Maybe the Heat should rethink its strategy of resting Dwyane Wade against inferior competition.
With Wade on the bench in the Heat’s second game of the season, the defending back-to-back champions lost to the Philadelphia 76ers 114-110 on Wednesday at Wells Fargo Center in what might turn out to be one of the strangest games of the season.
It was the season opener for the Sixers, who are expected to be one of the worst teams in the NBA, but — for one night at least — Philadelphia’s young players lit fire to that narrative and tossed it in a dumpster.
“We didn’t execute well in the fourth quarter and they did, and they got the crowd into the game and for a young team like that, that’s how you play with fire,” said Heat reserve forward Shane Battier, who went 1 of 8 from the field and 0 of 7 from three-point range off the bench.
The Heat (1-1) entered the game on the heels of an emotional victory against the Bulls on Tuesday and the Sixers (1-0), according to many, were designed this offseason to be the worst team in the NBA.
Among other moves, the team traded away their best player, Jrue Holiday, for draft pick Nerlens Noel, who might not play this season. The goal of this strange and counterintuitive strategy, so the theory went, was to lose as many games as possible in order to have the best odds of drafting teenage phenom Andrew Wiggins.
To sell this plan to the public, Philadelphia’s slogan for the season is, officially, “Together We Build.”
So, with all that juicy backstory heading into their opener, the Sixers then went and made their first 11 shots of the game and led the back-to-back champions 26-4 in the first quarter.
The Heat eventually settled down, scored 45 points in the third quarter. Then, the Heat blew a nine-point fourth-quarter lead. Miami was 15-1 on the second night of back-to-backs in the 2012-13 season.
“We earned this,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We came to play this game tonight. We did not come to compete and do the necessary things particularly from an effort, concentration standpoint to win the game and they outplayed us.”
The Heat took an eight-point lead with 4:55 left in the game on an alley-oop from Mario Chalmers to LeBron James, but Miami then went 0 of 10 from the field until 10 seconds remained in the game.
The Sixers outscored the Heat 29-16 in the fourth quarter. It was the Heat’s first loss to the Sixers in 16 games and Philadelphia’s first regular-season victory against the Heat since James signed in 2010.
And, in a lot of ways, the offense regressed to Heat circa 2010 in the final five minutes. James forced one bad shot after another down the stretch and went 1 of 6 from the field in the fourth quarter. When he did make the smart pass, Battier missed a three-pointer in the corner with Miami trailing 110-108 with 27.5 seconds to play.
“They jumped on us, and we weren’t ready for it,” James said. “It was a game of runs and they took advantage of all our faults tonight a lot shots and mistakes in the fourth, including myself.”
Wade missed the game as a precaution and Roger Mason Jr. started his first game with the Heat, which promptly fell behind 15-0 in the first five minutes with Mason on the floor. Spoelstra said not to draw any parallels between his team’s poor start and Wade’s inactivity.
“That didn’t affect any of the rhythm,” Spoelstra said. “It didn’t have anything to do with that.”
The Heat turned the ball over 19 times and went 16 of 40 from three-point range. James led the Heat with 25 points and went 9 of 17 from the field. He was 4 of 7 from three-point range and had 13 assists. Chris Bosh had 22 points, going 8 of 13 from the field and 2 of 3 from three-point range. He also had 10 rebounds.
Bosh counterpart, Sixers big man Spencer Hawes, scored 24 points and went 10 of 14 from the field. Evan Turner led the Sixers with 26 points and five assists and rookie Michael Carter-Williams had 22 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and nine steals in his professional debut. Williams’ nine steals set an NBA record for steals in a first game.
After trailing throughout the first half, the Heat took the lead, 60-59, with 8:33 left in the third quarter when Udonis Haslem found room inside against Hawes for a layup. Bosh stepped into a three-pointer on the next possession and James followed with a three-pointer of his own to give the Heat a 66-62 lead with 7:47 left in the period.
The Heat shot 72.7 percent from field (16 of 22) in the third quarter and was 10 of 13 from three-point range in the period. Ray Allen, who went 4 of 4 from distance in the period, made three three-pointers in the final 40 seconds of quarter, including a 48-footer at the buzzer. Allen finished the game with 19 points off the bench.
Despite the offensive surge, the Heat couldn’t hold off the Sixers in the final 12 minutes.
“We went into the fourth quarter up nine points and scored 45 points in the third quarter, that’s usually a game that we win,” Haslem said. “We go back and look at the film and see what happened in the fourth and breakdowns and we’ll correct. It’s still the second game of the year and we still have a lot of room for improvement on both ends of the floor.”