Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Philadelphia zones out against Miami, Heat snap Sixers home winning streak. Brett Brown has done the self-scouting on his Sixers team, he knew this day was coming. Think about the Sixers’ biggest offensive strengths — Joel Embiid in the post, the slashing game of Ben Simmons getting to the rim — and the strategy becomes obvious and logical:
Play a zone defense.
A packed-in 2/3 zone that makes it hard to get Embiid the ball in the post and takes away Simmons’ driving lanes. Dare the Sixers to shoot over the top of the zone and beat it. Other teams had tried this for a few possessions here and there against Philadelphia this season, but nothing steady.
Miami has been more of a zone team than most already this season. They have the length and athleticism to make a zone work at the NBA level, so long as the other team can’t shoot well from distance.
Starting in the second quarter Wednesday night, Miami broke out its zone, and Philadelphia struggled. A lot. Philadelphia’s offense had flowed in the first quarter (with their defense creating transition chances), but it slowed and became clunky. At the heart of the issue was the Sixers couldn’t shoot over the top of the zone and make the Heat pay — Mike Scott was 1-of-6 from three, Josh Richardson 3-of-10, Joel Embiid 1-of-5, and as a team the Sixers shot just 30.8% from deep.
The Sixers then let their offensive struggles impact their defense. In the words of Tobias Harris, the Sixers became “zombies.” Miami went on a 23-5 run to take the lead, stretched that out to as much as 16, then held on at the end to win 108-104. That gave Philadelphia its first home loss of the season after 14 wins.
Miami’s zone cut off a Sixers strength — Embiid post-ups — and exposed a weakness of reliable long-range shooters. The Sixers started to adapt by moving Embiid more to the high post, with some success (and they could have even more long term by getting Al Horford or Ben Simmons the ball at the nail and letting them initiate the offense) but it was too little, too late.
Philly has been good this season against the league’s best — even with this loss it is 6-3 against the team with the 10 top records in the league — but their weaknesses can be glaring at times. It’s a concern when looking ahead to potential playoff matchups.
Games like this — with Bam Adebayo going off for 23, Kendrick Nunn 26, and Jimmy Butler being the closer when needed — make it clear Miami is going to be a very tough playoff matchup. Miami is the team other top teams would like to avoid come the postseason, the Heat will be a very tough out (and a real upset threat).
2) Oklahoma City comes back from 20+ points down to win for the second straight game. Some teams play better with their backs against the wall. Oklahoma City appears to be one of those teams.
Monday night, the Thunder stormed from 26 down against Chicago — with Chris Paul taking over late — to get a 109-106 win.
Wednesday night, the Thunder got down 24 to the Grizzlies but stormed back behind 22 second-half points off the bench by Dennis Schroder to get a 126-122 win.
They are the 2nd team in the last 20 seasons to overcome a 20-point deficit in back-to-back games, joining the Pacers on Jan. 11 and Jan. 13, 2010. pic.twitter.com/kioU3T8Gmi
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 19, 2019
That’s not a sustainable way to keep picking up wins, but they count just the same.
Phoenix may want to plan for how to handle the OKC guards if the Suns race out to a lead Friday night.
3) Two reasons the Knicks hiring David Blatt should concern Knicks fans. Steve Mills played basketball at Princeton, and there he was teammates with Craig Robinson and David Blatt. All three played under legendary Princeton coach Pete Carril, and all three went on to careers in basketball.
Mills is the president of the Knicks basketball operations and — hot seat or no — he still has power. He had already hired Robinson, and on Wednesday he hired Blatt — the former Cleveland Cavaliers coach — as a consultant.
In a vacuum, this move is fine. Blatt knows basketball, he may not have the personality and temperament to coach NBA players, but he has a long track record of success in Europe and he understands the game. Adding another smart voice to the front office mix is generally a good thing.
Two key things should concern Knicks fans with this hire. (And that assumes that Blatt never comes down from the front office to coach this team, or it would be three things to be concerned about.)
First, this is a very insular hire, when what the Knicks need is someone outside the box. One of the issues with Mills is that he was the guy with the power before Phil Jackson and the one with the hammer after Jackson left — the Knicks never shook things up. It was always insular, comfortable, safe moves. Mills, as president, just hired a guy he knows well and comes from the same coaching tree. It’s a move that backs the status quo, and is this status quo where the Knicks want to be?
Second, this hire shows Mills still has juice in the organization and may be around a while. For all the talk of Mills being on the hot seat and a fascination in the front office with Masai Ujiri (or other high-level replacement), this not a move ownership okays if the plan is to show Mills the door anytime soon. Even if the plan is to get a new POBO this summer, is this a hire ownership signs off on.
It’s the kind of move that makes it feel like Mills (and GM Scott Perry) are going to be around a while. A long while. Things change fast in Madison Square Garden, but for now the winds of change are not sweeping through the building.