Sixers struggle against zone defense, drop first game at home to Heat



After handing the Heat a 27-point drubbing in their last matchup on Nov. 23, the Sixers had to know they were in for a fight.

They got just that in a thrilling 108-104 loss to Miami at the Wells Fargo Center Wednesday night, their first defeat at home this season. The Sixers got it to within two late, but Al Horford missed a three-pointer with four seconds to go.

It's the first time they've lost back-to-back games since Nov. 13 and 15 in Orlando and Oklahoma City. The loss drops them to 14-1 at home and 20-9 overall.

The Sixers stay at home for a matchup against the Luka Doncic-less Mavericks Friday (8 p.m./NBCSP).

Here are observations from the loss:

Not in the zone

With the Sixers’ size advantage and a lack of elite three-point shooting, Brett Brown figured his team would see zone this year. While they’ve seen it in spurts, nobody used it as much as head coach Erik Spoelstra did Wednesday — and it worked pretty darn well.

When the Heat first went to it, it looked like maybe it was a mistake as Tobias Harris drove baseline on an over-aggressive closeout by Meyers Leonard for a dunk. To Spoelstra’s credit, he stuck with it. Even as Harris was able to find a couple cracks and Furkan Korkmaz hit a couple corner threes, Miami stayed with the zone and it worked. The Heat outscored the Sixers 37-19 in the second to take a 56-48 advantage at halftime and wouldn’t relinquish it.

It forced the Sixers to settle for way more threes than they would like to take. While they’ve seen a recent uptick in their percentages, this is not a team that wants to live and die by the three. They went 5 of 22 from distance in the first half and finished just 12 of 39.

A mixed bag with size advantage

Just like in the first matchup between these two teams, the Sixers’ size bothered the Heat early. Joel Embiid was also able to snag eight rebounds in less than eight first-quarter minutes. The Sixers held Miami to just 19 points in the quarter.

Offensively, the Sixers were looking to take advantage of Ben Simmons’ size with whoever the Heat had guarding him. Simmons alertly went to the post and his teammates were making a concerted effort to get him the ball. It seemed like the game plan coming in and it worked until Miami switched to a zone. 

But the one area in which the Heat were able to do damage was with the pick-and-roll with either Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro or Kendrick Nunn as the ball handler and Bam Adebayo as the screener. Getting the Sixers’ bigs on the move seemed to be the priority and Adebayo punished them all night.

Needed more from star trio

Last Friday’s win over the Pelicans marked the first time Simmons, Embiid and Harris all scored 20-plus points in the same game as teammates. The Sixers could’ve used a little more from all three Wednesday.

Embiid was a beast on the glass (19 rebounds) but struggled from the field (20 points, 8 of 19) and perhaps gave Adebayo a little too much space on the defensive end. Adebayo finished with 21 and seemed to give Embiid problems all night. Embiid did come alive with 12 fourth-quarter points, but it just wasn't enough.

Harris looked like he might get going in the second quarter as he was the one player finding ways to penetrate the zone. But much like the Sixers as a team, Harris couldn’t get it going from outside, finishing 2 of 6 from three and just 7 of 16 overall for 20 points. Harris has been playing at a high level lately. Just a tough night in kind of a funky game.

Simmons wasn’t poor by any stretch, but it seemed like he could’ve done more to attack when Miami went zone. His unwillingness to shoot from the outside with any regularity didn’t help matters. He had 17 points, six assists and six rebounds.

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