Sixers win gutsy game over Heat as Embiid and Maxey combine for 66

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Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) celebrates as the team pulls ahead of the Miami Heat during the last minute of the second half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, April 4, 2024, in Miami. The 76ers defeated the Heat 109-105. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

The Philadelphia 76ers traveled to Miami for a crucial game against the Heat. Winners of two straight, the Sixers had an opportunity to win three straight for the first time since Jan 16. The two Eastern Conference rivals entered the night sitting eighth and sixth in the standings, respectively.

In their first game back together since Jan 30, Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey picked up where they left off, once again proving themselves as one of the NBA’s top duos. The Sixers star tandem finished the night with a combined 66 points, leading the Sixers to a pivot victory by a final score of 109-105.

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Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) breaks away from Miami Heat forward Haywood Highsmith and forward Caleb Martin during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, April 4, 2024, in Miami. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

In his second game back, Joel Embiid still showed some signs of rust, but once again, he vastly exceeded expectations fit for a player two games back from a torn meniscus. Offensively, Embiid was particularly sharp in the first half, scoring 21 of his 29 points in the first two quarters of the game.

Come the second half, fatigue began to set in on both ends, but most problematic was that his defensive struggles went from bad to worse. While he showed off a new floater in this matchup, he also showed that his lateral quickness and stamina are still a ways off.

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Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) aims a three point shot as Miami Heat forwards Kevin Love (42) and Haywood Highsmith (24) defend during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, April 4, 2024, in Miami. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

That will likely come back in time, but it remains somewhat of a concern heading into the postseason. Embiid’s performance was far stronger than his -19 box +/- would indicate. Even still, this was a strong ramp-up performance, and breeds hope for a postseason run.

Tyrese Maxey’s strong performance against a tough Miami squad was even more encouraging. After missing the Sixers’ last two games, Maxey came storming back with a vengeance, finishing the night with 37 points, nine rebounds, and 11 assists.

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Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey (0) dribbles the ball as Miami Heat forwards Duncan Robinson (55) and Haywood Highsmith defend during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, April 4, 2024, in Miami. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Finishing just one rebound short of his first-ever triple-double, Maxey was the biggest star in South Beach on Thursday night. With five games remaining in the regular season, the Sixers will need him to keep up this level of play to work their way up the Eastern Conference ladder.

The Sixers are just half a game behind Miami for the seventh seed and one game back of Indiana for the sixth seed. According to Tankathon’s remaining schedule strength calculator, Philadelphia boasts the easiest remaining schedule in the entire NBA. The time for a push is now.

Up next for the Sixers

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Paul Reed, right, struggles for a loose ball against Memphis Grizzlies’ GG Jackson during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia will next travel to Memphis for a matchup against the Grizzlies. The first of a back-to-back, it will be interesting to see if the Sixers rest Embiid during one of the matchups or if they try to power through to prep their star for the playoffs.

Tip-off is at 8:00 p.m., and you can catch the game on NBC Sports Philadelphia or listen live as walkways at 97.5 FM The Fanatic.