Analysts around the league may expect the Philadelphia 76ers to be one of the league's worst teams, but for at least one night, they're the kings of the NBA. Faced up against the defending champions in their season opener, the supposedly tanking Sixers pulled off a stunning upset of the Miami Heat at home, 114-110.
After bursting out to a seemingly impossible 26-4 lead roughly halfway through the first quarter, it seemed the Sixers were destined for a rude awakening during the remainder of the game, but the Heat's unsurprising rally hit a snag in the fourth quarter.
Leading 33-14 after 12 minutes, the 76ers fell apart over the next two quarters and got outscored, 80-52, which put LeBron James and company up by nine points entering the final period. Given the direction things were heading, one reasonably would've assumed the young Sixers would back off as the experience-hardened Heat ran away with things.
Not so, as the 76ers kept things close for the first six minutes of the fourth quarter before bursting into action with a comeback effort unheard of for a team supposedly trying to lose games. While young guys like Evan Turner, Michael Carter-Williams and Tony Wroten are expected to provide headaches throughout this season, Wednesday night showed why the franchise seems ready to hand over the keys in a rebuilding year.
Carter-Williams, the 76ers' first-round pick out of Syracuse, looked particularly impressive against Miami. While he entered the draft with huge questions surrounding his shot, the rookie knocked down 4-of-6 attempts from beyond the arc Wednesday as part of an absurdly well-rounded performance -- 22 points, 12 assists, nine steals and seven rebounds.
Those nine steals by Carter-Williams are a league record for a player making his NBA debut.
The other unheralded guys on Philly were similarly great Wednesday. Turner, the disappointing former No. 2 pick, delivered on his promise with 26 points, five assists and four rebounds. Big man Spencer Hawes added 24 points and nine rebounds in just 29 minutes of action.
The Heat got some similarly great performances from their usual cast of characters, such as LeBron James (25 points, 13 assists) and Chris Bosh (22 points, 10 rebounds), but it just wasn't enough on a night when the 76ers hit nearly 54 percent of their shot attempts.
All things considered, this is probably the peak of the 76ers' season, one that should still include a plethora of losses even after surprising the defending champions on opening night. But for the folks projecting seriously ugly results all year in Philly, Wednesday's game is a sign that things won't be all doom and gloom. Let's just assume that Riggin' for Wiggins is still the gameplan, though.