MIAMI – As big as Tuesday's game was — and it was huge — Thursday night's battle with the Miami Heat meant more to the 76ers.
"We're fighting for a playoff spot," Joel Embiid said at the team shootaround Thursday morning. "So this game actually means a lot. That's the type of game we want to win."
Well, they didn't, losing, 108-99, at AmericanAirlines Arena.
In the process, the Sixers (35-29) blew a huge opportunity two nights after posting a rare road victory against the Charlotte Hornets. That victory against the struggling Hornets provided a confidence boost for players who went into that game losers of seven of their last nine road games.
However, the good feeling evaporated 48 hours because of another blown opportunity away from home against a playoff-caliber foe. The Eastern Conference's sixth-place Sixers have now won just three of their last 11 road games. Their last five road losses were against the Eastern Conference's playoff-caliber teams. They lost to the seventh-place Heat twice ( Thursday and Feb. 27). Before that, the Sixers suffered losses at the eight-place Milwaukee Bucks (Sunday),the fourth-place Washington Wizards (Feb. 25) and the fifth-place Indiana Pacers (Feb. 3).
"It's the same things," Embiid said of losing to playoff-caliber teams. "Turning the ball over, not playing like we usually do."
This one really hurt the Sixers, who committed 18 turnovers. That's because the Heat (35-31) are one game behind them in seventh place. The conference's top eight teams at the end of the regular season advance to the playoffs.
A victory would have given the Sixers a three-game lead over Miami with 18 games remaining. It also would have given them a two-team tiebreaker should they finish with the same record. However, things will get interesting if that happens, The teams are tied, 2-2, in the season series.
Embiid looked sluggish for the third straight game.
As a result, he had no answers for Hassan Whiteside.
The Miami center had a game-high 26 points on 9-for-12 shooting. He also finished with eight rebounds and two blocked shots. Both of his blocks came on Embiid shot attempts.
Whiteside dominated from the start, making his first four shots. His fourth basket gave the Heat a 14-7 cushion with 8 minutes, 6 seconds left in the first quarter. Whiteside went on to score nine of his points in the first quarter.
Embiid struggled as he did in his previous two games. He finished with 17 points and seven rebounds. However, he made only 5 of 18 shots and was hampered by foul trouble. Embiid ended up playing just 28:20 because he collected five fouls.
While Whiteside started off strongly, Embiid was poor from the start. He had eight points in the first half but made just 2 of 7 shots. The 7-foot-2 all-star appeared tired and didn't take advantage of his four-inch height advantage over Miami backup center Bam Adebayo. The dominating figure settled for jumpers instead of roaming the low post.
"Obviously, I was [bad]" Embiid said. "I took too many jump shots, missed a lot of them.
"I just was trying to do everything to help the team win, but obviously wasn't enough."
Things got a little testy between the two centers with 9:11 left in the third quarter. Whiteside blocked Embiid's shot. Then he shoved Embiid in the back as the two appeared to get tangled up. The officials called a double foul. Whiteside also received a technical for his actions. Embiid had to leave the game because of picking up his fourth foul.
Embiid didn't think he touched his opponent.
Whiteside "tried to hit me in the back, which is kind of dirty because of the fact that I've had back problems," he said. "So we're going to see about that. I won't forget about that."
Embiid went on say that Whiteside "hits really soft, so I didn't feel anything. But just the action of him trying to like do that I think is pretty messed up."
Whiteside was asked about his rivalry with the Sixers.
"I look [forward to] this," he said. "I will just let you know that."
He came back at the start of the fourth quarter, but he had to leave with 8:03 left. Embiid reentered the game with 5:44 left and his team down, 89-81. He didn't make much of a difference as the Heat went on to win nine points.
Dario Saric paced the Sixers with 20 points and a game-high 10 rebounds to go with six turnovers. He made 4 of 7 three-pointers. Redick added 18 points while making 4 of 6 three-pointers. Ben Simmons (10 points, eight assists, eight rebounds, five turnovers) and reserve Marco Belinelli (14 points) were the Sixers' other double-figure scorers.
Robert Covington had one of his worst games as a Sixer. He missed all 10 of his field goals — including five threes — en route to finishing with three points. All this came two days after finishing with 22 points while making 5 of 9 three-pointers.
"There wasn't anything wrong with it," he said of his shot. "It just wasn't falling. They all felt good. So it's just a matter of they just didn't go in."