Julius Erving rang a miniature Liberty Bell in a pregame ritual at mid-court. Then the Heat had its bells rung by Dr. J’s old team, which bears no resemblance to the good ones the Hall of Fame legend once played for.
The 76ers own the worst record in the Eastern Conference.
But on a Monday night when Hassan Whiteside ruled the court with his singular presence, the Heat as a team came up empty, dropping a 101-94 decision at Wells Fargo Center to halt a two-game win streak.
Whiteside finished with a career-high 32 points, and still it wasn’t enough. He hauled in 12 rebounds. But it didn’t matter.
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Other than Whiteside and Dion Waiters, the Heat received precious few contributions elsewhere from its lineup or bench. Josh Richardson and Goran Dragic, in particular, were ineffective, combining to make only five of their 24 field-goal attempts. Richardson was 0 for 10 from the field before sinking a meaningless three-pointer in the waning seconds.
“To have only one player, he was really dominating,” Dragic said of Whiteside. “We need more. We didn’t shoot the ball well. We got the good looks, but we couldn’t connect.”
Whiteside made 13 of his 19 shots. The rest of the Heat went 21 for 69.
Coach Erik Spoelstra shrugged off the poor shooting. He was mainly unhappy with the defense, which allowed the Sixers to knock down 47 percent of their shots to the Heat’s 38 percent.
It was tied 91-91 with 3 1/2 minutes to play. That’s when the 76ers went on a 10-0 run to put the game away.
“It looked like it was going to be a possession game going down the stretch, and they turned it into something that wasn’t,” Spoelstra said. “Going down the stretch, defensively, that’s not going to be enough if we’re shooting under 40 percent.”
The Heat was unsure whether Waiters would play because of a groin injury that Spoelstra said during Monday’s morning shootaround had continued to worsen. But Waiters hails from Philadelphia, had bought some 100 tickets for friends and family, and was on the court for the opening tip. He scored six of the Heat’s first eight points with a pair of threes.
It was Whiteside, though, who led the charge early, scoring 13 first-quarter points to go with five rebounds while also defending Sixers center Joel Embiid, Philadelphia’s top scorer and rebounder. It was a sign of things to come for Whiteside.
While the Heat led for most of the first half, its shots stopped falling in the second quarter. Miami made just four of its 20 shots, allowing the Sixers to gradually chip away until a Robert Covington layup five seconds before the half gave Philadelphia a 46-45 lead.
Outside of Whiteside and Waiters, who had 19 points, the Heat received scant help elsewhere.
Dragic and Richardson struggled on the offensive end, Richardson, especially.
“Offensively we were struggling,” Whiteside acknowledged. “We got some good looks, shots that guys normally make. They didn’t drop. It happens.”
Spoelstra wasn’t that concerned with the poor shooting, either.
Dragic said it was particularly disturbing since Whiteside played so well.
“It’s a team sport,” Dragic said. “But of course we want him to win those games so he can enjoy those big performances like he had tonight.”