The Miami Heat will host the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of their second-round NBA Playoff series in South Beach Monday evening.
The biggest storyline heading into this matchup of Eastern Conference titans is the status of star Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid. The NBA MVP candidate suffered an orbital fracture of the eye and a concussion late in Philly’s Game 6 win over the Raptors. He could potentially return for Game 3 in Philadephia.
As for the Miami Heat, Jimmy Butler also sat out their series-clinching Game 5 win over the Hawks with a knee injury. These are among the four storylines for what promises to be an epic second-round matchup.
Philadelphia 76ers looking for more from James Harden
This former NBA MVP averaged a mere 19.0 points on 41% shooting in Philadelphia’s first-round win over Toronto. He scored 14, 15 and 19 points in three of the six games. The 76ers are going to need more from their star guard if they want to overcome the Embiid injury.
“I just have to be more aggressive. I’ve been doing this — I’m comfortable and have been doing this for a long time. Just taking what the defense gives me and being aggressive, and making the right decision once I get to that point. More floor spacing and more attacks to the basket. We just have to play free — free and with the ultimate confidence as a group.”Philadelphia 76ers’ James Harden on plan with Joel Embiid sidelined
This is going to be the biggest key for Philadelphia if its going to pull off a second-round upset. It won’t be easy taking on a Heat team that shut down fellow guard Trae Young in the first round of the playoffs.
Miami Heat rotation and Tyler Herro
Miami’s second-leading scorer during the regular season, Herro averaged a mere 12.8 points per game during the first round. He also shot just 18% from three-point range. That might work against a limited Hawks squad. But it’s not going to do against the 76ers and their defensive mentality.
It’s interesting. Veteran wing Victo Oladipo came through and logged big minutes over the final two games of the series after not seeing action in the first three games. He averaged 14.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists while seeing more minutes than Herro.
We’re aso intrigued to see how the Heat will make up for the loss of Kyle Lowry. He’s going to miss Game 1 with a hamstring injury that cost the All-Star point guard the final two games of the first round. In addition to Oladipo, wing Max Strus saw a ton of action. He started all five games in Round 1, averaging 14.0 points on 36% shooting from distance. These three will have to perform at a high level with Lowry sidelined.
Joel Embiid injury and impact on Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers series
It’s obvious how important Embiid is to the Sixers. Philadelphia was 6-8 in the 14 regular-season games he missed. The team boasted a 45-23 record when Embiid played. You’re not going to make up for his ability to score and dominate on the boards. It’s that simple.
- Joel Embiid stats (2021-22 regular season): 30.6 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 4.2 APG, 50% shooting
Embiid became the first center to win the NBA scoring title since all-time great Shaquille O’Neal during the 1999-2000 season. Again, you’re not going to make up for that.
What Philadelphia can do is go small ball to help create mismatches when star Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo is on the court. That includes Tobias Harris playing the small-ball five with the likes of Georges Niang, Paul Reed and Furkan Korkmaz seeing more action. Of the three, only Niang was a regular member of the rotation in the first round.
Unfortunately, Philadelphia is now seeing the impact of dealing Andre Drummond in the blockbuster James Harden for Ben Simmons swap. Who’d imagine that sentence written on May 1 when the trade was made back in February?
Jimmy Butler injury and the Miami Heat
As noted above, Jimmy Buckets missed Game 5 of the first round with right knee soreness. At first glance, it would seem to be concerning to the Heat. However, the fact that they had a 3-1 series lead against Atlanta likely played a role in Butler sitting out. With Game 1 slated for Monday, the All-Star seems to be ready.
“It’s all right. We got another day in between. Get out there, rip and ride. And I know it will be ready to hold up come Monday, but the time off has been great for myself and so many other guys that are nicked up. Everybody’s ready to compete.”Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler on injury, via ESPN
It goes without saying just how important Butler is for the Heat. The star wing missed 25 games during the regular season with Miami finishing 15-10 in those games. The team was 38-19 when he suited up. In Miami’s first-round series, the Heat were plus-59 when Butler was on the court. It was just plus-2 with him resting.
- Jimmy Butler stats (first round): 30.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.8 SPG, 54% shooting
Those are some absolutely absurd numbers right there. While Miami doesn’t need Butler to duplicate this success against his former Philadelphia 76ers team, it does need him as close to 100% as he’s going to get at this time of the year.