The NBA concluded its regular season on Wednesday, and now all the focus shifts to the playoffs. The Philadelphia 76ers are the hottest team in the league as the post-season begins. They are the first team in NBA history to head into the playoffs on a 16-game winning streak. Philadelphia has climbed all the way up to the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. The No. 6 seed Miami Heat will be waiting to match up with them in the first round. The 76ers ended the regular season 52-30, while the Heat finished 44-38. On Saturday, these two will begin their first-round series in the City of Brotherly Love.
Philadelphia 76ers vs. Miami Heat Series Preview
Sixers coach Brett Brown guided this franchise through their “process” and he is now able to reap the rewards of his hard work. This franchise and its fans suffered through a long stretch of losing and gathering high draft picks, hoping this is where they would end up. Just two years ago, this team won only 10 games. In the 2017-18 campaign, they have finally been able to keep their best players healthy. Finally, some of those high draft picks are becoming stars. Now, they are a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference.
The Philadelphia 76ers’ Dynamic Duo
Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons form as unique and talented a duo as there is in the NBA. Embiid is a combination of new and old school. He has the skill, size, and power to be dominant in the post, but he can also venture out to the perimeter. For the season, the big man is averaging 22.9 points, 11 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game. He made his first All-Star appearance this season and has proven that when healthy, he is one of the best big men in the game. Health is the key; he has missed the last several games and is likely to miss Game 1 of this series due to injury.
After sitting out all of last year, Simmons is having a stellar rookie campaign. He is playing at his peak currently, averaging a triple-double during the team’s 16-game win streak.Â While his scoring ability is still a work in progress, his ability to affect the game in multiple other areas is unquestioned. Simmons averaged 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 8.2 assists per game. At 6’10”, he is a difficult match-up for other point guards. His court vision, ball handling, and passing ability stand out. Simmons is adept at getting into the lane and then kicking the ball out the 76ers’ multitude of shooters. Both of Philadelphiaâs stars are skilled and willing passers, which has helped this team stay balanced all season. Seven players average double-figure scoring numbers for the Sixers.
The Miami Heat are a walking embodiment of the sum being greater than its parts. They are also a testament to Erik Spoelstra‘s coaching ability. After a few seasons of having LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh at his disposal, he has now proven he is adept at doing more with less. This team has no star player but finds its success in its balance, execution, and effort. Eleven players on this roster average between seven and 17 points a game. This depth and balance allow Spoelstra plenty of flexibility with his lineups. Goran Dragic made his first All-Star team this season, and he leads the offense with 17.3 points and 4.8 assists per night. Hassan Whiteside anchors the defense in Miami, controlling the paint with 11 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game.
Markelle Fultz has returned to the 76ers lineup after missing 68 games with injury. He went through a highly scrutinized rehab process for his shoulder injury. There was even talk of shutting him down for the rest of the season. He has been a bit up and down since his return, but ended his rookie season with a triple-double against the Milwaukee Bucks. If he can play close to the potential that made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft, the 76ers could make a deep playoff run. Much like Simmons, he has issues with his perimeter scoring ability. He can, however, break a defense down with his ball handling and athletic ability, and find open teammates for good looks.
The Heat are not on the same level as the Sixers in terms of pure talent. However, they have a huge advantage in playoff experience, both in terms of coaching and playing. They will need to lean on this advantage if they want to spring an upset. Spoelstra has won multiple NBA titles as a coach. Players like Dwyane Wade and Kelly Olynyk have experienced recent playoff success. The Heat will hope that this edge will help overcome the talented but extremely young team from Philly.
Player Match-Up to Watch
Joel Embiid vs. Hassan Whiteside
These two players don’t like each other. They have frequently had words, both on the court and via social media. Embiid is a highly skilled scorer in the paint. Whiteside is a rim protector who takes tremendous pride on the defensive end. Lately, the NBA has largely moved to a three-point and guard-oriented league. However, this match-up of post players could be one of the most entertaining in the first round of the playoffs.
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