The Miami Heat and the Philadelphia 76ers tip-off their second-round matchup Monday at 7:30 p.m. EST on TNT, the first of what hopes to be an exciting seven-game series. This will be the third-time in history the two teams meet up in the playoffs, though Philadelphia got the best in Miami in their last playoff series, besting the Heat in five games in the first round in 2017-18.
Below, we conducted a roundtable to further examine the series, answering questions about our keys to victory, potential X-Factors, predictions and more!
1. Any pressing/random thoughts on the second round before we start?
Matt P: It’s a bummer that Joel Embiid is hurt because the Heat can beat them at full strength. But let’s stop pretending that anyone cares about injuries after it’s all said and done. No one discredits Kawhi for beating the Warriors without KD, and no one gave two cents that the Heat lost Bam and Dragic in the Finals. You play who is in front of you. Let’s go!
Naveen: This is more of a wide-scale view of the NBA, but it’s incredible how health and durability have become key factors in determining playoff success over the last decade or so. Miami fans should know this, with the haunting memories of injuries to Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo still fresh in their minds. On the flip side, Heat fans should also remember that Derrick Rose tore his ACL in the 2012 Playoffs, which back then was a major development for their title aspirations. This series is going to be tough, especially if Kyle Lowry misses a few games, but it’s no secret that Joel Embiid’s latest injury helps this team’s prospects of winning the series.
Matt Hanifan: All of these second-round matchups are a ton of fun and it’s shaping to be a very promising stretch run. But the injuries around the league aren’t fun — injuries suck!
Surya: Whether it’s because of injuries or that there is no team dominating the playoffs so far, but it really feels like the race is wide open and any of the teams left could win it all. So for the Heat it’s there for the taking if they continue to play at this high level and stay reasonably healthy.
2. With Embiid injured (get better soon, Joel!), what worries you most about the Sixers?
Matt P: This may sound odd, but now the Sixers basically get to play pressure-free. No one should expect them to win without Embiid, and so the playoff pressure is put solely on Miami. Without pressure, Maxey and Harden can just shoot, and they may get hot.
Naveen: The same player who worried me even before Embiid got hurt: Tyrese Maxey. Non-ball dominant quick point guards who can penetrate the paint, drill jumpers, and kick-out to open shooters, while also remaining effective off-ball have always given Erik Spoelstra’s defense issues. Think Tony Parker in those two Heat-Spurs finals. Maxey fits the same profile, and I think he’ll be much harder to guard than Trae Young.
Matt H.: The Sixers have bulletin board material; nobody outside of Philly is really giving them much of a chance in this series — especially with Embiid’s injury. The Sixers’ secondary scorers playing out of their mind with nothing to lose is my biggest worry.
Surya: Not too long ago I would say James Harden in his prime, but this Harden still remains dangerous, very savvy on how to work the game in his favor, and fully capable of exploding on offense. Even with Embiid not around, it won’t be as easy as it was against the Hawks when Miami’s defense could simply zero in on him. Between Harden and Maxey they have two dynamic scorers that can break down their defense and get others involved with their playmaking.
3. The Heat’s key to beating the Sixers is….
Matt P: Staying true to your identity. Philadelphia has enough guys that will make some shots with Harris, Green, Maxey, Harden, and Niang. Miami cannot be discouraged when they hit shots. The goal is to keep them out of the paint and force them to hit shots, not layups. If the Heat stay true to their identity, they are going to win.
Naveen: Discipline. They have to avoid sending James Harden and Embiid (when/if he returns) to the foul line. Their rotations need to be on-point. The defense can’t be lazy in transition. They must control the pace on offense and force Philadelphia to play their grind-it-out style. Games must be low scoring. When they get a large lead, they have to keep their foot on the gas pedal.
Matt H.: Staying out of foul trouble, which is low-hanging fruit. Harden, and Embiid (when he plays), will get to the free-throw line. That much is inevitable. The question is: Can Miami limit the frequency at which they foul everyone else? They play a more physical brand of basketball than Toronto, but did a decent job limiting the fouls during their regular season matchups.
Surya: Staying the course with how they’ve been playing when they win, not just on defense but also on offense when they are sharing the ball and playing in sync. I worry about how long Lowry will be out. Without their starting point guard (for now), if the ball sticks too much with Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, or even Victor Oladipo there won’t be enough flow on offense and there’s a chance they’ll endure lengthy scoring droughts.
4. Miami’s X-factor this series is….
Matt P: Gabe Vincent. The status of Kyle Lowry is still up in the air, and although we expect him back, that’s not certain. Vincent has haunted the Sixers with big games, and his defense on Harden and Maxey will be crucial. I don’t think his play swings a game, but it could. And Miami is a lot better when Gabe is making shots.
Naveen: Bam Adebayo. While Embiid is absent, Bam should have an effective series scoring in the paint. If he can get to the foul line consistently and get a smaller Philly lineup in foul trouble, that would be a massive boost for the Heat. His defense will be integral: first, to defend what will be a spread-out offense for Philadelphia without Embiid; and second, to eventually man the MVP candidate if he makes it back in the series.
Matt H.: Adebayo. Bam is going to see plenty of different bodies: Paul Reed, Tobias Harris, Georges Niang, James Harden and potentially DeAndre Jordan, among others. He didn’t have the most spectacular offensive series against Atlanta, though he was very active on the offensive glass in the final couple games. Look for him to impose his will on the interior throughout the series against a small Sixers team.
Surya: Without Embiid to go head-to-head (at least for now), it’s a huge opportunity for Adebayo to be the dominant force we all know he can be.
5. Miami will lose this series if…
Matt P: If Embiid returns and is dominant on both ends of the floor, the Heat can lose this series. He’s the one that they don’t have a great answer for in the half-court. They will make it hard, but the Heat don’t have someone who can stop him. If he’s dominant and the Sixers are making shots, the Heat will be in trouble.
Naveen: The 76ers’ bench shooters like Green, Niang, and Korkmaz are on-target from deep.
Matt H.: The Sixers’ shooters get hot and Miami shoots itself in the foot by getting into too much foul trouble.
Surya: Harden and Maxey are able to lead the Sixers to a road win early in the series and Embiid returns quickly and plays at an MVP level to help close it out.
6. Official prediction?
Matt P: Heat in 6.
Naveen: Heat in 7.
Heat in 7 Heat in 5, as always
Surya: Heat in 5