MIAMI (SportsDirect Inc.) — The Philadelphia 76ers recently spent some time as the hot Eastern Conference team pulling itself up out of the basement and making a run at a playoff spot, but that designation has shifted squarely to the Miami Heat.
The Heat will try to push their NBA-best winning streak to 10 straight games when they host the 76ers on Saturday.
Miami was just trying to stay clear of the Brooklyn Nets in the battle to avoid the basement a few weeks ago but is suddenly leaning on its defense and getting some scoring punch from shooting guard Dion Waiters as the winning streak grows.
“We’re not satisfied and we can’t be satisfied,” Waiters told reporters after Wednesday’s 116-93 win over the Atlanta Hawks. “We’ve got to keep going, man, and stay locked in.”
Philadelphia surged ahead of the Heat with wins in 10 of 13 games but has since dropped four of five and watched the offense scuttle to an average of 90.5 points in the first two stops of a four-game trip.
The 76ers took a 53-48 lead into the half at San Antonio on Thursday but managed only 33 points after the break and fell 102-86.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, CSN Philadelphia, FSN Sun (Miami)
ABOUT THE 76ERS (18-31): Philadelphia is dealing with a few key injuries and was without star rookie center Joel Embiid (knee) for the last four games. Embiid did not travel with the team for the Texas leg of the trip and is questionable for Saturday along with starting small forward Robert Covington (hand) and backup center Nerlens Noel (illness), both of whom missed Thursday’s setback. Ersan Ilyasova led the way with 26 points and 10 rebounds with those three out on Thursday, marking his third double-double in the last four games.
ABOUT THE HEAT (20-30): Waiters poured in 20 points on 9-of-15 shooting in Wednesday’s win and is averaging 21.6 points during the winning streak. The 25-year-old added seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks against the Hawks and is impressing on both ends of the court. “You can see his versatility. You can see just the skill level that he has,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters of Waiters. “He is unique in his ability to attack off the dribble, but he can also shoot the ball and defend. That’s the part we emphasize the most, to be able to defend, play-make, get other guys involved. And he’s been doing that.”
1. 76ers SG Gerald Henderson (hip) sat out Thursday and is day-to-day.
2. Miami PG Goran Dragic scored 20 or more points in each of the last three games and seven of the last nine.
3. Philadelphia took the first meeting 101-94 at home on Nov. 21 behind 22 points from Embiid.
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