Philadelphia 76ers at Miami Heat game preview
TV: FOX Sports Sun
Time: Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.
MIAMI — There’s dysfunction with the New York Knicks, bickering between the Chicago Bulls and controversy with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But it’s all love right now with the Miami Heat (20-30), who have won nine straight games — the longest active streak in the NBA — and are set to play host to the Philadelphia 76ers (18-30) on Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
There’s so much love in Miami that help was quickly on the way Tuesday night after Heat center Hassan Whiteside was violently thrown done by Atlanta Hawks forward Taurean Prince after the two wrestled for a rebound.
Two of Whiteside’s teammates — James Johnson and Dion Waiters — rushed over to shove Prince. Johnson and Prince were ejected, and Waiters was issued a technical foul.
Johnson, who was the first to arrive on the scene, is a former mixed-martial arts fighter who holds a second-degree black belt and carries a massive frame of 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds.
“Honestly, I don’t think I can beat everybody up,” Johnson told reporters after Tuesday’s win over the Hawks. “But I’ll take my chances in that situation.
“We’re building something here. (Prince) was being aggressive and physical. Whiteside went down, and that’s all I remember after that.”
Johnson doesn’t need to remember the rest. The NBA world saw what happened — Johnson, Waiters and the rest of the Miami players issued a nonverbal warning:
“Don’t mess with the Heat.”
The league seems to be getting the message. With a victory over the Sixers on Saturday, the Heat would tie the Houston Rockets for the second-longest win streak in the NBA this season. The Golden State Warriors, with 12, have the longest run of the season.
Ironically, the Heat have beaten both the Rockets and the Warriors during this win streak that started with Miami drowning at 19 games under .500.
The life raft came mainly from Miami’s starting backcourt: Goran Dragic at the point and Waiters on the wing.
Dragic, who is averaging 19.9 points this season, is scoring 23.3 per game during the streak. Waiters, who is averaging 15.4 this season, is scoring 21.6 per game during the streak. Waiters is threatening to blow past his career-high scoring average of 15.9 set in 2013-2014 with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The scoring of Dragic and Waiters has helped Miami put together its best streak in nearly four years. The Heat won 10 straight from November to December of 2013.
With a win over the Sixers, the Heat would also have the second-longest win streak in NBA history by a team that is still under .500. The 1996-97 Phoenix Suns set the mark with 11 straight below-.500 victories.
The chances for a win over the Sixers appear to be good given the fact that Philly will likely be without star rookie center Joel Embiid, who has a bruised left knee.
“I think it’s going to be a challenge,” 76ers coach Brett Brown told the media in response to a question about Embiid being healthy enough to face Miami. “We will know more in the next few days.”
It’s likely Embiid, who bruised his knee on Jan. 20 against the Portland Trail Blazers, will also miss Monday’s game at the Detroit Pistons.
“I’m just trying to take the team that is in our locker-room and move them along,” Brown said. “Joel would be a great addition if we do see him in Miami, but I’m not planning on that at all.”
In other Heat-Sixers story lines:
* Point guard Briante Weber, who was the last player cut by Miami in training camp, has signed a 10-day contract with the Golden State Warriors.
Weber, who has been playing for the Heat’s Development League team in Sioux Falls, leads that circuit with 3.2 steals per game. He’s also averaging 16.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists.
He was named the league’s Player of the Month on Tuesday, one day after he finished one steal short of what would have been the league’s first-ever quadruple-double.
* The Chicago Bulls are reportedly interested in trading for Sixers PF Jahlil Okafor, who is not a perfect fit in Philadelphia system built on athletic defenders who can also quickly transition on fast breaks.
Okafor, who is from Chicago, is averaging 11.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in 34 games.
* Sixers PF Dario Saric has 25 double-figure scoring games, which is third in the NBA among rookies. Embiid leads the category with 30 double-figure scoring games.
* Whiteside, who said on Tuesday he would pay Johnson’s fine when the belief was that he would be on the hook for $7,000, is keeping his word.
On Friday, the NBA fined Johnson and Prince an additional $25,000 each.
Whiteside said he would still pay the fine, and he can certainly afford it as he’s in the first of a four-year, $98 million contract. Johnson is playing on a one-year, $4 million contract.