The Sixers will face the top-seed Miami Heat in the second round of the NBA playoffs. Both teams are dealing with injuries, but none looms larger than Joel Embiid‘s orbital fracture. He is slated to miss the first two games of the series in Miami, but could return in Game 3 or 4. His status could very well determine the length and outcome of the series.
With so much uncertainty, it’s difficult to make concrete predictions. That said, we will do our best. Joining me to offer his perspective is my fellow contributor Jonathan Geib.
Sixers-Heat second round prediction: Christopher Kline
The Heat have the Sixers beat in depth, continuity, and coaching. The health battle is worth monitoring — Kyle Lowry will miss Game 1, while Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, and P.J. Tucker are all listed as questionable — but frankly, the Sixers’ chances rest largely on the shoulders of Joel Embiid. If he can’t get back sooner than later, the series will be over swiftly.
Until Embiid’s return, the Sixers will need to get creative. Doc Rivers should explore different small-ball options while catering to James Harden‘s unique playmaking acumen. The Sixers will have to sacrifice defense without Embiid, but good offense — and a fast pace — could help them offset the MVP candidate’s absence.
The issue with running the offense through Harden (and Tyrese Maxey) is that Miami is quite good at containing guards. Trae Young was just rendered invisible for five games, with Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, and P.J. Tucker heading a dynamic switch-heavy scheme. The Heat have players who can keep Harden out of the paint and irritate him on the perimeter. It will be up to Doc Rivers to scheme Harden into advantageous positions. He needs to target mismatches and get going downhill. If the Sixers just let Harden iso against the Heat’s best defenders, it will not end well.
Harden will have to be the Sixers’ best player if they want to win in Embiid’s absence. That doesn’t mean, however, that he has to be their leading scorer. Harden just has to be enough of a scoring threat to open up his passing game. The Sixers’ close-out victory over Toronto was a prime example: James scored 10 points in the first quarter, put pressure on the rim, forced Toronto to pay him more mind defensively, and then subsequently picked apart new weaknesses in the Raptors’ defense. He accumulated 15 assists, ended with 22 efficiently scored points, and looked every bit the second star Philadelphia needs.
Tyrese Maxey will probably be the Sixers’ leading shot-taker until Embiid’s return. He plays off of Harden well and their chemistry should be what Doc builds the offense around. Both will play 40+ minutes every game, so it shouldn’t be difficult to keep one on the floor at all times. Harden is the grizzled vet, Maxey is the shiny new sports car — he’s freakin’ fast and he can score at all three levels, while Harden does an excellent job of setting him up for success.
In the end — even with the prospect of Harden and Maxey leading a faster, looser offense — the Heat are still rightful favorites. Embiid’s absence leaves a gaping hole in Philadelphia’s roster that even James Harden cannot properly fill. There’s a good chance Miami waltzes to a 2-0 series lead before Embiid gets back, and even then, Embiid will be battling a thumb injury and a face mask that further impacts passing vision.
It’s hard to be optimistic given the circumstances…
Official pick: HEAT IN FIVE
Sixers-Heat second round prediction: Jonathan Geib
The Philadelphia 76ers closed out the Toronto Raptors on Thursday night with a 35-point thumping to win their first-round playoff series 4-2. After storming out to a strong 3-0 series lead, the Sixers did a 180 and played flat, unimpressive basketball, allowing the Raptors to get up off the canvas. Heading into the Sixers’ second-round playoff series with the Miami Heat, it is fair to wonder which Sixers team will show up.
Now there has obviously been breaking news over the weekend about Joel Embiid suffering an orbital fracture in Game. 6 that has him unavailable to play for at least the first two games of this series and potentially more. Embiid is already playing through a torn ligament in his right thumb and now he is doing his best to return swiftly from another injury which will likely cause him to wear a protective mask. Embiid is going to be the bionic man trying to single handedly will the 76ers to an NBA Championship
The reality of this situation though is that there are a lot of unknowns with Embiid’s timetable and the Sixers as constructed with Embiid out of the lineup are not able to beat the Miami Heat. If Joel was to be sidelined the whole series I would pick the Heat to win in 5 games.
On the other side of this matchup, the Heat are potentially the most underrated team in the NBA playoffs this season. If you listen to any media members across any sports distributor, you will think the Eastern Conference No. 1 seeded team is either the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks or Philadelphia 76ers, but never the Miami Heat. The lack of recognition and acknowledgement for a top seeded team that played the majority of the regular season with one or more of their starters injured is simply stunning.
Despite their impressive record and all-around quality team play, there are still concerns for this Heat roster. Jimmy Butler is a bucket, but it is well-known he rubs his teammates and coaches the wrong way, something visible in an on-court blowup with Eric Spoelstra and Udonis Haslem towards the end of the regular season. Additionally, both Butler and Kyle Lowry are dealing with injuries that kept them out of Miami’s series clinching win in Game 5 against the Atlanta Hawks. The seriousness of those injuries is yet to be fully seen.
The series determining factor starts and ends with the Sixers big man, Joel Embiid. If Harden and the shorthanded Sixers can steal a game in Miami and Embiid can return to play next Friday for Game 3 back in Philadelphia, I think the Sixers may just have a chance to eek this one out. (Insert Dumb and Dumber so you’re saying there’s a chance meme). The anxiety is like a heavy cloud hanging over the city of Philadelphia waiting to see if our Dark Knight can overcome every obstacle thrown his way, and carry this team to new heights. Let’s be optimistic and ride!
Official pick: SIXERS IN SEVEN