The Philadelphia 76ers took down the best team in the Eastern Conference last night, defeating the Miami Heat 113-106 on the strength of Tyrese Maxey's 28-point night. It is hard to glean any concrete information from the possible postseason matchup because both James Harden and Joel Embiid were given the night off. The Sixers said Embiid was experiencing back soreness and Harden is still recovering from his hamstring issue that forced him to miss some games when he was in Brooklyn earlier this season.
Philly is approaching the stretch run of the regular season and saw this game as an opportunity to give their star duo a chance to rest because the Sixers were on the second night of a back-to-back and the Heat were one of the two teams ahead of the Sixers in the standings heading into the evening, so a potential loss wouldn't be that damaging. You can see the cold logic, even if there's a legitimate argument to be made that there is more value in seeing how Philadelphia matches up against the top team in the East so close to playoff time.
Tim Legler is less understanding and appeared on Get Up this morning to express his utter disgust at the Sixers resting their two stars for a marquee matchup with another elite team. Legler is especially disgusted at Harden, who has sat out both Heat games since joining the Sixers.
We won't get too deep into rehashing the whole "respect for the game and fans" aspect of the load management argument, but it was rather surprising to learn that Harden has missed both Heat games for that reason. It's probably just a scheduling quirk (both games in question were the second of back-to-backs) but there could be some level of strategy involved; Miami boasts one of the best and most versatile defenses in the NBA yet haven't had to try and guard both Harden and Embiid at the same time yet.
Of course, thinking that far ahead may yet spell Philly's doom. As things stand, the Sixers are the second seed in the East and wouldn't need to see Miami until the Conference Finals. It would probably be more useful to see how Harden and Embiid measure up to the Heat, but it's also far more important to have both of those guys as rested as possible heading into postseason play.
Legler doesn't care, though. He is angry that the Sixers would allow Harden and Embiid to do this. While he may be right, his pleas will continue to fall upon deaf ears. The playoffs are what matter, and nothing matters more in the playoffs for good teams than healthy superstars. If full strength regular season contests are the cost, so be it.