The Miami Heat square off with the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round of the NBA playoffs. Despite injuries to key players on both sides, this matchup has the star power and history to make for must-see television.
Miami Heat vs. Philadelphia 76ers – NBA Playoffs Preview
The Miami Heat made quick work of the Atlanta Hawks, completing the ‘gentleman’s sweep’ and eliminating Trae Young and company in five games. Miami was able to do this without Kyle Lowry, who missed the final two games of the series and remains day-to-day at the time of writing. The Heat played stifling defense throughout the series. Atlanta’s offense runs through Young, who the Heat were able to keep clamps on for the majority of the series.
The 76ers took a much more entertaining path to the second round, at least for us fans. Led by the stellar play of Joel Embiid, the 76ers jumped out to a 3-0 series lead and looked primed to get some rest before round two. Philadelphia fans began to sweat after back-to-back losses to the Raptors, especially after a game five letdown that sent the series back to Toronto. Coach Doc Rivers was clearly agitated by questions of yet another ‘collapse’ from one of his teams. Perhaps his players felt that agitation as well because they came out and put a whooping on the Raptor in front of the Toronto faithful.
Sadly, this win would come with a major cost. Embiid would catch an elbow with four and a half minutes left in the game. This elbow caused a concussion and fractured orbital bone that will guarantee Philly’s MVP candidate will be out for at least the first two games of the second round. What’s worse, is the fact that this injury was incurred while the 76ers were protecting a 29-point lead. To be clear, there was no good reason for Embiid, or any starter for that matter, to be in the game at that point.
If both sides were at full strength, the 76ers would hold an advantage here. We all know what Embiid brings to this offense and his absence will be felt early on in this series. In those early games, Philadelphia will look to second-year man Paul Reed to take over at center, with Deandre Jordan and Paul Millsap likely getting more minutes as well. Offensively, the 76ers will need to see more from Tobias Harris. Danny Green and George Niang round out the key frontcourt players for this group. In this series, as in every, the 76ers will count on these two to spread the floor by knocking down open threes off of dribble penetration from the guards. Without their workhorse in the paint, Philadelphia will likely turn to this more frequently.
Miami’s frontcourt is anchored by Bam Adebayo, who averaged a career-high 19.1 points in the regular season. Adebayo will defend the rim in the middle for the Heat, who generally have a smaller lineup surrounding the big man. Forward PJ Tucker is currently struggling with a calf issue and is listed as day-to-day. If healthy, Tucker will match up with Harris most often. This could be a key factor in the series and is something to keep an eye on throughout the series. Of course, the biggest star in Miami’s frontcourt is small forward Jimmy Butler. Butler, who is currently battling a knee injury, has a history with the 76ers. The six-time all-star is averaging a team-high 30.5 points per game in the playoffs and could be motivated to put on a show against his former team.
This could change in game three or four, but as the rosters currently stand, give the advantage to south beach in this category.
Advantage: Miami Heat
James Harden will be asked to carry the load offensively for the 76ers during the first two games in Miami. Harden will hope to replicate his game six efforts, scoring 22 points and assisting on 15 baskets in the clinching effort. He won’t be asked to carry it alone as young guard Tyrese Maxey continues to impress fans around the league with his improved play. Maxey is currently second on the team with an average of 21.3 points per game. If Harden takes the facilitator role, it could very well be Maxey’s point numbers that jump during Embiid’s absence. Reserve guards Matisse Thybulle and Shake Milton could see more minutes in this new rotation as well.
Miami is incredibly deep in the backcourt. When healthy, this team has six guards that they can count on to give them quality minutes. How many teams in recent memory can we say that about? As it stands, the Heat have some questions to answer. The first is the hamstring of Lowry. Lowry is officially ruled out for game one. Gabe Vincent should again step into the starting role which worked out well against Atlanta. In that series, Vincent’s numbers nearly mirrored Lowry’s. The second-year guard will be joined by Max Strus, who has averaged 14 points per game in the playoffs.
Tyler Herro will continue to get major minutes off of the bench. Victor Oladipo and Duncan Robinson will provide scoring off the bench. Robinson may only be averaging 7.2 points per game so far, but the sharpshooter is making 52% of his threes. Oladipo has averaged 14.5 points in his two games this postseason.
Even with the injury to Lowry, the Heat’s depth gives them a slight edge here as well.
Advantage: Miami Heat
Coaching and Intangibles
Let’s start by acknowledging that both of these teams feature all-time playoff greats on their bench. Many have called out coach Rivers’ inability to close out a playoff series, but Doc is also fourth all-time in playoff wins with 102. Four spots behind him, you’ll find Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who has 89 such victories to his name. Both of these guys know what it takes to win at the highest levels in NBA. One could make an argument for either coach having an advantage here. I’m leaning toward Spoelstra for a few collective reasons. Pat Riley is at his side, along with player-coach Udonis Haslem. Laugh at that if you want, but having a guy on your bench with over 1,000 games under his belt is essentially having an additional assistant coach.
Advantage: Miami Heat
Final Prediction: Miami Heat in Six
Harden comes out early with something to prove, helping the 76ers steal one of the first two games. Embiid comes back and that momentum propels Philadelphia to another win. Unfortunately for them, the defense and depth of the Miami Heat will be too much to handle.
Embed from Getty Images