‘Washed’ superstar faces ugly NBA truth

The question marks around James Harden’s value to the Philadelphia 76ers continues to burn as the Miami Heat beat the Joel Embiid-less Sixers 119-103 for a 2-0 lead in the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals.

The former MVP started the game brightly to lead the Sixers with 16 points in the opening half but he only had four more points for the rest of the game to finish with 20 points, nine assists and four rebounds.

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The trade for Harden brought along lofty expectations for the 76ers and their fans, and with Embiid’s facial injury, the former Houston Rockets star was expected to take on the lions share of the scoring in the opening two games.

But 21-year-old Tyrese Maxey has usurped the 32-year-old as the team’s first option, further complicating the team’s approach to Harden’s upcoming contract extension.

Maxey scored 34 points for Philadelphia, which got 21 from Tobias Harris, while Victor Oladipo scored 19 points on his 30th birthday and Tyler Herro added 18 for the Heat, the East’s No. 1 seed. Oladipo had 10 of those points in the fourth quarter.

A 10-0 run in the fourth turned an eight-point Miami lead into an 18-point edge, sealing the win and ensuring the Heat would hold home court before the series shifts north. Game 3 is Saturday (AEST) in Philadelphia.

And now, the Heat will hope history holds—and the 76ers will hope it doesn’t.

Miami has taken a 2-0 lead in 18 previous series, including the first round this season against Atlanta, and won the matchup every time. The 76ers’ franchise has dropped the first two games of a matchup on 19 other occasions, never recovering to win the series.

The question going into Saturday will revolve around whether Embiid could be ready for Game 3. The league’s scoring champion and MVP finalist has, not surprisingly, been big-time missed by the 76ers.

“We don’t have a big man right now,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers lamented.

Adebayo surely isn’t complaining. He was 8 for 10 from the field and 8 for 8 from the line in Game 1; he followed that up with a 7-for-11 night from the floor in game two.

It wasn’t just the absence of Embiid, though, that hurt Philadelphia. The 76ers were awful again from 3-point range, shooting 8 for 30.

Danny Green was 1 for 10 from the field — the second time in his playoff career that he had that many attempts and shot that poorly in a postseason game. The other? A 1-for-12 effort for San Antonio in 2013, also in Miami, the night the Heat won their third and most recent NBA title.

The Heat aren’t close to that yet. But they are two wins from the East finals.

TIP-INS

76ers: Harden got fouled on a 3-point try with 0.1 seconds left in the half, making all three free throws to get Philadelphia within 60-52 at the break. … Maxey got a cut on his right knee in the fourth quarter, the game stopping temporarily while the 76ers tended to him. He stayed in the game. … Georges Niang had another unusual stat line. He was 0 for 7 — all 3-pointers — in Game 1, then crowded out in 10 minutes of Game 2. It was the fourth-fewest minutes played all season by anyone who crowded out.

Heat: PJ Tucker turns 37 on Thursday. … It was the 497th consecutive sell-out announced by the Heat, tying Sacramento for the fifth-longest streak in NBA history. The record is held by Dallas, which has 864 consecutive sell-outs and counting. … Miami held a 44-34 rebounding edge.

PASSING PAT

With the win, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra’s postseason record improved to 91-59 (.607). Among coaches with at least 100 playoff games, he moved into fourth on the NBA’s win-percentage list behind only Steve Kerr (.732), Phil Jackson (.688) and Billy Cunningham (.629). The coach Spoelstra passed in winning percentage Wednesday night? That would be his boss, Heat President Pat Riley, who went 171-111 (.606).

KENTUCKY SOUTH

The Kentucky ties ran deep Wednesday night. Wildcats coach John Calipari was at Game 2 to see Herro formally receive the Sixth Man award. Other former Kentucky players on the Heat and 76ers: Adebayo, Maxey and Heat two-way player Mychal Mulder. And Riley played at Kentucky.

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