Heat, 76ers brace for another close encounter

When the Philadelphia 76ers visit the Miami Heat on Thursday night, it should be another close game.

The 76ers and Heat have played three times this season, and each game was decided by six points or fewer. The 76ers won the first two matchups, both at home, by six and four points, respectively. The Heat won the most recent game, 102-101, on Feb. 27 at American Airlines Arena when Dwyane Wade hit the game-winning shot.

Now the teams return to that same venue for the final game of their season series, and it’s an important event as both teams are battling for playoff seeding in the Eastern Conference. The Heat (34-31) are tied for seventh with Milwaukee for the final playoff spots and the 76ers (35-28) are sixth.

Neither team is especially hot now.

The 76ers, after compiling a seven-game win streak, are 3-3 in their past six contests.

On Tuesday, however, they earned a road win, beating the Charlotte Hornets 128-114.

The 76ers are not a good road team at 15-18 this season, but have won two of their past three away from home, beating the Cleveland Cavaliers during that span, and are doing a nice job of sharing the ball.

Against the Hornets, the 76ers had 35 assists and shot 57.5 percent from the floor. Rookie point guard Ben Simmons nearly had a triple-double with 16 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds in 33 minutes.

“Some people want me to score more,” Simmons told the media when asked about his unselfish style. “But I try not to get caught up in what people say. I don’t have to be the guy who scores 30 points. I think what I’m really good at is finding guys. I think the best thing I can do is find my open teammates.”

Simmons did not try any 3-pointers against Charlotte, driving to the rack to make 8-of-9 from the floor. By penetrating the lane, that opened things for his teammates, too, and the 76ers shot 48.5 percent on 3-pointers.

Meanwhile, the Heat suffered a tough overtime road loss on Tuesday, falling 117-113 to a Washington Wizards team that is still without star point guard John Wall.

Miami had 26 assists and shot 45.2 percent from the floor, including 27.3 percent on 3-pointers.

The Heat are missing guard Wayne Ellington, who is a reserve but also one of the best three-point specialists in the game. He has not played since the last meeting with the Sixers and in four games without Ellington, Miami is shooting 32.6 percent from 3-point range.

“We’re going to push him in this next workout and see how he responds (on Wednesday night),” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told the media.

With Ellington questionable to return for the 76ers game, the Heat will have to go with what it has, most notably Goran Dragic matched up with Simmons at point guard and Miami center Hassan Whiteside batting 76ers counterpart Joel Embiid.

The wing shooters will be important with Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Wade doing most of the heavy lifting for Miami. On the other side, JJ Redick is one of the league’s best perimeter shooters, and Robert Covington is coming off a 22-point game at Charlotte that included 5-of-9 on 3-ponters.

Miami has won the last six times it has faced the 76ers at home, and that trend could continue. But this series has been a wild rollercoaster ride this season.

In the first game, the 76ers blew a 28-point lead but held on 103-97 on Feb. 2.

In the second game Feb. 14, Miami blew a 24-point lead and lost 104-102 as Wade missed what would’ve been a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Back in Miami on Feb. 27, Wade got his revenge as he made the late, go-ahead jumper for a 102-101 lead, and Redick missed a potential game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer.

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