was just 5 of 11 from the field and could never get going offensively.
“I didn’t really get the ball as much in the paint as I was before,” Whiteside said. “And I was short on a couple jump hooks that I normally make. A couple of them were short. I can just control the effort, man. I can’t control whether it’s going in or not. I still tried to be effective on the boards, be effective in other ways.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra said the key for the Heat to get back to its winning ways will be getting back to sharing the ball. Saturday marked only the fourth time this season the Heat had more turnovers than assists. Miami is 0-4 in those games.
“Not being able to get our normal defensive stops and turning the ball over 20 times, we scored 109 and only had  assists, we were trying to win with a different identity that’s not successful for us and that’s basically what happened,” Spoelstra said.
“J.J. and Goran were able to score, but the scoring tonight was happening in a different way than the habits we’ve been building for the last few weeks, more one-on-one, a lot more individual efforts to get baskets rather than sharing the game and making the game easier for each other. But, again, Philly had a lot to do with that. They were playing with great energy, they were denying, flattening us out by normal actions.
“That’s how fragile this league can be because for a couple of games on this road trip the ball wasn’t moving as well as it has all year long and that’s always a challenge for every team to stay true to your identity, and we’re an attack team that has to share the game to get to our attacks. There were a lot more individual efforts to get baskets tonight than what we have been doing. At the end of the day we score 109, if we defend the way we normally are that should give you a better chance to win than we had tonight.”