Maxey hearing all about not ‘floating away' ahead of Sixers-Heat series


MIAMI — The first impression with Tyrese Maxey is always that he wants the ball, savors the spotlight, and trusts he can handle any situation.

While that’s indeed the gist of who Maxey is, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers thinks the 21-year-old still tends to be too peripheral.

“There’s times in the Toronto series where he was floating away, and we would have to run something,” Rivers said Sunday. “And after the game you’d tell him, ‘I should never have to run something to get you involved.’ Every great player, you can put him on any team and you don’t have to run one set. He’s going to end up with the ball 20 times. He’s just going to go get it and find his way. And that’s his next step.”

The Sixers will start their second-round series against the Heat on Monday night without their unquestioned No. 1 star. Joel Embiid is sidelined by a right orbital fracture and concussion, and so the team plans to feature its other All-Star heavily.

James Harden will conduct plenty of the Sixers’ offense, but the 32-year-old has also shown he cares about vocally reinforcing Rivers’ messaging with Maxey.

“He’s talented, and he just wants to go out there and do the right thing all the time,” Harden said Sunday of Maxey. “So I feel like it’s my job to help him. You can tell with his facial expressions when he looks a little confused or things aren’t going great. I just tell him, ‘It’s a long game, it’s a long course. You’ve just got to stay with it. You’ve got to stay in attack. Even if you feel like they’re trapping you or you feel like you can’t get into the paint, press the issue a little bit more, and things will open up for you.’

“He’s had slow starts, and he continues to build confidence and turns it up in the second half. We’re going to need that from him for the full game every game.”

Harden is right that Maxey has often saved his most thrilling basketball for after intermission. His 28-point performance in the Sixers’ shorthanded March 21 win against the Heat included an and-one layup, two three-pointers, and a game-sealing chase-down block over the final two minutes and 18 seconds. He was fantastic in the third quarter of the Sixers’ close-out victory Thursday in Toronto, finishing the night with 25 points and eight assists.

Maxey took a career-high 12 threes. His most in one year at Kentucky was seven, and it sounds unlikely he ever topped 12 before college.

“They’ve been telling me, ‘When you’re open, shoot the ball.’ Joel, James and everyone on the team has been telling me that,” Maxey said before the Sixers’ shootaround Monday at FTX Arena. “But 12 threes … my dad said to me after the game, ‘Son, you’ve never shot 12 threes in a game.’ I said, ‘Dad, I don’t know.’ I was trying to help us win, that’s really it.”

Like Maxey, fellow second-year Sixer Paul Reed is learning on the fly and aiming to maintain an aggressive approach.

Reed did say, however, that he’ll “dial it back” if he gets into foul trouble. That’s a more valid concern now with Embiid out and Reed among the players whose minutes could rise. Rivers hasn’t declared a replacement for Embiid and labeled the Sixers’ approach “center by committee,” but he hinted Saturday that Reed would get significant time next to the team’s usual starters.

“I’m prepared,” Reed said Monday. “I talk to James a lot and we’ve got a little system now. … We know what to do when they’re switching. We know what to do. It’s really a read. We’ve got to read the defense, see how they’re going to play us, and that’s how we’ll make our adjustments.”

Typically, zone defense is one predictable part of the Heat’s game plan against the Sixers.

If they don’t respond well, Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra will use a lot of it. But Maxey seems determined not to fade or float against any scheme.

“Just trying to attack the gaps,” he said. “Attack the gaps and get into the paint. We can’t stand and hold the ball; that’s what zones want. That’s what you like the opposing team to do with zone, is stand, hold the ball, and pass it around the perimeter, because that makes the zone easy.

“So we’ve got to attack the paint — get into the paint, penetrate, kick out to our shooters, and (get) lob dunks and different things like that, and we’ll be OK.”

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