Both teams split their four meetings in the regular season, though there wasn’t much to take away from those meetings because both teams had players missing for those meetings.
It won’t be much different to begin the anticipated second-round affair, with Joel Embiid’s and Kyle Lowry’s injuries. Regardless, below, I identified four individual matchups that I am keeping an eye on for this series.
Without further ado, let’s jump into it!
HEAT OFFENSE v. SIXERS DEFENSE:
Bam Adebayo v. Sixers frontcourt
For the second straight series, the opposing team’s starting center — in this case, MVP-candidate Joel Embiid, who suffered an orbital fracture and a mild concussion in Game 6 versus Toronto — will not play in the first two games (at least) due to injury. That leaves ample opportunity for young center Paul Reed, plus DeAndre Jordan and small-ball fives Georges Niang and Tobias Harris. Though he was his typical dominant self defensively, Adebayo didn’t have the best offensive series against Atlanta. He averaged 12.4 points on 8.4 shots, including 8.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists on 52.4 percent shooting. He will need to be more a factor in this series, especially against this makeshift frontcourt rotation.
Jimmy Butler v. Tobias Harris:
Butler saw Harris the most in their three meetings this season. According to NBA.com’s matchup tracking data, Harris defended Butler on 77.9 partial possessions, the fifth-most amongst any Butler defender throughout the regular season. Butler went 3-for-11 against Harris, scoring 10 points, adding two assists with zero turnovers. I personally thought Harris had a good two-way series against the Raptors. Meanwhile, Butler is likely to return in Game 1 after sitting out Game 5 with right knee soreness, so he’s had extended rest. I would bet my bottom dollar that Harris will be matched up against Butler a fair share throughout the series, and I’m very interested to see if this limited regular season sample holds up.
SIXERS OFFENSE v. HEAT DEFENSE:
Tyrese Maxey v. Gabe Vincent:
Maxey had his way against Vincent during the regular season, scoring 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting in 37.1 partial possessions. With Embiid’s abrupt injury, I think Maxey will be Philadelphia’s X-Factor. With his length and physicality, Vincent visibly frustrated Trae Young at points during the first round; he will have to be more cautious at the point-of-attack with Maxey, who’s one of the quickest guards in the league with the ball in his hands.
James Harden v. PJ Tucker:
Miami’s occasionally stashed PJ Tucker on perimeter guards because of the switch capability with Adebayo in the pick-and-roll; most recently, did it in the first round with Trae Young-Onyeka Okongwu/Clint Capela. Tucker held his own against Young, and now he’s likely going to be tasked against an older, slower Harden. With Embiid’s injury, I’m not sure how much how often they’re going to spam the Harden/(Insert big here) pick-and-roll. One thing is certain: Miami’s going to throw a slew of bodies at Harden, like they did with Young. Tucker will be one of them. The two are familiar with one another, having played in Houston together, and Tucker’s not going to give an inch. All Tucker has to do is don’t gamble and stay out of foul trouble.
Which matchup are you looking out for? Comment below!