With both teams heavily incentivized to lose, last night’s Philadelphia 76ers-Miami Heat game got weird.
The players themselves didn’t try to lose the game on purpose (this never happens in the NBA, see: the Knicks), but the respective teams put their players in the worst possible position to win.
Last summer the Sixers acquired Miami’s top-10 protected 2015 first-round draft pick in a trade. If the pick is in the top 10, the Heat keep it. If it’s outside the top 10, the Sixers get it. With Miami sitting in 10th place going into the game, both teams had a chance to dramatically increase their odds of getting the pick by losing.
As Brandon Lee Gowton of Liberty Ballers put it after the game, “Both teams tanked pretty hard. In the end, the Sixers tanked harder and they lost.”
Miami won 105-101, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
Nerlens Noel, Philly’s team’s best player, didn’t play for the third-straight game. Either did Ish Smith, leaving the team without a true point guard. They played only seven guys in total.
The players who didn’t play took on coaching responsibilities. First-round pick Joel Embiid, who didn’t play all year because of a broken foot, was drawing up plays in the huddle:
Noel got in on the coaching action as well:
The AP wrote after the game, “[Sixers coach Brett] Brown let several of the bench players draw up plays in the huddle. Guard Jason Richardson joked the Sixers scored on all of his plays.”
Not to be outdone, the Heat benched the entire lineup that started Tuesday’s game against Orlando before they were eliminated from playoff contention. Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, Luol Deng, Chris Andersen, and Mario Chalmers were all voluntarily benched.
Not only that, they played the bench players the entire 48 minutes, Tom Ziller of SB Nation first pointed out, only making two substitutions the entire game:
Ultimately all this tanking was for nothing. Since the Brooklyn Nets beat the Orlando Magic, the Heat hung on to the 10th spot in the NBA Draft lottery and still have a 90.9% chance of keeping their pick despite the win (it would have been a 2.9% chance if they fell to the No. 11 spot).
But since the Nets-Magic game was happening at the same time, the Sixers and the Heat both tanked like their lives depended on it.
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